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.