…was our chant as we boarded the train at 11:30 pm on a Friday night.
The night train to Churchill is a rite of passage for Gillamites, kind of like going shopping in Fargo for Winnipeggers, only ten thousand times awesomer. So even if polar bear season is long over, it’s something you have to do.
It works like this: you get on the train at approximately 11pm in Gillam, arrive in Churchill at 8 am, ‘do’ Churchill hard as long as your blown mind and frozen fingers can take, warm up with a gargantuan meal from Gypsy’s bakery, check out the plethora of shops and museums along the main drag, enjoy another gargantuan meal from Gypsy’s bakery, then wait in satisfied bliss for the train to take you away at 7:30 pm, arriving back in Gillam at 4:30 am on Sunday.
Reid and I started making this plan over a week ago, along with our friends Sitara and Katherine. It wasn’t until two days before leaving, however, that Julie, our CT, asked if we wanted a ‘contact’ in Churchill.
“Okay,” I said, remembering some of the amazing people Sara and I met in Argentina as a result of our incredibly random connections.
“His name is Mark Inglebritzen (sp?)” she said, and proceeded to give me his phone number.
“Who is he?” I asked.
“Oh, he’s great. He’s my bail-out guy.”
“Yeah. Y’know, whenever I’m in trouble in Churchill, like if I have twenty students in the train station and it’s -60 outside, he’ll show up with a school bus and bail me out.”
Not a situation I’ve ever found myself in, but it sounded like it was worth a phone call.
Two hours before catching the train, I found the number on a post-it note. I called, hoping he could maybe give me a different number for the car rental company, since I’d been having trouble getting ahold of them. A gruff-but-kind voice answered. A 30-second conversation ensued, ending with him saying, “We’ve got a tour for tomorrow! See you at the train station at 8:30…don’t bother describing yourself, I’ll recognize you.”
And so, after watching the sun rise over the frozen muskeg and ever-shrinking evergreen trees (Churchill is 5 miles north of the tree line), we arrived at the end of the ViaRail line. I felt the familiar ‘blind date’ butterflies as I wondered what this Inglebritzen fellow would be like, and we stepped off the train and onto the tundra.
Turns out Mr. Inglebritzen is a super swell guy with a lifetime’s worth of experiences in Churchill. He has an incredible knowledge of history and a deep respect for the nature and original inhabitants of the area.
Also, when asked about how he knew Julie (since she had never actually given me a straight answer) he responded, “Oh, her family owned the grocery store in Lynn Lake for years.” As they say, Northern Manitoba is a very small town.
This picture was taken for Grandpa Abe, who has long espoused the benefits of boiling lichen to make soup in a pinch. The various shades of red show different types of lichen growing on the same rock, which is really rare (apparently…I’m no expert 🙂 )
And how could I forget: in true traveller fashion, we befriended a rather lost Québécois fellow who was about to start a stint with Hydro in Gillam but was first continuing on to Churchill with no plans nor people that he knew (and not a ton of English either!). Gaetan fit right in with out crew, and here he is getting up from a nap on the train tracks.
My travelling companions are an eclectic bunch: Reid, farm boy from Roblin, Katherine, born and raised Gillamite, Sitara, moved from Bangladesh to Toronto to Gillam, and myself, the only native Winnipegger I’ve yet met.
By this point, the fact that we had neither eaten nor slept for over 15 hours was beginning to catch up with us, so we took a brief intermission at the legendary Gypsy’s Bakery…