By Evan Roberts


1beluga_pd_2016This summer I’ve been fortunate enough to be afforded the opportunity to work as a Bilingual Programming Assistant at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre (CNSC). The CNSC is an independent non-profit organization that facilitates research and education in western Hudson Bay and is celebrating it’s 40th anniversary this year. Working in the Educational Programming Department I’ve had the chance to participate in and support facilitating a number of the CNSC’s Learning Vacations (LV). A LV is a unique model of educational tourism that allows the participant the chance to be entrenched with experts on the subject of their choice throughout a one-week immersive, informative and participatory experience. The topics include Beluga Whales, Polar Bears and the Aurora Borealis.


The very first LV that I had the chance to participate in was titled Belugas in the Bay: Through the Camera Lens. The extremely knowledgeable and talented Kristin Westdal and Chris Paetkau led the LV. Kristin is a Marine Biologist who has worked extensively in the arctic, and she was keen to share her vast knowledge of belugas with us throughout the week both on the water and in the classroom. Chris, a videographer by trade and co-founder of Build Films spent hours with participants leading and coaching us in a wide range of photography concepts that spread from basic intro ‘point-and-shoot’ techniques and then into much more complex underwater photography skills while keeping all participants engaged whether they were simply equipped with a cell phone camera, GoPro or loaded with lenses and a Digital SLR. With Kristen teaching us all about the whales that we were seeing around us and Chris taking photos of it all, it was a truly magical experience to be out on the water with them both. In addition to our time spent on boat excursions exploring the Churchill River estuary and Hudson Bay, we also had the chance to tour the town of Churchill and the surrounding area. A highlight for me was visiting the Prince of Wales Fort. As a National Historic Site managed by Parks Canada, we were treated to a captivating interpretation of the deeply rooted history of the Fort and the broader Churchill area from our Parks Heritage Presenter Duane. Understanding the history of the area allowed for a more profound understanding of the cultural and historical significance of this plot of land at the mouth of the Hudson Bay. The history of Churchill is further punctuated with a visit to the Itsanitaq Museum (formerly Eskimo Museum) located in the town of Churchill.  The museum creates a clear timeline of the history of the Churchill area and allows visitors the chance to witness the progression of the Dene Indigenous culture as well as the Inuit cultures from further north of Churchill. Additionally the museum exhibits arctic marine mammal artefacts like baleen from a bowhead whale and a few examples of a narwhal tooth.



As a photographer, I was attracted to this LV because of its name, but what this opportunity allowed me to do was gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of Churchill beyond just being the Polar Bear Capital of the World. When you peel back the layers of Churchill, and dig deeper, you start to realize just how culturally, socially, and historically significant this small little humble town on Hudson Bay really is. Your sense of identity as a Canadian starts to strengthen as you walk within the walls of the Prince of Wales Fort. Your sense of adventure and wanderlust peaks as a Beluga Whale breaches for air right in front of your kayak, and you snap the perfect photo. Your knowledge broadens as experts guide you on Beluga age and gender identification with whales that are right beside you. In short, this LV was undoubtedly the springboard to a life-changing summer.




Churchill Northern Studies Centre is an independent non-profit charitable organisation dedicated to supporting research and education initiatives in Churchill. The Centre is open year-round to provide logistical services to scientists working in the Western Hudson Bay region. In addition to supporting world-class research, we are also proud to offer a wide variety of educational programs to the general public through our Learning Vacations as well as custom trips for school and youth groups. Participants in CNSC programs have the unique opportunity to learn more about their chosen topic directly from renowned scientists and naturalists. Our upcoming dates for this featured Learning Vacation- Belugas in the Bay: Through the Camera Lens will happen from June 22 – 27, 2017. To learn more about this program and others visit our webpage with online booking available to reserve your spot as a participant!


Evan Roberts is a student at the Universtiy of Winnipeg completing a double-major in Human Rights and Conflict Resolution. Evan is a passionate photogapher, mediocre hockey player, and a cycling enthusiast.



Note from CaNOE: Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s whale-watching guidelines applied in other regions suggest that boaters use a slow speed if within 400 m of whales and idle when they come within 100 m of them. Current beluga tourism operators have developed selfregulating rules of conduct that attempt to minimize disturbance. 

Learn more:

Beluga Habitat Sustainability Plan

DFO Marine Mammal Viewing Guidelines

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