Journey to Churchill is the most comprehensive project ever undertaken in Canada aimed at issues related to climate change, polar bears and other northern species. This fully integrated initiative combines elements focused on research, conservation and education to provide a venue that will bring the north to mainstream Canadians while bridging the gap between field research, the conservation world and the general public.
Journey to Churchill features polar bears – as well as other species - in three distinct zones along a fascinating 10-acre route. In each zone, visitors experience a variety of landscapes and animal viewing areas. Interpretive signage, interactive displays, and audio-visual components reinforce the key messages of biodiversity, climate change and conservation. It is a three-dimensional, four-season, five-sense educational classroom like none other, inviting exploration, challenging thinking and promoting personal action. Journey to Churchill is the flagship component of the redeveloped Assiniboine Park Zoo.
Visitors head from the prairies, through the boreal forest, and north into the expanse of the tundra. With the sound of the wind in their ears, they round a corner and see the beautiful snowy owls, while caribou stand alert on a hill behind them. To their left, arctic foxes play in the grasslands while muskoxen graze on the rise above and higher still, the first glimpse of the mighty polar bear. With no visible barriers between the species, visitors will experience the vastness of the tundra. Interpretive content will describe the age, scale, fragility, and beauty of the tundra and the many species that depend on it.
The Gateway to the Arctic is a primary viewing point for polar bears and ringed seals. Interpretive media helps visitors learn about physiological adaptations to life on and under the sea ice. From inside a 10 foot wide acrylic tunnel, visitors are given the rare opportunity to view these amazing creatures from below the surface of the water. The large swimming area provides physical exercise and a place to frolic and dart between the ice chunks. With only a clear wall bisecting the two species habitats, the polar bears and seals see and smell each other, creating a dynamic and enriching environment. This interaction between the seals and polar bears will be part of what puts this exhibit at the forefront of arctic zoo experiences.
The domed Aurora Borealis Theatre is a place of wonder and awe. With the play of the northern lights above and the encircling wall projecting a 360 degree horizon, visitors will appear to stand in a vast expanse of Arctic landscape. Through a short film, they watch the Arctic’s seasonal beauty unfold and learn about the people, plants and animals that live in Canada’s northland. After hours, the theatre becomes a dramatic venue for private events.
By their very nature, parks are places where families and friends can come together to have fun, celebrate important occasions, or just relax and take time out. This immense social value is part of the “glue” of a healthy society. The Churchill Coast brings all of these elements together in the culmination of the Journey to Churchill. This is the ultimate destination, the spectacular climax that will stun visitors with its beauty, creativity and unique opportunity to encounter polar bears “nose to nose”.
With a façade resembling the town of Churchill, visitors will feel as though they have been transported to the northern frontier. The landscape includes bear dens that can shelter a bear on a hot summer’s day, or house a mother bear with her new cubs. Visitors can watch the bears from the Tundra Grill, a 150-seat restaurant, while they enjoy their lunch. The adjacent Polar Playground is uniquely designed to engage children in a polar-themed wonderland of active participation.