A natural wonder is under threat.
Dispatch from Churchill, Manitoba/Subarctic Summer ‘17.
I have been back in Manitoba now for 6 months. It’s been a scurry of surprises and experiences that I could never have even imagined when I was back in the sweat of Brisbane attempting to plan for this year. Fulfilling a goal of teaming up with Kal Barteski for International Polar Bear Day has led to so many amazing opportunities that have led me to performing in New York City, Calgary, and any place in Winnipeg that would have me. I was able to watch Kal work through her SeaWalls Churchill project from piecing together a bonkers amount of merchandise with her family at a dining room table in Wolseley to tearing around Churchill collecting artists before their flight, her journey of organising a large group of creatives to transform an isolated town currently in crisis was amazing to be a part of. There’ll be a documentary about it all in the coming year so I’m sure they’ll be more on that.
The train is still non-operational and is in a stronghold of politics and power. There are so many different opinions and parties with their own take on the situation and it’s solution, it’s hard to say what’s going to happen and when it’s going to happen. Whatever it is, it needs to happen fast. Food prices are rising and the nutrition subsidies that Churchill have just been granted will not come into affect for the next month or so, there are tourists in town truly loving Churchill but not in the numbers that we were expecting, and issues over heating over the colder months are now becoming a chillingly real concern, the phrase resonates across Churchill, “fix the damn track”.
I’m back working at one of Churchill’s hotspots, The Tundra Inn and Pub. While overcoming the events of the blizzard and the train track falling out from under our feet, I don’t think I’m alone in being grateful that the Tunge was able to open for this summer. With an amazing boss and team around me, I get to serve guests from the world over a menu of northern inspired pub grub while talking about my favourite animals ever and slinging some tasty drinks their way (when we have them!). I’ve also taken back my role as the open mic host where I’ll usually play some cello, pester my mates to showcase their stuff (there’s some serious talent in town, honestly it’s nuts) and then get everyone to yell and dance to Blink 182 and Violent Femmes until two in the morning.
Most recently, preparations for the Churchill River’s Beluga Boat are now underway. Polar Bears International, who operate the boat in conjunction with explore.org (an IN-CRED-I-BLE website that films nature anywhere and everywhere and live streams straight to the internet, you should visit it, nnnnnnnnnow), are now back in Churchill. I’ll be meeting with them in the coming weeks to discuss my role for the boat after my adventures out there in 2015 with the truly awesome and addictive personality of Captain Hayley Shephard. I was at work yesterday when the PBI crew told me that they had just informed the supportive online community of explore.org that Hayley for personal reasons would not be returning to the Beluga Boat for 2017. While I had known for a while, I knew what this would mean for her friends and followers online. Scrolling through the comments this morning, there’s an outpour of emotion and confusion, scared that they would never hear Hayley’s captivating Kiwi twang greeting them through their computer speakers from the tides of life on the Churchill River.
Hayley is unlike anyone I have ever met; the literary definition of a total badass, an experienced and engaging tour guide showing people the world from the Antarctic to the Arctic. The online community for the Boat could pick up on how emphatic, intelligent and engaged she is from their wifi connections in a host of locations, from Germany, Australia and even Hayley’s native New Zealand. Without Hayley’s passion to make my dream of playing to whales happen, it just wouldn’t have gone ahead. Those few times out on the boat with Hayley were pure magic, watching belugas rush in from all sides while chatting on music, the allure of Churchill, and how truly awesome nature is. Hell, we even introduced a portion of the world to the joys of Tim Tams and Tim Tam Slams.
While she may not be in Churchill for this summer, if I know a thing or two about our favourite Captain Hayley, I have a feeling it will not be the last we hear from her. The new captains, Gabrielle and Kieran are currently in town and are both really great people to chat to. I think the explore.org and PBI teams have really gone above and beyond to find someone to fill the place of Hayley and I anticipate working with them this year. I wish Hayley and her family all the best through this testing time and know that we're here. I also will be making some more effort on the community boards and would encourage anyone and everyone to be part of the Citizen Science project that operates with the Beluga Boat, helping researchers with their data on the Western Hudson Bay Beluga population.
Right, I’ve got new music to write and some bannock waiting for me at the Fort. Send me any questions you might have, anything from Churchill to what I’m listening to at the moment (answer to the latter: a lot of Kiasmos and Amy Shark).