Wapusk National Park

NOTE: By looking at the blog homepage, I realized that you might get an impression that this post isn’t in English.
Only the first section is is in Croatian, an intro that you can skip. Just like every other nonEnglish text, Croatian text here is of local relevance.

Nekoliko uvodnih riječi o ovom postu

Za jedan kolegij na fucksu sam napravio prezentaciju o kanadskom nacionalnom parku Wapusk. Njena izrada me malo zaintrigirala za Wapusk. Park mi se doima šajni. Zbog toga hoću da malo problogišem o njemu na svetskom jeziku. Možda zaintrigiram nekog tko si može priuštiti posjet nacionalnom parku. Tekst koji slijedi je više-manje prijevod same prezentacije. Prezentaciju možete skinuti ovdje.

Što se tiče površine, za usporedbu veličine parka sam uzeo Crnu Goru napisavši da je park približno veličine teritorija Crne Gore. Crna Gora je ipak veća od nacionalnog parka. Tu državu sam uzeo da bih nekako našim ljudima predočio koliko je zapravo park velik. Površina najvećeg hrvatskog nacionalnog parka (Plitvica) je nešto manja od 300 km². Kada tu veličinu usporedimo s preko 11 000 km² Wapuska, jasno nam je koliko je Wapusk zapravo velik.

Možda je logično zapitati se zašto ne blogišem o hrvatskom nacionalnom parku. Činjenica je da Hrvatska obiluje prirodnim ljepotama, pogotovo ako u obzir uzmemo relativno mali teritorij Hrvatske i, iskreno, vjerojatno bih blogao o hrvatskom nacionalnom parku da sam imao prezentaciju o njemu. Ako ništa drugo, da nam promoviram zemlju 😀 Međutim, još jedna činjenica je da ono što je dostupno, bez obzira kako lijepo bilo, čovjeku nije tako zanimljivo. Sumnjam da netko tko često posjećuje Wapusk (iako takvih ima malo jer je nacionalni park poprilično nedostupan i samim stanovnicima Manitobe, kanadske provincije u kojoj se park nalazi) ima dojam da je Wapusk nešto posebno.

The rest of the post is English 😉

I made a presentation about Wapusk National Park for the uni. The presentation intrigued me about the park. The following post is pretty much the translation of the presentation. You can download the presentation here (Croatian).

First of all, I would like to thank a pen pal of mine, the Veezer, who really helped me in gathering information about Wapusk, and Canadian national parks in general. True, an active interpretive coordinator of the national park, provided me with more info considering Wapusk, but providing people with information about the national park is a park’s coördinator’s job. Veezer, on the other hand, took her (free) time for helping me. Moreover, someone she knew had just died when I asked her for help, but despite that she found some (actually, a lot judging by the amount of the information she gave me) time to help me. That’s why I’m very grateful for her help.

Basic info

The word wapusk means “white bear” in (Swampy) Cree.  A coördinator of the park told me that Wapusk is pronounced wa-pusk and that “pusk” rhymes with “tusk”. She knows best since she actually works in the park. However, if you’re a Cree reading this post and find this incorrect, do tell me 😉 I think the name is really fitting because it is Cree, and Cree are the people who have inhabited this area for millennia. Furthermore, the name describes the national park to the letter since polar bears are the biggest attraction of the park. After all, the park was most likely named “Wapusk” in honour of both the Cree, who have lived here for ages, and the magnificent animals, that polar bears are.

The park is located in the farthest northeast of Manitoba on the shores of Hudson Bay. The park is near the town of Churchill and is surrounded by Churchill Wildlife Management Area. The area of the park is 11 475 km². What is interesting is that there are no roads connecting Churchill with the rest of Canada, which makes the park quite inaccessible.
The park is supervised by Parks Canada, a body, of the government of Canada, in charge of preserving and protecting Canadian natural and cultural heritage. The national park was established in 1996.

Note that when I asked about fees, the coöridantor skilfully avoided the answer saying folks will come in with a tour operator and the fee will likely be structured into the cost of the activity.

Physical map of Canada with all the stuff I’ll mention in the post marked (i.e. Wapusk NP, Churchill, Thompson and Winnipeg within Manitoba). Click on the image to enlarge the map.


Churchill is a town some 40 klicks away from the park.
This entire region used to be an important fur trading place with various companies (mostly Hudson’s Bay and North West) competing.
The town was named after the First Duke of Marlborough, John Churchill. This fellow was an ancestor of Winston Churchill.
Being on the Hudson Bay shore, Churchill is Manitoba’s only seaport ×D

In 1717. the first Fort Chucrhill was built (on the west river bank) by Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC). That date is considered as the date when Churchill was found. However, today’s town lies on the east river bank. People moved from the west to the east side in 1930s and today’s Town of Churchill was born in 1935.


This is as clear as mud, according to the coördinator herself. Where to start from? Guess the beginning will do:
There are a few forts around Churchill. Now, I find this totally confusing. This is how I get it:
The first Fort Churchill was built in 1717 by HBC as a trading post. This one is also known as Churchill River Post, or simply as Fort Churchill. That event is also considered the founding of the town of Churchill. Soon after, the fort’s name was changed to Prince of Wales Fort (No. I).  And then in 1731, constructions of a new fort begun. That became Prince of Wales Fort (No. 2). The fort was destroyed by the French in 1782. HBC rebuilt it in the spring on the same site used in 1717. The fort from 1731 was partially renovated after the completion of Hudson Bay Railway in 1929 and now is in a better shape than Churchill River Post, considering there’s nothing left of the Post. Both forts are on the west bank of the River Churchill. They are National Historic Sites of Canada and are supervised by Parks Canada.

Americans built another Fort Churchill in 1943. This fort was built adjacent to the airport. It’s, or rather “used to be”, a military base. It was deserted and mostly torn down in the 1970s.

When saying Fort Churchill, locals mean the military base.

As I said, info about the forts is quite confusing and I’m not sure if I understood it myself. Hence, I can’t say the things I just wrote are 100% correct. All in all, there are many forts or their remains in Churchill 😀
I guess, the forts ain’t that important anyway, since this post is about Wapusk, but additional info about cultural heritage is always welcome 😮

Starshaped Prince of Wales Fort located nearby Churchill. I think these are the remnants of the fort from 1731, but I’m not sure.

Churchill Wildlife Management Area

The Area surrounds Wapusk; it’s a buffer zone between the park and rest of Manitoba.
The area of the Area is 8500 km². The Management Area was established eighteen years before Wapusk National Park (i.e. in 1978). Until the establishment of the national park, Churchill Wildlife Management Area included the area that is now Wapusk (i.e. 8500 + 11 475 = 19 975 km²). Except for managing, wildlife can be observed here 😀 The Area is home to polar bears during summer when the beasties move inland. It’s the playground of baby teddies and summer den of their parents. The area is also famous for over 225 species of birds – it is called “birders’ paradise”.

Unlike national parks, which are administrated on a national level, wildlife management areas (of Canada) are administrated on the provincial level. Wildlife management areas of Canada are “provincial Crown lands” and, thus, administrated by the Provincial Government (in this case by the Government of Manitoba). Anyway, Churchill Wildlife Management Area is supervised by Manitoban Wildlife Branch of Conservation and Water Stewardship, not Parks Canada.

It is hard to say there’s any real border between Wapusk and Churchill Wildlife Area because you can’t actually draw a line which animals are not allowed to cross.

A map of Wapusk NP,  Churchill Wildlife Area, the Town of Churchill, Prince of Wales Fort and other thingies

How to get to Wapusk

The better question is how to get to Churchill because Wapusk is accessible from Churchill. As I said, Churchill has no road connections with the rest of Canada.
Likewise, there are no road connections from Churchill to Wapusk. You can either take a chopper or a snowmobile, when the park is covered by snow, which is most of the time.

Anyway, the town can be reached either from Thompson or Winnipeg. Basically, you should go to Ottawa/Toronto/Montreal and fly from there to Winnipeg. Well, or go directly to Winnipeg depending where you live. Once in Winnipeg, you can either fly (or take a train) directly to Churchill or go to Thompson (cca 739 km north of Winnipeg) first, presumably by car, and fly to Churchill or go there by train from Thompson. Churchill is another 324.5 km north(east) of Thompson. Basically, if you have enough money, fly there and fly there from Winnipeg unless you are up for a long road trip to see the beauties of Manitoba.
To sum it all up, Wapusk is pretty inaccessible, expect for the people of Churchill, and Churchill numbers only 813 citizens.

Terrain and vegetation

There are a lot of leftovers of the last ice age in the park. All the glaciers withdrew rather recently. By “recently”, I mean 5000-8000 years ago. The glaciers were so thick in places that their weight caused Earth’s mantle to compress. The land is now rebounding (isostatic rebounding).
There are many ridges in the coastal area
There is a lot of permafrost with thermokarst which are really karst leftovers. That’s why you can find carbon sinks. The park is full of swamps and lakes.
The park is a transitional zone between Arctic tundra and boreal forest. Therefore, boreal forests (e.g. spruce trees) can be found in southern parts of the park.
Swampy area of Wapusk


The climate of Wapusk is humid boreal with mild and short summers (Köppen Dfc). In short, temperatures are very low all year round. They rarely go over 15°C even in the warmest month (i.e. July). Eric Cartman says that there are only two seasons in South Park – winter and July. The same can be said for Wapusk.
Basically, the climate has polar characteristics (only two relatively warm months and even those are usually below 15°C). However, what is interesting about Wapusk is that the area, actually, has colder climate than it should have considering the latitude (58°N). That is mostly due to the influence of Hundson Bay [true, the ocean usually warms up the land, but Hudson Bay is home to (cold) Arctic air masses]. Aberdeen, Gothenburg, Tallinn and St. Petersburg are major European towns on the same latitude. Climate there is much warmer. Okay, European towns might not be exactly the best example because Europe generally has warmer climate (mostly because of the Golf Stream – I already blogged about Europe and the Golf Stream), but still…

Cold winds additionally cool down Wapusk.

Another relatively uncommon phenomenon for such a south latitude, that is not uncommon in Wapusk at all, are northern lights. They certainly can’t be seen in the aforementioned towns.

The snowiest month is November. The average hight of snow cover is 1.8 m.

The park is a transition zone between taiga and tundra.

Climopragh of Churchill

Flora and fauna

As I said before, both tundra and boreal forests can be found in the park. Boreal forests are, of course, found in the soJednostrana smrekauthern parts of the park. When it comes to spruce, one-sided spruce trees are very common (picture on the right). One-sided spruce trees are actually tundra since they are stunted spruce trees.
There are over 400 of species of vascular plants characteristic for Arctic and boreal regions. The number 400 seems big, but a lot more species can be found further south.

One of the reasons I didn’t choose a biology university study programme is because I’m not into plants at all. Dunno, they just don’t interest me at all. Anyway, the upper paragraph is all you’re going to get from me about plant life 😀

Now, about those little fur, feather and different kind of balls of animals 😀 A lot of animal species inhabit Wapusk. Most importantly, (all) three species of bear can be found – polar, black and grizzly. When it comes to bears, only polar bears are really common. A picture of a grizzly within the park was taken (the brown teddy in the pic), but other than that… It’s even worse with the black bear. Only sightings of black bears have been reported. I haven’t been able to find a picture of a black bear within the park. Polar bears, on the other hand, are quite common [their number reaches a few thousand – yep, more polar bears in Wapusk (and/or Churchill Management Area) than people in the town of Churchill 😀 ].

More about teddies later. There are a lot of other animals in Wapusk, especially considering the harsh climate. LiGrizlike I said, the park is a transition zone between Arctic and boreal climate. That’s why you can find animals characteristic for both Arctic and boreal areas. A good example are both red and Arctic foxes.. Another good example are teddies of all kind, but since black and brown bear are actually quite rare, I wouldn’t count on them 😀
Other animals include: beluga whale (in Hudson Bay), ringed seal (teddies’ favourite meal 😀 ),  Arctic hare (I wonder if they become mad March hares in March…), lemmings, snowy owls (yes, like Hedwig Potter 😀 ), gyrfalcons [note that those fly further north to mate in “summer” (Gosh, those guys must really like cold 😀 )], ptarmigan and so forth.

Polarni medo nadgleda tundru
A polar bear “overseeing” Wapusk tundra

Arkticki zec
Arctic hare

Alpske kokoske
Ptarmigans – I’ve spotted three. Do you see more of them hiding?

Polar bears

And now the moment you’ve been all waiting for… TIME FOR TEDDIES 😀 (i.e. polar bears).

Polar bears are indeed the most popular park attraction. The park was established to preserve them and their habitat. It wasn’t an easy job – establishing the park took 10 years!
How important these bears are shows the name of the park it self – white bear.

Wapusk, or rather the town of Churchill,  is know as Polar Bear Capital of the World.

A visit to Wapusk is recommended in late October / early November when thousands of polar bears gather at Hudson Bay waiting for the Bay to freeze so they can hunt for seals that had gathered during summer.

Here are some pics of Wapusk polar bears:

Mama i djeca

Vidju nas


Zaigrani medo

Cultural heritage

Native North Americans have inhabited Wapusk area since ancient times. There have been a lot of peoples (tribes), but (Swampy) Cree are predominant. Cree is the only native American language still really spoken – Swampy dialect is spoken around Wapusk (hence the name).
Honestly, there are only but leftovers of Cree speakers. Such case is with native American lingoes throughout the Americas – Cree is just the biggest leftover in Wapusk area.
Unlike the language(s), which has virtually entirely been replaced by English, native Americans still comprise more than half of Churchill’s population.

Anyway, the area that is now Wapusk used to be a hunting ground for native Americans. There haven’t been any permanent settlments in the area though.  Hunters used to put up tents on a hunt.

3000 years old tools found in Wapusk

A hunting tent in Wapusk tundra under northern lights

The first Europeans to arrive were the Danish. It is interesting that only 3 members of the 8 member expedition survived.
In the 16th century the area that is now Wapusk became interesting to HBC because it was relatively close to their north department headquarters, York Factory, “only” 200 km away from the present-day town of Churchill.
Speaking of York Factory, the town/factory existed till 1957 when the population was relocated to York Landing, a community 116 km east-north-east of Thompson.
Anyway, the arrival of HBC got the attention of their rivals and in 1717 NBC begun building forts, which I covered in Forts section.
The biggest heritage of the Europeans is English language, which is predominant. Although, while most people in Wapusk area speak English, a European linguage, other European lingoes aren’t spoken. I mean, Cree even beats French, a Canadian and Manitoban coöfficial language. Likewise, there aren’t any German speakers even though the number of total native German speakers in Manitoba is greater than the number of total French native speakers.


The park doesn’t have that many visitors because of its inaccessibility. Visitors are mostly comprised of researchers and students on a field work.
The park, however, provides people with many activities such as: fishing; observing the wildlife; expeditions using choppers, ATVs, canoes  etc.

That should be all about Wapusk. I hope you found the post interesting.

Posted on December 15th, 2012 at 21:51 GMT
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