Canada’s Untamed Heart Beats in Polar Bear Country

Canadian folklore is based upon it – the cold, the wind, the water, the isolation – the great white north.

Being from Newfoundland, I thought we had cornered the market on isolation. The kind that allows loneliness to seep right into your soul, if you don’t chase it off with booze, loud music, fistacuffs – or even religion.

This Thanksgiving, of all occasions, I met our match on the mouth of the Hudson’s Bay, in Churchill, Manitoba.

I went to visit two friends, one old and one new – all of us surviving a long life with the bitter reality that while the inside dictates how we deal with the outside, the outside eventually extracts what’s happening on the inside.

First I need to say that Churchill is exquisite. It grabs hold of you, and no matter how much you may want to, you cannot break free of its trance. It cannot, and will not, be controlled or conquered.

The wind produces trees who’s limbs and needles only grow on one side. The water moulds the boulders of the arctic tundra into shiny marbles of every size and colour with mind-boggling patterns and shapes. The life and frozen promise of the Bay puts polar bears on parade. The wide open wilderness can bring fox close enough to touch – and you would, except for the way he looks at you when he lifts his nose and cocks his head after catching your scent floating on the air.

It is an alluring place; there’s something attractive, sexy about it. Yet it simultaneously scares you to death. Maybe that’s what makes it sexy in the first place. You know you shouldn’t like it – it’s harsh, cold, unforgiving, unrelenting – but you cannot help but be captured by its rugged beauty, its untamed heart.

It speaks to the wild animal that still resides in each of our civilized souls.

Perhaps that is why our best stories come from the east, the prairies, the north. These are the parts of our country where the heart is still yet to be tamed. Perhaps this is why these are the places we run from, but always run back to (even if only for a short time); a place to rejuvenate our spirit and let our hearts be free once more.

Maybe that is the illusive Canadian culture that no one can quite put their finger on. Maybe to be Canadian is to have an untamed heart. If that is true, then Churchill is the truest Canadian I have met thus far.

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