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Where the Churchill River meets Hudson Bay

June 20

 In the Polar zone, the assault is immediate and sudden and, unlike the insidious fatality of hot countries, produces its results rapidly.
–Elisha Kent Kane, Arctic Explorer

Icy Hudson Bay has doomed many ships.

While in Churchill, Manitoba, we visited Cape Merry, where the Churchill River meets the Hudson Bay. Cannons stood here to defend Fort Prince of Wales, an early defense built by the Hudson’s Bay Company with thick stone walls to protect the British fur trade from the French. It’s a one of Canada’s national historic sites. The Canadian National Park Service provided both a tour guide and a polar bear monitor armed with a rifle, in the event that a polar bear might threaten us. The site was beautiful, with a blue sky over a bay packed with ice. Ringed seals by the hundreds were sunning themselves on the pack ice, enjoying the sunny weather.

We were surprised to find a plaque at the site honoring the Rev. Rasmus Jensen. In 1619, near Cape Merry, Rev. Jensen held the first Lutheran church services in North America. He was part of Denmark’s doomed Jens Munck Expedition which discovered the Port of Churchill. Over the course of a harsh winter here, all but three members of the expedition perished from scurvy and possibly trichinosis from undercooked polar bear meat. Before perishing himself, he performed a Christmas service and many funeral services.

Those who explored the North and made it accessible to people like us endured incredible hardships. The Hudson Bay Rail line, which we traveled, was completed in 1929, having been surveyed by canoe and dogsled. This 1,000-miles route designed to bring Manitoba and Saskatchewan wheat to a closer port passed over the tundra, which is best described as a semi-liquid bog sandwiched between frozen ground on the bottom and a thin layer of moss or vegetation on the top. The Alaskan Highway, which we intend to travel, was built after World War II under similar circumstances.

Evidence of hardship is all around, including the wrecked ghost ship pictured at the top of this blog. Over the years there have been many shipwrecks in the icy waters of the Bay, as unrelenting winds push ships off course.
We are grateful to the courageous explorers, pioneers and laborers who had the courage to open the Arctic. And we are grateful to our Canadian neighbors for remembering and commemorating these heroes.

See also Jane Bahls’ Arctic Adventures blog.

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