I spend the rest of the day exploring what’s left of the small town. The population of Churchill once numbered 7,000. It’s now less than 800, following the closure in 1979 of the large US Military base. American service men and women were dispatched to Churchill for cold weather training, since Churchill’s climate bore more than a passing semblance to much of that of the then Soviet Union.
The Eskimo Museum opened at 13.00, and I go in for a look round. Incredibly the museum is free, although it does depend on donations to help maintain the beautiful collection housed in the modest building next to the town’s Catholic church. The museum’s single large room is lined with glass display cabinets, and these are filled with hundreds of Inuit artefacts and sculptures. In fact the collection of ivory and soapstone figurines and carvings is easily the highlight of my trip. There are also a couple of stuffed artic animals which sit in large cases, lamely caught in poses designed by a distant taxidermist.
The museums is also worth visiting for the large collection of books that are on sale. They cover the natural environment of Churchill and also the history of this town and the region. I bump into one of the other passengers who had travelled up from Winnipeg with me, and he was pleased to have finally found a copy of the book that chronicles the history of the construction of the Hudson Bay Railway. Apparently it was sold out everywhere else, and even though there’s a copy in the display cabinet of the town council offices, no-one there seemed to know anything about it.
After seeing the museum, I visit the library, which is inside the Town Centre Complex. You can use the internet here for free for up to thirty minutes. The lady at the counter raised her eyebrows and shrugged, saying that the computers were mainly for tourists who wanted to be able to check their e-mails every day while staying in Churchill. Apparently some people don’t take to the wilderness too well (although you’ll no doubt be pleased to hear that I spent my free thirty minutes updating this blog, rather than writing emails…