Churchill’s Rocket Range

During my first week the centre offered a tour of the nearby rocket range to the learning vacationers. With my morning free of volunteer duties, I jumped in.

It was a walking tour, which was appealing itself. At CNSC, you’re not normally allowed to walk outside, especially in bear season when polar bears are roaming around everywhere. It’s a bit more relaxed right now, in aurora season, with the bears far away hunting on the sea ice. We can walk outside in small groups if we stick just near the building. The Rocket Range is visible from the centre but too far to walk alone, so I was excited to go and learn about what I’d been seeing out my window all week.

Although it was a treat to take a longer walk around, it was SO cold. Before we left, our guide looked everybody up and down carefully to make sure we were all dressed appropriately in snow pants, thick parkas, and many layers.

The Churchill Rocket Research Range operated between 1980-1985, and it was in Churchill because one of the things they studied was the northern lights. During the eighties, the range launched a number of rockets with alternating aims of extinguishing the aurora or making it stronger (yes, you read that right – at times, they were shooting rockets into the sky to try and get rid of the lights). They thought the aurora hampered long-range communication (which is actually true) and wanted to get rid of it to improve their communications.

Their efforts to affect the aurora proved ultimately fruitless, and the range shut down a number of years ago. It’s since been declared a national historic site, though it receives no funding.

The rocket launcher:

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Some shots from around the range. Many of the buildings aren’t safe to be in anymore, but some are still used for storage.

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An abandoned bit: DSC_0544.jpg

A reminder of how small we are in this landscape. “Tricia vs. the machine”:

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A beautiful mural had been painted on the side of one of the old rocket buildings. The mural was done during SeaWalls Churchill. During the summer of 2017, artists came to Churchill and painted 18 murals around town that spoke to climate change and Churchill’s sea side connection. The murals were completed during a time when the train was out, and Churchill was facing issues from the isolation and lack of access to anywhere else; some of the other murals address that topic (I’ll blog more about them later).

The mural at the rocket range is the furthest one from town, and was a collaboration between two artists:

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On the reverse side of the building, the artists added a bonus mural. It’s a picture of the guy who was their polar bear lookout while they painted:

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Also in the rocket range were several temporary housing units. The CNSC (where I’m staying) has been around since 1976, but the current building they’re in is relatively new. The housing units are where the builders lived while the CNSC was being constructed. The units aren’t being used anymore, and are slowly being taken away and used for other purposes (for example, one is now a dressing room for a scuba dive place in the summer). Since it’s so expensive and impractical to take things in and out of Churchill, once stuff comes here, it never really leaves. Everything gets repurposed and made useful, again and again.

The housing units, waiting for their next purpose:

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We spent about an hour outside total. I’d bundled up and had no exposed skin, so I wasn’t cold at all, but my sunglasses froze over with a thick layer of ice and everybody’s eyelashes were tipped in frost. At one point when I blinked my lashes stuck together and I had to wrench them open.

It’s amazing that creatures and plants can live out here. I remember being amazed in South Africa that things could live in such a hot, dry, seemingly inhospitable place. Once again I’m amazed by the power and resilience of life. Many species out here have managed to find ways to survive in such an inhospitable landscape, where the growing season is only a few weeks long and it’s freezing cold and windy for most of the year. I’m also amazed that human cultures managed to develop and last out here for thousands of years, without any of our modern day technology. There are so many difficulties and so many things that, if they go wrong, suddenly place you in mortal danger.

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Churchill is such an interesting place. Coming here just after visiting South Africa, I’ve really gone from one world to another. I’ve gone from temperatures of 40 to -40 Celsius in the past couple months, and so far, it’s been quite the adventure.

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