Budka, P. (2023). Tourism and transport infrastructures in the “Polar Bear Capital of the World”. Paper at International Society for Ethnology and Folklore (SIEF) 16th Congress, Brno, Czech Republic: Masaryk University, June 7-10.
This paper explores how tourism and transport infrastructures are entangled 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 known as the “Polar Bear Capital of the World”. While early bear watching projects in Churchill already started in the 1970s, tourism really exploded when polar bears became worldwide symbols of global warming and climate change at the end of the 20th century.
This tremendous growth in tourism was mainly enabled by the transport infrastructure of a town which has no road connection. The Hudson Bay Railway, which was originally built to ship grain from Canada’s prairie provinces to the seaport of Churchill, now also brings tourists and their supplies. The same goes for Churchill’s airport, which was constructed for military purposes during the Second World War and now serves as transportation hub for tourists, tour operators, and their cargo.
By discussing ethnographic findings, this paper focuses on the role of tourism, as a key economic driver, and its connection to transport infrastructures in sustaining and transforming the town of Churchill. In doing so, it also critically reflects upon the very notion of sustainability (transformation). 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.