Churchill

Churchill, Manitoba, incorporated as a town in 1997, population 813 (2011c), 923 (2006c). The Town of Churchill is located at the mouth of the Churchill River on the southwest shore of Hudson Bay.

Churchill, Manitoba, incorporated as a town in 1997, population 813 (2011c), 923 (2006c). The Town of Churchill is located at the mouth of the Churchill River on the southwest shore of Hudson Bay. Although discovered by the Danish explorer Jens Munk in 1619, the site was not "settled" until 1689, when the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) attempted to establish a post a few kilometres upstream. The river was named for Lord Churchill (later the first duke of Marlborough); the post was permanently established near the coast in 1717. This structure was replaced by Prince of Wales Fort, on the west bank of the estuary, which remained the centre of the fur trade in the area until it was destroyed by the French in 1782. The HBC re-established Fort Churchill, which continued its role as a fur-trade post.

Churchill, Manitoba
Beach of Churchill Polar Bear information sign.
Churchill Polar Bear
Polar Bear lying in snow

The present town grew up on the east bank of the river after 1931 when the Hudson Bay Railway terminal and harbour facilities were completed. The railway arrived earlier in 1929. With World War II, the locality prospered as a northern supply centre and military base and continued as a research station and rocket launching site until the mid-1980s. With the closing of the military base in the 1960s its population has declined from its peak of around 4000.

Churchill has struggled to rebuild its economy. In 1994 Akjuit Aerospace Inc redeveloped the rocket launching facility to provide launch services for international launch vehicles but closed 4 years later. Churchill is some 1600 km closer to Europe by sea than Montréal is, but its short 4-month shipping season and shallow waters restrict its development as an ocean port. Although Churchill is only accessible by air or rail, ecotourism is an important aspect of its economy with visitors coming for polar bear and beluga whale excursions and for access to Wapusk National Park. The town is also rich in historical resources including pre-Dorset and Dorset sites, a partially reconstructed Prince of Wales Fort (designated a national historic site in 1920), Cape Merry battery and the 18th century mooring site of Sloop Cove.


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