Imagine dining inside the walls of a 300 year old fort under the northern lights and a world-class meal created by one of Canada's top chefs. This is RAW:churchill, a culinary and adventure travel experience like no other.
The sun is just above the horizon and you can feel the temperature dropping as we board the shuttle in Churchill which transfers us to the official Tundra Buggy®. We climb up the stairs to board this massive custom-built machine, typically used for polar bear viewing, which will transport us across the river to the Prince of Wales Fort. These heated, washroom equipped machines have tires over 1.5 meters (5 feet) tall which are required to navigate the rough, frozen terrain of the Canadian subarctic. Once we’re seated, the Tundra Buggy guide introduces himself before we begin our journey.
After we trundle across the Churchill River the Tundra Buggy guide points out the walls of the Prince of Wales Fort. For me, a Canadian History buff, this is the most exciting element of this trip. This fort was built by Hudson’s Bay Company over a 40-year period in the 1700s. Originally a post for the company to trade furs with the Dene, Cree and Inuit, Prince of Wales Fort was constructed in the European “star” shape with walls 6.5 meters (21 feet) tall and 11 meters (36 feet) deep.
It’s hard to imagine what early explorers and Hudson’s Bay Company men would have experienced while living and working in this very harsh subarctic environment. Once we arrive at the fort we are welcomed with a strong shot of Jaegermeister to help cut the cold.
We walk through the massive stone walls of the Prince of Wales Fort and enter into the incandescent RAW:churchill structure. It is so surreal sitting at a familial table for just 20 underneath the stars in the center of this historic site. The architectural design and material selection of RAW:churchill was inspired by northern dog-sleds and komatiks. At one end of the tent structure is the open kitchen where we can see the chefs make the finishing touches on our world-class meal. Above us there is a transparent roof which might give us the first glimpse of northern lights.
Tonight we get to enjoy a meticulously curated menu designed by one of Canada’s top chefs, which features courses inspired by regional delicacies from land and sea. The first course is served not long after we arrive and get settled. The wind picks up, blowing against the RAW:churchill structure as if begging for our attention. Inside, however, the atmosphere is warm and the air filled with delicious scents, clinking glasses and laughter.
Mandel Hitzer is the chef at both deer + almond and RAW:almond in Winnipeg. He is our chef tonight at RAW:churchill.
After a delicious meal we exit the RAW:churchill structure and step outside into the Prince of Wales Fort. It’s almost pitch black except for the light from the tent and Tundra Buggies. We once again board the Tundra Buggy and our guide takes us away from the fort and the lights of Churchill so we can have the best view the northern lights. Our guide explains that Churchill lies directly beneath the Auroral Oval with auroral activity occurring over 300 nights a year. The most likely time to experience northern lights in Churchill is January through March due to long nights and semi-arid conditions resulting in clearer skies.
Lucky for us, the sky is clear and chances for northern lights are very good. Some people stayed in the warm Tundra Buggy, looking for northern lights out the window and on the open-air back deck. I climb down onto the frozen ground with the rest of the group and look up at the sky. Someone gasps as we begin to see the first twinkle of green lights. I sit back and watch in amazement as mother earth puts on one of her best shows.
We arrive back in Churchill via Tundra Buggy, satisfied and sleepy.
There was something magical about this RAW:churchill experience that will stick with me forever. I still can’t believe just a few short hours ago I was dining beneath the northern lights, in the historic Prince of Wales Fort, on the edge of the Hudson Bay.
Secure your seat at RAW:churchill 2018 by booking your spot on select Frontiers North Northern Lights and Winter Nights trips. Experience all Churchill has to offer during prime aurora borealis season. This adventure includes the full RAW:churchill experience, a Frontiers North Interpretive Guide, round trip transportation to Churchill from Winnipeg, accommodations, all meals, dog sledding, cultural programming, snow shoeing and more.
In the evening, you will be picked up in Churchill and transferred to the official Tundra Buggy®. Once on board, you will travel across the Churchill River to the Prince of Wales Fort. The RAW:churchill tent structure is inside the fort’s stone walls where you will be seated at a large table for 20. Enjoy a world-class meal in the warm tent. A portion of the tent’s roof is transparent so you may be able to catch a glimpse of the northern lights from the tent, weather dependent.
After dinner, you will once again board the official Tundra Buggy and travel away from the fort and lights of town for a northern lights viewing session. Warm drinks will be provided and you are encouraged to get down on the ground to view and photograph the northern lights.
You will be transferred back to town after northern lights viewing.
Watch the Matador Network's overview of the RAW:churchill experience featuring our award winning chef Mandel Hitzer.
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