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It is most famous for the many polar bears that come ashore in the autumn, looking for easily available food. Its status as "polar bear capital of the world" has turned it into a popular spot for ecotourism, as well as for Arctic research. Tourists can safely view polar bears from specially modified buses known as tundra buggies. October and early November are the most popular times to see the bears, who wait around the outskirts of the town until the ice freezes on Hudson Bay.
The town is the northern terminus of the Hudson Bay Railway , which arrived here in the 1930s. Its population in 2000 was 1,028. The town gains its name from John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, who was governor of the Hudson's Bay Company in the late 1600s and an ancestor of Winston Churchill.
A variety of nomadic Arctic people lived and hunted in this region. The Thule people arrived around A.D. 1000 from further west, and later evolved into the present-day Inuit culture. The Dene people arrived around A.D. 500 from further north.
Europeans first arrived in the area in the late 1600s. The first permanent settlement was a log fort built at the mouth of the Churchill River in 1717 as a trading post for commerce with Inuit and Dene people, part of the extensive fur-trading network established by the Hudson's Bay Company. The company replaced it with Prince of Wales Fort , a large stone fort finished in 1741. The fort was destroyed by French warships in 1782, and a new fort was built a short ways upriver.
This area was also the site of the Churchill Rocket Research Range , part of Canadian-American atmospheric research. Its first rocket was launched in 1956, and it continued to host launches for research and commercial satellites until closing in 1984. The site of the former rocket range now hosts the Churchill Northern Studies Centre , a facility for Arctic research.
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