The Guardian

'If it gets me, it gets me': the town where residents live alongside polar bears

Residents of Churchill, Canada share their streets with the largest land carnivore in the world as their isolated town’s identity faces a reckoning: a revitalized port
A polar bear looks into a Tundra Buggy to see tourists in Churchill, Manitoba. Photograph: Bill Bachmann/Alamy

Spend enough time in Churchill, and you will hear the stories.

Of hearing a noise outside, pulling open the drapes and seeing a polar bear looking in through the window.

Of walking around a corner at night, coming face-to-face with a bear and, implausibly, scaring it off with the strobe light on a cellphone.

Of encountering an old man with a walker, determinedly clacking past a puzzled bear that peered at him from behind a rock and muttering defiantly: “If it gets me, it gets me.”

Of being about to, against all better judgment, walk the couple of hundred yards from restaurant to hotel room at night, only to be pulled back by a warning that a pair of polar bears had been spotted across the street.

(OK, the last story is mine. The line between being a teller of tales and the subject of an obituary can be thinner than one might like.)

Such is everyday life, particularly during October and November, in this small town on the shores of Canada’s Hudson Bay. A little more than 1,000 miles north of the provincial capital of Winnipeg, Churchill is not just remote, it is defiantly so, accessible overland only by rail, its residents bonded by the conjoined challenges of living on the fringes of the Arctic and sharing their streets with the largest land carnivore in the world.

Aerial view of Churchill, Manitoba, Canada.
Aerial view of Churchill, Manitoba, Canada. Photograph: All Canada Photos/Alamy

“If you were to build a town today, you would never put it here,” explains Geoff York of Polar Bears International, a research and advocacy organization whose members, understandably, spend much time in Churchill each year. “Polar bears are creatures of the sea ice,

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