Stu, raised in Churchill but now living with his wife, a nurse, in Saskatchewan, had returned to work polar bear season. Returning, for him, is a special pleasure because his mother and sister still live in Churchill. Stu told us his heritage is Cree and Dene, which are the two most prominent First Nations groups of the region. So typical of native peoples, he comes from an amazingly hospitable family. One day, after a drive around the docks along the Churchill River, Stu pulled the van into a parking lot of a building very like this one--a typical modern-day Churchill dwelling:
He left the engine running--we did need the heater on!--unbuckled his seat belt and said, "Wait just a minute, I'll be right back!" In flash, he was back with a cutting board and a large, foil-covered slab of still-hot-from-the-oven bannock bread, baked for us by his sister. Simple, fresh, refreshing, and accompanied by butter and locally-made jam, this was the ultimate hospitality from a woman too humble to come out to the bus for us to thank her. It was one of the highlights of the trip, thanks to Stu and his family.
|Guide Sandra and van driver Stu with everybody's cameras taking a group picture.|
|Lunching on caribou and muskox dishes beyond the caribou skin at the Lazy Bear Lodge Cafe|
Myrtle spoke to us for about a half an hour about what it was like to grow up in a Cree community, how the Cree take care of their needy (especially, "skinny women"), and how inspiration comes to her in dreams. Myrtle is well-known for her wonderful tufted caribou fur "dimensional sculptures" charmingly depicting the natural boreal world. Here they are on display, with my apologies for not having a close-up to show you (click to enlarge for detail):
And here is Myrtle, ever friendly and interested chatting with her visitors at the Center:
On another evening, we found ourselves at St. Paul's Anglican Church, of which Churchill's official website, "Everything Churchill" has this to say:
St. Paul’s Anglican Church, the first prefabricated building in North America and a designated heritage site by the Province of Manitoba, is the oldest church in the North still in use. It originated as a kit of pre-fab components made in England, was assembled on the west bank of the Churchill River, then was moved in winter by sledge to the other side of the river followed by a final relocation to another street. St. Paul’s also has ties to the exploration era – Lady Franklin donated a stained-glass window in memory of her husband Sir John Franklin, the famous Arctic explorer. It can still be seen today.
They fail to mention Bill Calnan, the church's lay spokesman, who entertained us on another evening with tales of the early British-European history of the area. Bill was original from the United States, but has lived and worked in Churchill--often as a tour bus driver and guide--for 40 years.
And here's a detail of the remarkable Franklin window housed at the St. Paul's (click to enlarge to fully enjoy its beauty):
The other prominent cultural legacy of Churchill is of course, that of the Inuit, celebrated and preserved by another religious organization, the Catholic Diocese of Churchill, in the Eskimo Museum. In a possibly uncharacteristic moment of foresight, in 1944 the mission determined that the artifacts of the Eskimo culture (now known by their name for themselves, Inuit) should be sheltered, studied, and appreciated. Today the museum remains very small, but replete with precious objects such as these fine walrus-tusk carvings:
and these larger icons of the Inuit, authentic hide-covered kayaks that look like they are well-used:
In the background the museum's excellent little shop is visible. It's full of brilliant carvings the Inuit are known for so well. I think the whimsey--amply visible in the ivory pieces too--and extreme precision of the work are perhaps what comes of very long northern winter nights with little else to do. To our pleasure and good fortune!
Go to Part VIII