Churchill – 1960s
Things were a little grim in Churchill when the bears started showing up. The military had announced their pending withdrawal in 1964 and things were unraveling fast. A good chunk of the town worked, at least, part-time at Fort Churchill, not to mention, a trip to the theatre, bowling alley or one of several lounges was a welcome distraction. Churchill was always a bit ‘worse for wear’, especially when compared to the sister community at Fort Churchill. Most of the houses in town were tar paper shacks with random additions and porches stuck to the sides, gradually morphed into the house itself. There was no power and no water, layers of ice clung to walls and windows for much of the year. Children tumbled through Churchill, weaving their way through honey buckets and garbage; ‘town bums’ sniffing derisively at the ‘camp sucks’ up at Fort Churchill. There was pond hockey in the ditches, baseball along the edge of town, fun to be had in the rocks along the bay and deep in the clumps of willows. A consultant hired by the province to help redevelop Churchill reported that living conditions were ‘unparalled squalor’ and ‘among the most wretched in Canada’. The legislative representative for Churchill suggested that they ‘lock the whole show up and leave Churchill to the polar bears’. Still, most people took pride in their homes, at least on the inside. Houses were generally clean aside from a goose being plucked on the kitchen table. There was a distinct waft of bleach and Red Rose tea through the town.
There was a little business section in Churchill, even if it only took a few minutes to walk through it. The Eskimo Museum and RC Church sat near the boardwalk (and the only street with running water!). There was the Churchill Hotel and Hudson Hotel where you could watch the Saturday night fights and shenanigans. Throw in the Igloo Theatre, Chez Giselle, Bay Motors Garage and the S&M (Sigurdson and Martin) Supermarket and it felt like there was a lot going on for a little place. The Hudson’s Bay Store, two stories tall, painted green and white, still had a distinct ‘fur trade’ feel about it. There was even a Steak House, even if it was the only restaurant in town.
A lot of old-timers fondly remember the days before ‘redevelopment’ (1974), where the town changed from a series of shacks that people owned to government built townhouses that you leased. The town was wide-open, blizzards hit hard but there was space, it was more of town. When the Town Centre Complex, housing the school, hospital and town offices, was built – replacing old Ernie Senior’s house, it kind of cut the town off from the bay. Officials said it was to block the wind but, in reality, the first location they chose was just too swampy for such a huge building. Plans always seemed to be just a little bit too big for Churchill…