This paper explores how transport infrastructures are interconnected and entangled in the Subarctic town of Churchill, Canada. In doing so, it looks into the creation and maintenance of these infrastructures as well as into the role that social, political, and economic relations play here. It furthermore examines how such infrastructural entanglements contribute to the sustainability of the town. Churchill is one of several field sites in the ERC project InfraNorth, which looks into the affordances of transport infrastructures on a pan-Arctic scale through an anthropological lens.
Churchill, a town of 870 people, is unique in terms of transport infrastructure. The town, which is not accessible via roads, is home to Canada’s only deep-water port on the Arctic Ocean. This is the only harbor in the American (Sub)Arctic with a direct link to the North American railway system. In addition, Churchill has a relatively big airport, which was originally built by the military and is now supporting in particular the growing tourism industry. The community of Churchill only exists because of these infrastructures and it has been changing together with them.
By discussing ethnographic and historical findings, this paper focuses on how this infrastructural entanglement becomes particularly visible in times of infrastructural breakdown and failure. When in 2017 a flooding washed-out the railway tracks and Churchill was without train connection for 18 months, the town and its inhabitants had to rely on air transportation and on a network of winter trails to transport goods and supplies. This has had severe consequences for this remote Subarctic town.
Budka, P. (2023). Sustainability transformation and transport infrastructures in Northern Manitoba, Canada. Paper at Arctic Science Summit Week (ASSW2023), Vienna, Austria: University of Vienna, 17-24 February.
This paper explores from an anthropological perspective how infrastructural entanglements relate to sustainability transformation of/in the town of Churchill in Northern Manitoba, Canada. Situated at the junction of the boreal forest, the Arctic tundra, and the Hudson Bay, the community of 870 people has become well-known as the “Polar Bear Capital of the World”. But Churchill is also unique in terms of transport infrastructures. Whereas the town is not accessible via roads, it is home of Canada’s only deep-water port on the Arctic Ocean. This port is the only harbor in the American (Sub)Arctic with a direct link to the North American railway system. And due to former military presence, the town also has a relatively big airport, which has become key for the growing tourism industry.
Churchill only exists because of these transport infrastructures and it has been changing together with this built environment. Only recently and in the light of geopolitical developments, the federal and the provincial governments agreed to invest up to CA$ 147 million to upgrade the Hudson Bay Railway and the Port of Churchill. By discussing ethnographic findings, this paper focuses on the role of transport infrastructures in sustaining and transforming the community. At the same time, it critically reflects upon the very notion of sustainability (transformation) from an anthropological and cross-cultural angle. This study is one of several case studies in the ERC project InfraNorth, which looks into the affordances of transport infrastructures on a pan-Arctic scale.