Unique Learning Vacations
Have you always dreamed of visiting Churchill, Manitoba, but want more than the usual package tour experience? Why not consider the Churchill Northern Studies Centre (CNSC), an active research facility located 23 km from town where the northern reach of the boreal forest meets the southern extent of arctic tundra? Each five to seven day course is a true learning experience led by professional scientists and expert guides. Participants will develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of the culture, history and wildlife of the Churchill area through daily interaction with visiting scientists and fellow travellers. There are no tests and no grades, but guided tours and presentations will open new doors to learning for even the most seasoned traveller.
The CNSC offers programs on birding, beluga whales, wildflowers, subarctic ecology, northern lights & astronomy and, of course, polar bears. Some learning vacations are offered by the Centre under the CNSC Learning Vacation brand, while others are organized by partner organizations such as Road Scholar or Earthwatch Institute.
All meals, airport/train shuttle, local tours, wildlife viewing opportunities and presentations are included in the course price. Accommodations are basic, but comfortable, with dormitory-style rooms (each sleeping up to 4 people during peak season) and shared washrooms with private showers.
CNSC Learning Vacations
Winter Skies: Aurora and Astronomy in Churchill
February 19 - 24, 2015
Instructor : Alan Dyer
March 19 – 24, 2015
Instructor: Roger "Starman" Woloshyn
Located directly beneath the aurora oval, Churchill, Manitoba is the best place on Earth to view the aurora borealis, the spectacular atmospheric phenomenon better known as the Northern Lights. For over 240 years, astronomers and physicists have journeyed to Churchill to probe the upper atmosphere with cameras, balloons, and even rockets. Marvel at the aurora from the comfort of the CNSC's heated viewing dome by night and explore the Churchill area by day. Local tours, cultural presentations, snowshoeing and an afternoon of dog sledding offer a taste of life in the sub-arctic. The Churchill Northern Studies Centre, your home for five days, sits in the shadow of massive 1950's-era rocket launch towers. Our instructors are also skilled in northern lights photography and can provide advice and guidance on equipment and technique. As the lights arc overhead in curtains of white, green and red, you'll swear you can hear the countdown.
North of 58°: Winter Ecology and Northern Culture
March 5 - 10, 2015
Instructor: Michael Goodyear
Rethink the popular misconception that only the largest and hardiest of animals can withstand the brutal Subarctic winter. Explore an amazing environment where Gray Jays lay their eggs at 40 degrees below zero and wood frogs freeze solid, only to thaw again with the coming of spring. Dig beneath the snow for signs of a secret world where lemmings scurry along vast tunnel systems and shrews weighing less than a dime forage for insects. Course participants will build two traditional snow dwellings (igloo and quinzhee) with guidance from skilled locals. You can even sleep in them if you like! A traditional dog sled ride through the forest, snow sampling with a CNSC researcher, and a snowmobile ride onto the sea ice of Hudson Bay round out this truly unique experience. At the end of the day, a hot meal, a warm bed and the glow of the northern lights await.
Spring's Wings: Birding in Churchill
June 11 – 16, 2015
Instructor: Rudolf Koes
After 8 months of snow cover, the ice in the Churchill River begins to move and the tundra comes alive with the carillon cry of hundreds of thousands of returning Snow Geese. Join the migration and explore the excellent birding opportunities to be found in Churchill, Manitoba, a well known birding "hotspot". Daily guided tours and field trips allow you to see a wide variety of bird species, while keeping a sharp eye out for such rarities as the Ross's Gull, Bohemian Waxwing and Harris' Sparrow. Birds common to Churchill include the Pacific Loon, jaegers, Willow Ptarmigan and Smith's Longspur. Our programs are led by birding experts with decades of experience and group sizes are kept to a minimum. There is also ample opportunity to explore the town and the world-famous Eskimo Museum with its renowned collection of historic and contemporary Inuit art and artefacts. 5 full days of birding!
Into the Wildflowers: Flora of the Subarctic
Discover the beauty and diversity of the northern plant world on this botanical tour of the subarctic. Spring brings successive waves of colour, as boreal and arctic wildflowers carpet the landscape through the long days of summer. With over five hundred species of vascular plants, including eleven orchids, Churchill will challenge and intrigue any botanist. Join us as we explore a range of different habitats, from lichen rich taiga woodlands and wet sedge tundra to dunes, fens, heaths and sand beaches. Keep an eye out for caribou, foxes, and the occasional polar bear - Churchill in summer is a photographer's paradise! You can also hone your plant identification skills with sessions in our in-house herbarium and evening talks on a variety of topics. Also included is a visit to Boreal Projects greenhouse, beluga whale watching on the Churchill River, and a tour of Prince of Wales Fort National Historic Site.
Belugas in the Bay: The White Whales of Churchill
July 16 – 21, 2015
Instructor: Pierre Richard
The many rivers of western Hudson Bay are the summering ground for the largest population of beluga whales in the Arctic. During the long days of summer, whales migrate to the Churchill River estuary to feed, give birth and moult their skin. Nowhere else can you get as up close and personal with these charming and highly vocal white whales. With the aid of underwater hydrophones, you will be able to listen to the ethereal calls of these "canaries of the sea". As a participant in Belugas in the Bay, you will have three opportunities to view beluga whales in their natural habitat - once by large jet boat, once by zodiac and, finally, under your own power by river kayak. Walking tours of Prince of Wales Fort and Cape Merry National Historic Sites, coastal hikes, evening lectures by marine biologists and local cultural presenters complete this truly educational experience.
Hands on History : Archaeology of Prince Wales Fort
Call for information
Imagine living in a stone fort on the coast of Hudson Bay in the 1700s. Men who worked for the Hudson's Bay Company built, lived and worked at such a fort as labourers, tradesmen, traders and officers. Prince of Wales Fort served as a trading post, but was built for defensive purposes during the French and English rivalry for control of the territory and resources around Hudson Bay. As a member of the archaeology team, you will be re-discovering what life was like at the fort. Working side-by-side with Parks Canada archaeologists you will excavate, screen and document their discoveries in the field, as well as clean and identify artifacts in a field lab. Participants will travel daily by boat across the Churchill River with beluga whales in pursuit and may get a glimpse or two of a polar bear on Eskimo Point. After an exciting day in the field, everyone will return to the Churchill Northern Studies Centre to participate in lectures on related topics and interact with a dynamic group of scientists who study many natural features of the region, and like you, call the Centre home at this time of year. No visit to Churchill is complete without guided tour of the former Research Rocket Range and a visit to the Eskimo Museum. The museum is renowned for its collection of historical artifacts dating back to the pre-Dorset culture and provides a unique glimpse into the everyday lives of the first people to have inhabited the Churchill area.
Wild Planet: The Subarctic in Summer
August 13 – 18, 2015
Instructor: James Kushny
Imagine hiking the coast of western Hudson Bay, an ancient and rugged landscape where boreal forest meets Arctic tundra, a land transformed by ice, wind and water. Daily hikes will lead you through a wide variety of habitats including: tundra, boreal forest, inter-tidal zone, fen, beach dune, and coastal pond. Walk from Sloop's Cove to Prince of Wales Fort National Historic Site, tracing the footsteps of early European fur traders and the native people who facilitated their vast empire. Keep a sharp eye out for polar bears – we've seen them before! A visit to the Parks Canada Interpretive Centre and the world-famous Eskimo Museum, an afternoon of kayaking, and evening presentations on topics in northern ecology completes your sub-arctic adventure. This is our most active program. Expect to spend between 4-5 hours per day hiking over relatively flat, but uneven terrain. What are you waiting for? Put yourself out there!
Lords of the Arctic: The Ecology of Hudson Bay's Polar Bears
November 11 - 18, 2014 - Spaces still avaliable
November 3 - 10, 2015
November 10 - 17, 2015
Instructor: Rupert Pilkington
2014: $2,925 CDN
2015: To Be Announced
Witness the annual migration of Churchill's polar bears. Every October and November, polar bears congregate in the Churchill area to await the return of the sea ice and access to their preferred prey – the ringed seal. Spend two full days touring the Churchill Wildlife Management Area aboard a custom-built tundra vehicle. On the first day, course participants will enjoy an excellent firsthand view of polar bears in their natural habitat. On the second day, you will assist one of our visiting researchers with behavioural observations of the bears, collecting data as part of a long-term study contributing to our knowledge of these magnificent animals. Each evening, in-depth presentations by bear biologists explore this remarkable animal and the challenges they are facing in a warming climate. And if that were not enough, this program also includes a 45 minute helitour along the rugged coastline of Hudson Bay, an afternoon of dog sledding and a tour of the community, including the world-famous Eskimo Museum and its renowned collection of historic and contemporary Inuit art and artefacts. This is our most popular program and all proceeds support scientific research in Churchill ‐ book early!
Road Scholar Lifelong Learning
Into the Arctic Skies: Aurora and Astronomy in Churchill
The clear skies of Churchill's winter will thrill and challenge any sky watcher. With over three hundred nights of auroral activity, Churchill is the best spot on the planet to view the northern lights. Our instructor 'Starman' will lead you through the fascinating world of comets, deep sky objects, meteors and northern lights.
- Discover the fascinating world of comets, deep sky objects, meteors and northern lights with the "Starman" in the best viewing spot on the planet.
- Enjoy an introduction to dog sledding and spend an afternoon dog sledding in the boreal forest.
- Take an exhilarating ride by snowmobile into the boreal forest for a snow sampling demonstration and snowshoeing.
Lords of the North: Ecology of Hudson Bay's Polar Bears
Session I: October 12 – 19, 2014
Instructor: Michael Goodyear
Session II: October 17 – 24, 2014
Instructor: Michael Goodyear
Session III: October 22 – 29, 2014
Instructor: Brandon Laforest
Session III: October 27 – November 3, 2014
Instructor: Brandon Laforest
$4,295 USD (note: this package includes air travel from Winnipeg to Churchill)
As autumn fades, the polar bears of Hudson Bay gather to await the sea ice that signals winter's return. Alongside a leading authority on this precious population, journey onto the tundra aboard specially fitted vehicles to observe these majestic creatures in their natural habitat. Lectures, field trips and museum visits will help you understand not only the life of the polar bear, but also the challenges of global climate change, local conservation issues and the future of the arctic ecosystem.
- Take part in a dog sled adventure and observe caribou, Arctic fox, snowy owl and other Arctic species.
- Examine research and conservation efforts conducted by the new International Polar Bear Conservation Centre.
- Meet a planning expert from the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, set to become the largest human rights center on earth.
Learn more by visiting Road Scholar's website
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