People have heard of pop-up restaurants and pop-up boutiques but a pop-up lodge in Canada’s backcountry? That’s what happens each fall when Frontiers North Adventures (FNA) hauls its Tundra Buggies (think school bus crossed with dump truck) into the path of hungry polar bears near Churchill, Manitoba and sets up camp for several weeks.
Two specially crafted buggies hold bunk beds for forty people (earplugs provided) and everything – including human poo – is trucked in and out. Use too much water and your roommate from Virginia will glower, but happy hours are truly happy as polar bears strut meters from the bar (and your bunk).
I watched as one lanky polar bear ambled towards the kitchen buggy, a black paint dot between its shoulders indicated it’d been captured and examined by scientists (they mark bears so they don’t capture the same bear more than once).
Supper preparation ceased as Chef Jared Fossen and other FNA staff peered out the back door at the bear looking up at them. This bear was hungry as it waited for Hudson’s Bay to freeze over, but it would get nothing but mouth-watering aromas here.
FNA ensures no garbage or wastewater touches the tundra. Things that might inadvertently reach the ground (like antifreeze in a mechanical leak) are specially formulated to be safe for polar bears.
Established in 1987, FNA is a family-owned business with a passion for sustainable business. They donate 6% of their pre-tax profit to good causes and limit their growth so as not to exceed the land’s carrying capacity.
As the bear settled on its haunches for the ice vigil, Chef Fossen delivered dinner. There was smoked Arctic char and salad made from greens grown in a reconfigured shipping container. (The Growcer – an Ottawa/Iqaluit-based company has created greenhouses in shipping containers that can withstand northern climates.) I savoured my scrumptious meal before hitting the sack and dreaming of the next day’s adventure.
FNA supports the work of northern scientists, partnering with Polar Bear International (PBI) and providing a Tundra Buggy for their use. I got the chance to hop aboard this buggy with BJ Kirschhoffer, PBI Director of Field Operations. “We reached almost one million people in six weeks last year from this buggy (via mobile broadcast)”, he explained as we bumped over tracks originally used by the military. This area was once a rocket range and FNA uses old trails to minimise further disturbance. We came to an abrupt halt next to a bear conserving calories in a languorous slumber.
Kirschhoffer trained a camera on the bear, beaming the image on the polar bear cam. A fellow passenger called Scotland on her phone, “Mom, I’m sitting next to a polar bear,” she exclaimed, “go to the Polar Bear Cam on the Polar Bear International website and you can see the same bear I’m looking at.” A few seconds later, her mom had the bear on her screen. “Isn’t that cool that we can both see that bear?” she chirped.
Sitting on a seat provided by a Canadian company with the vision to protect the environment in which it operates, I couldn’t help but agree.