Wapusk News - Issue 8, 2015

Personal Reflection, Wapusk National Park
Darian Weber

Above: colours of blue, red, orange, yellow, purple lit with clouds in sight

Below: arctic avens, bearberries, tufted bulrush, seeds in flight

There: polar bear, caribou, snow geese and more

Here: a nest, warm blankets, good company galore

The Hudson Bay Coast Northern Field School provides the opportunity for university students to immerse themselves in the Hudson Bay Lowlands ecosystem, meet people from the Churchill community and experience northern culture. Students participate in small research projects in Wapusk National Park (NP) and the Churchill area, as well as learn about the region, develop research skills and obtain real experience working in a national park.

This hands-on learning takes many forms. Practical skills are developed, including: collecting long-term monitoring data on permafrost and vegetation cover, as well as designing research projects on topics ranging from polar bear ecology, traditional knowledge of berry harvesting and caribou distribution, lemming burrow ecology and plant responses to soil moisture. Critical thinking skills are honed through group discussions and via interactions with local individuals and Parks Canada staff. Communication skills grow through giving presentations and sharing experiences, and through team teaching opportunities.

Since August 2004, this unique and engaging program has taken place annually. Dr. Ryan Brook, Assistant Professor in the College of Agriculture and Bioresources at the University of Saskatchewan, has organized and led the program since 2005, and has been conducting research in the greater Wapusk eco-system since 1994. Joining him is Kristina Hunter, an Instructor at the University of Manitoba in the Department of Environment and Geography, who has been a co-instructor since 2008. Parks Canada staff play a vital role in the course from safety management to course content.

The students spend a week at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, followed by a stay at the Nester One field station in Wapusk NP. One of the highlights of the trip is a hike from the Nester One base camp to Cape Churchill, a round trip of 32 km. The Cape is a distinctive feature within Wapusk NP—a series of beach ridges that extend well into Hudson Bay. During the fall this area is known for the congregation of polar bears awaiting the freeze-up of the Bay, and caribou are commonly seen as well. In 2014, students and facilitators were treated to several polar bear sightings on their journey to the Cape which made for some engaging back-country stories to tell around the campfire for years to come!

Students are asked to provide Parks Canada with their reflections on their time spent in Wapusk NP (see inset). This course clearly has a profound impact on each of the 157 (so far!) participants, with many commenting that the experience has been life-changing. Several course participants have gone on to careers in Parks Canada, and a few are even working in the Churchill area.

For more information contact: ryan.brook@usask.ca