Fort Churchill

Fort Churchill

During World War Two, North American forces realized that they needed more training and experience in cold weather warfare. This led to the establishment of a military base first as a tent camp at Akludlik Marsh then as a military community at Fort Churchill and a series of cold weather tests on personnel, munitions and equipment.

Exercise Muskox was the largest and most widely reported of these operations. This exercise, beginning in Feberuary 1946, tested over-snow track vehicles on a pan-arctic journey across northern Canada. From Churchill, the vehicles travelled north to Cambridge Bay across to Victoria Island and finally down to Edmonton, Alberta. It was also the first arctic military exercise which relied on air support, based out of Churchill, Manitoba and Baker Lake, NWT (now Nunavut).

It was made up of 45 personnel of all ranks who made the main journey of the exercise. The exercise was designed to study Army-Air Force cooperation, the mobility of over-snow vehicles under various conditions and the feasibility of establishing landing strips on the barren ground.

The Moving Force left Churchill on February 15, 1946 with temperatures dipping to -44F. Eleven snowmobiles and one American Weasel, M-29 crossed the rough pressure ridges of the Churchill River estuary.

This exercise found that hoar frost would saturate clothing and sleeping bags, caribou skins were used as floor matting, water was scarce and army rations were difficult to cook.

Fort Churchill eventually was decommissioned in the mid-seventies. Military personnel had essentially been withdrawn in the mid-1960s and by the late seventies, Fort Churchill was a ghost town. In 1981, it was declared officially closed and was dismantled. Today, only the road grid and a few buildings, including the Polar Bear Compound and Airport Hangars, signal its existence.

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