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Chapter 11: Northern Settlements

11.10: The Town of Churchill



This low-level, large-scale photo shows the layout of both the port of Churchill and the residential area of town located between Hudson Bay to the north 1 and the Churchill River to the south 2. Tidal Marsh, with the characteristic dendritic drainage pattern 3, can be seen in the southeast. The marsh has a well-defined seaward edge 4 with some light-toned sand along it. Further west is land without the dendritic pattern 5 suggesting that bedrock is exposed, and on the original photo with the use of a magnifying glass, large boulders can be seen sitting on the surface 6. This area was water covered in figure 11.9 and is probably now exposed because a large percentage of the flow of the Churchill has been diverted upstream into the Nelson River to increase power generation on the latter.

Churchill is a planned community following a plan produced in 1932 by the Manitoba Department of Mines and Natural Resources. The plan “that resembles modern designs in some respects was adopted for the town. Churchill does not have the bays and crescents characteristic of a modern layout in the residential areas, and rectangular blocks are still dominant. Very clearly, however, the uniform rectangular gridiron has been successfully avoided by means of main collector avenues and a few curving streets, and by introducing a “square” and some roughly radial intersections which provide variety.”[i]

The railway line is the town’s main raison d’être It enters from the east-southeast 7 with several sidings 8 on which are located about 400 railcars, presumably carrying grain for shipment. One short siding leads to the passenger station[ii] 9 and another 10—which appears to be abandoned—leads to a group of buildings 11 on the shore. The main line continues west to another series of sidings 12 (with over 50 railcars) running alongside large grain storage elevators 13. A ship 14 is being loaded at the wharf by a conveyor 15 that runs from the elevator to the ship. Dust 16 from the grain is being blown westward by an easterly wind. East of the elevators are large oil storage tanks 17 served by a spur from the railway 18.

The main street of the community—Kelsey Boulevard 19—runs parallel to the railway line with various industrial buildings 20 between the two route ways. The residential area lies northeast of Kelsey Boulevard, the most obvious element of it being the town centre complex 21 built in the 1970s that “ includes the hospital and medical centre, the high school and library, a swimming pool, curling and skating rinks, a restaurant, a playground, and a number of offices—all under the same roof.”[iii] As can be seen in the photo, it is built in several levels and has a magnificent view of the bay. An open square is located to the southwest 22 with a shopping centre on its west side 23. Residences are located east 24 and west 25 of the square. Most of these are prefabricated townhouses arranged in an offset fashion 26 along the roads with a few single-family dwellings. Other items not previously mentioned are a second oil storage area 27 and the cemetery 28, located as usual near the edge of town.

Figure 11.10: The Town of Churchill

Figure 11.10: The Town of Churchill

Figure 11.10

Vertical air photograph: MH827068405-190

Flight height: 6,100 feet; camera focal length: 152.034 mm

Scale: 1:12,200 (approx.)

Date: September 20, 1982

Location of town centre: 58º 46' N, 94º 09' W

Map sheets: 1:250,000 54L Churchill

1:50,000 54L/16 Churchill


[i] Warkentin, J. and Ruggles, R. I. Historical Atlas of Manitoba. Winnipeg: Manitoba Historical Society, 1970, 376. The plan appears on page 377.

[ii] A passenger train still runs from Winnipeg to Churchill once per week and is completely booked during the bear-viewing season. However, the train’s speed is limited because of a deteriorating track.

[iii] Sweet, G. op. cit. 1996, 174.