Street View and Polar Bears

Explore Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, the polar bear capital of the world, and surrounding areas on the shores of the Hudson Bay using Google Street View. Get a first–hand look at what it’s like to live on the subarctic tundra—for both humans and polar bears.


Additional Tools

Unit Overview

Use this unit overview to prepare your students for exploring Churchill, the tundra, and polar bears through Google Street View. Scroll to other unit activities at the bottom of the page.

Grade Level: Middle School, but can easily be adapted to lower and higher grades

Objectives: By the end of this unit, students will be able to ...

  • Identify and characterize key aspects of the subarctic tundra
  • Explore the tundra ecosystem through Street View technology
  • Compare characteristics of the tundra ecosystem with the ecosystem where they live and other ecosystems around the world
  • Examine polar bear adaptations and migration patterns, including how the Western Hudson Bay polar bear population waits on shore every fall
  • Observe polar bear behaviors in the wild
  • Explore the “Polar Bear Capital of the World” (Churchill, Manitoba) through the Street View Trekker
  • Learn how the Street View imagery was collected from Tundra Buggy® One and other means
  • Examine why using technology is important for scientists in their studies of animals and ecosystems

Discussion with Students

Begin by asking your students these leading questions:

  • What do you know about polar bears?
  • What is an ecosystem? What do the terms "subarctic" and "tundra" mean?
  • What are the characteristics of the subarctic tundra? (Share a map to show the location of the subarctic through Google Earth or Google Maps.) Talk about:
    • Terrain and environmental features 
    • Plants and animals that live there
    • What would it be like to live in the subarctic? How would it compare to where you live? (Share a map of your students' location, then discuss the distance between it and Churchill.)
  • What is the ecosystem like where they live? Discuss:
    • Differences in terrain and environmental features from those in the subarctic
    • Differences in plants and animals in their location from those in the subarctic
    • What buildings and sites you might find in a town located in the subarctic
    • What some considerations would be constructing buildings, schools, houses, etc. in the subarctic?

Assessment: Finish the unit by having students report back. What did they learn about polar bears, the subarctic tundra, and the polar bear capital of the world?

Churchill Scavenger Hunt

Churchill is known as the polar bear capital of the world. It is one of the few places in the world where you can come face-to-face with polar bears, watching from the safety of a Tundra Buggy®. Through Google Street View imagery you can follow the polar-bear migration, watching the bears as they gather along the shores of Hudson Bay, waiting for the ice to freeze.

What is the town of Churchill like? What would it be like to live there? 
Explore this Custom Google Map as you gather clues for the Churchill Town Scavenger Hunt. Navigate to each of the locations below, read the information on the screen that pops up when you click on the location, and collect the facts needed for the Churchill Town Scavenger Hunt Activity Sheet.

Once you have the facts, fill them in and check your answers here

  • Town of Churchill Sign
  • Inukshuk History
  • Eskimo Museum
  • Parks Canada’s Wapusk National Park Headquarters
  • Churchill Airport
  • Miss Piggy Air Cargo Plane
  • Recycling Depot
  • Churchill Town Center
  • Churchill Grain Terminal at Hudson Bay Port Facility
  • Belugas and Bears
  • Churchill Town Complex
  • Are We There Yet?
  • Spirit Way Wolves
  • Polar Bear Warning Sign
  • Polar Bear Holding Facility
  • Bear Trap
  • Cape Merry, Churchill, MB
  • Cape Merry Cannon Battery
  • Churchill Northern Studies Center
  • Dog Sledding with Wapusk Adventures
  • Prince of Wales Fort
  • Polar Bear Point
  • Inukshuk History

Find The Polar Bears

Did you know that polar bears gather on the shores of Hudson Bay every fall during the polar-bear migration season? They are waiting for the bay to freeze so they can hunt ringed seals! With Google Street View imagery, you can roam the tundra on a Tundra Buggy® and look for polar bears. Using a set of clues, try to find polar bears out on the tundra!  


  • Look for an off–white, yellowish color in the photo. Polar bears appear off–white in comparison to the pristine white snow surrounding them.
  • Look for bears hunkered down in the willows (low shrubs found in the tundra). They are resting and saving energy for hunting.

Can you find?

Sparring (play-fighting) polar bears - Do you know why polar bears spar?

A mom and her cub:

A sleeping bear - Why would a bear choose to rest more at this time of year?

Tundra Ecosystem Scavenger Hunt

Churchill is located in the subarctic tundra. The tundra exists in the far Northern Hemisphere. The word "tundra" usually refers to areas where the subsoil is permafrost, or permanently frozen soil. Permafrost tundra includes vast areas of Northern Russia and Canada. What else characterizes the tundra?  Look around the Google Street View imagery and see if you can find the following:

• Small trees – Is there anything different or unique about the trees you find?

• Willows (low-lying shrubs):

• Polar bears – How many can you find?

• Arctic wildlife (in addition to bears) 

• Unusual patterns in the ice or snow 

• The Hudson Bay:

• Sea ice forming on the Hudson Bay

• Aurora Borealis:

• A Tundra Buggy:

Hudson Bay: Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, is located on the shores of Hudson Bay. Hudson Bay is part of the North Atlantic Ocean. It is a large body of salt water connected to the Arctic Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean.

Aurora Borealis: The aurora borealis (or northern lights) is a natural phenomenon caused by the interaction of charged particles from the sun with atoms in the upper atmosphere. Can you see the colored lights in the night sky? They often appear as green, blue, or purple (hint: look for the green in these images).

Tundra Buggy: A Tundra Buggy is a large vehicle that is used to view, photograph, and study polar bears. Tundra Buggies sit high off the ground, making them safe for people and the polar bears. “Buggy One” is used by Polar Bears International for webcasts and exploration. Other Tundra Buggies are used for tourism.

Connected Classrooms: Walk Through the Tundra

What is it like for researchers and the Google team to travel to Churchill and collect Street View images? Watch and learn how it was done!  

Unit Assessment

Finish by asking students to report on what they have learned about polar bears, the subarctic tundra, and the polar bear capital of the world.