By Dorothy Dobbie
Prospects have never looked brighter for Churchill as a world-class tourist destination, thanks in part to a local investor and tour operator, Wally Daudrich.
Wally Daudrich and his family, who own and operate Churchill’s Lazy Bear Lodge, have a number of exciting projects planned, investing several million dollars into the town and the industry they love.
The plan includes an expansion to the 33-room current lodge and an expanded greenhouse facility where the family grows fresh produce for use in its restaurant. “We want to bring more visitors to Churchill,” says Wally. “We believe in this town and its potential as a tourism destination, and we are willing to continue to upgrade our investment.” Also planned is a modified spa experience. “We get a lot of requests for massages from older people wanting to relax after a busy day on the ocean or the tundra,” adds Dawn Daudrich.
Wally says the expanded accommodation will bring additional traffic to Churchill in summer, a previously quiet time. In spite of popular belief, summer is an ideal time for polar bear watching enhanced with the experience of seeing the beluga whales. “The bears are just coming off the ice in early July,” explains Wally. They are still very active and vigorous after spending the season out on the ice. They often have one or two cubs with them.”
Lazy Bear Expeditions recently acquired a 40-foot expedition vessel that is helping to develop the summer season. The Sam Hearne, built for the purpose of whale and polar bear watching, takes visitors into the waters of Hudson Bay and along the coast where 60,000 belugas congregate each summer. It’s a magical experience to be among them.
As for the Lazy Bear Lodge expansion, construction will begin soon. The reason for the urgency? Demand.
At this past season’s Rendezvous Canada, the country’s biggest and most important tourism trade show, Lazy Bear representatives were told by some of the big buyers that Churchill had to either beef up the infrastructure and visitor capacity of the town, or lose business to Yellowknife, NWT and to Norway; Canada’s competitor for polar bear watching. Lazy Bear Lodge is one of those willing to take up the challenge.
Roger Harris, of Destination Canada, is a Churchill enthusiast who is working hard to bring more international travelers here. “It’s such an incredible product and experience,” he comments about Lazy Bear.
As Barry Rempel of the Winnipeg Airport Authority says, “I know of (Wally’s) long standing efforts to help improve the tourism product and hence the growth in the overall economy. Every effort along these lines is critical to a community whose lifeblood is based on connectivity that is being hampered by recent historic events.”
He adds, “At this moment, aviation is really its only effective avenue to assure the required connections for those in the region. We are working diligently with those in the community and along the line to ensure they are effective participants in the economy and have the goods and products at their disposal to grow.”
Flooding earlier this year has again hampered the effort to bring in goods via rail; however, Lazy Bear is well-positioned to respond to the challenge. Forewarned by past experiences, the company is well-stocked with imperishable goods and has contingency plans for bringing in fresh produce to augment its homegrown crop.
Challenges are part of the northern lifestyle, says Wally Daudrich. They are part of the allure of working, living and visiting there. And, he would add, the beauty, the excitement and the adventure make it all worthwhile.