Mission Impossible: Cape Churchill

Chantal Thompson
Young Canada Works Student Research Assistant: Wapusk National Park

Jill Larkin, Chantal Thompson and David Walker on a water sampling mission Jill Larkin, Chantal Thompson and David Walker on a water sampling mission
© Parks Canada

Title: Mission Impossible – Cape Churchill. Subject: H2O, a.k.a. water, from the tundra ponds of Wapusk National Park (NP).

Agents: Chantal Thompson, Jill Larkin, Rodney Redhead, David Walker, Heather Stewart.

Mission: Collect water samples from ponds along the Hudson Bay coast at Cape Churchill.

Sediment sampling action! Sediment sampling action!
© Parks Canada

This was not the average camping trip. We set out in mid-June for Cape Churchill, which is the most north-eastern corner of Wapusk NP. The purpose of this trip was to set up some permanent vegetation plots as well as to sample water and sediment from a couple of wetlands.

There were no fancy fenced-in compounds with cabins and flush toilets. Cape Churchill is a desolate place where two large canvas tents and a fire tower were the only shelter around. Yet, it was one of the most amazing places to camp. We set up on a beach ridge along the coast where our tents were surrounded by an alarm wire in case a white furry friend decided to visit. We completed this trip when most polar bears were still out on the sea ice in order to reduce our risk of encountering one.

When looking over to the bay, the ice created a mirage which made it seem as if there were mountains in the distance. The scenery only got better as a moose would wander over to check out the new people on the block. This mission into the park made for some epic hiking adventures around lakes and along beach ridges. There were many wildlife encounters on the way. Caribou were found almost everywhere around the camp. They were so numerous that, on our way to different sites, we would crouch behind rocks and kneel to avoid disturbing the migrating herds. They would get so close you could hear them breathe and feel the ground shake as their hooves dropped.

Wandering moose along the coast Wandering moose along the coast
© Parks Canada

The adventures I’ve experienced at Cape Churchill were unlike any other. With my water samples having been collected and tested, and having results that can be compared to future tests - mission complete! As a student in environmental sciences at the University of Guelph with an emphasis on water chemistry and hydrology, it has been a delight for me to have been the water quality technician for Wapusk NP.