In July, 2019, my husband and I headed up to Churchill, Manitoba, Canada so I could do summer research for my next book, NORTHERN PROTECTOR (Heroes of the Tundra Book 2).
That sign hangs in the Churchill airport. The citizens and Natural Resources Officers are quite serious about polar bear safety and the rules are meant for everyone. When we arrived on July 8, 2019 there had only been one polar bear spotted coming in from Hudson Bay’s coast. By the time we left at the end of the week, there would be five more sighted.
When I wrote the first book in the series, NORTHERN DECEPTION, and the subsequent Christmas novella, NORTHERN HEARTS, both of those books took place during the winter time. I had over 100 photos that my husband had taken in Churchill during March, 2011, when he was up there on a Search and Rescue training mission with the Royal Canadian Air Force. He loves to take photos and so I had a good idea of the town layout, the various buildings of interest, and the topography in the winter time.
However, NORTHERN PROTECTOR takes place in the summer time following the Christmas novella and I wanted to get all the details right on the flora and fauna of the taiga – the land that is the sub-arctic which Churchill stands on – and is beside the tundra. And I wanted to see the animals in the Wildlife Management Area which is government-protected because the polar bears have their maternity dens there and return each year to have their cubs. I knew that setting a murder mystery in a small, sub-arctic town, which is a fly-in and railroad only access year round would have it’s challenges.
So, we headed up by air and signed up for a couple of tour packages through https://frontiersnorth.com/.
Here’s some photos of locations that are in the book:
These are the kind of townhouses Joy and Emberlyn Gallagher live in. Row housing conserves heat during the winter time. In the late 1950’s-1960’s, Churchill had a military installation up there that held 5000 people. Some of these row houses are left over from that era. Now, the town boasts 900 people on a good day. During tourist season – the winter time or polar bear season – it swells to over double that normally. It’s been a ghost town during the pandemic.
This is the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Detachment on the main street. I wasn’t allowed to take pictures inside, of course, but my descriptions in the book are accurate. It also houses three cells at the rear for over-night prisoners who need to sober up or are being held for plane transport down to Thompson, Manitoba for court purposes. This is where Constable Ben Koper works.
An aerial shot, thanks to my husband’s trip in 2011. This is the Town Centre which is many blocks long and houses City Hall, the Health Centre which is a 100-bed hospital, the day care centre, library, recreation centre, bowling alley, movie theatre, and indoor playing area for year-round playing for kids. Due to the snowstorms and cold weather that comes down from the Arctic and the polar vortex that usually covers the town and surrounding area, everything important in the town is under this main building and inter-connected. The Town Centre and Health Centre feature in all three of my books.
This is part of the waiting area for the Emergency Department of the Health Centre, where Joy Gallagher works as head nurse. I wasn’t allowed to take photos further into the Centre but I loved the polar bear mural.
Here’s one of the two sets of apartment buildings in Churchill. I gave both Ben Koper and Jake Miller from NORTHERN HEARTS, apartments.
This Inukshuk features in each of the three books. Here it is in winter time, facing back into town and across the thin edge of the Bay towards the Granaries. The town used to be a major shipping port for all of Canada’s western grain and it was stored here before shipping across the world. The Granaries is where Kira Summer’s from NORTHERN DECEPTION is kidnapped and held for questioning about her whistleblower brother’s evidence by the villains.
Here I am standing beside it to give you an idea of the size. Inukshuk’s are man-made stone forms to show directions for hunter’s on the taiga or tundra. In NORTHERN PROTECTOR, the high school kids have been meeting down here on the beach to drink alcohol and socialize, putting themselves in danger to meeting up with polar bears who like to hide and sleep in the warm rocks.
These tiny cabins were the inspiration for my serial killers “workshop” on the “lake”, although these ones were right on Hudson Bay. These actual cabins are for ice fishing during the winter but when I saw them, my imagination started to go into over-drive.
We spent a whole day outside the town in the Wildlife Management Area on a Tundra Buggy. I wasn’t allowed to use the real trademarked name in my books so I called them Arctic Rovers. It’s made from the chassis of a fire truck, with special tires made to withstand a polar bear’s claws, and you can see by our heights how far off the ground they have to be. A male polar bear can stand up to 12-14 feet tall, and they often come right up to the Buggies and check them out.
You can see the width of the polar bear’s paws compared to my head. When Constable Ben Koper is mauled by a polar bear in NORTHERN DECEPTION, he’s only saved by his best friend driving a truck at it, and a Natural Resources Officer tranquilizing the bear. Bear/people encounters don’t usually end well. The Natural Resources Officers spend most of their time patrolling outside the town limits to haze bears away from the town, which is right on their migration path from Hudson Bay, where the sea ice is, west-ward inland to where they want to spend the summer months.
Next Wednesday I’ll share photos of places that are in NORTHERN DECEPTION and NORTHERN HEARTS. If you have any questions for me, please leave them in the comments and I’ll get back to you!