Offbeat learning vacations

A lazy beach stint is fun, but sometimes you want more. Here are a couple of unique educational vacations when you want to move from looking to learning:

1. Stay at a Subarctic Research Station

In the polar bear capital of Churchill, Manitoba, you can now live and learn for a week alongside senior scientists and student researchers — even assisting with research — at the non-profit Churchill Northern Studies Centre.

Programs vary year round. “Winter Skies: Aurora and Astronomy in Churchill” is about Northern Lights when they are at their strongest in February and March. Astronomers give talks, then everyone heads to the heated, darkened, enclosed viewing lounge with its clear-acrylic dome. As with the polar bear program, during daytime, guests can go snowshoeing, dogsledding and snowmobiling or visit Churchill’s acclaimed Eskimo Museum.

June offers “Spring’s Wings: Birding in Churchill.” Dedicated to bird-watchers, it features one of Canada’s leading ornithologists. It’s “all birding, all the time,” the centre’s executive director, Michael Goodyear, says. “From sunrise to sunset, they’re out visiting boreal forest, tundra, marsh, salt flats, sand dunes, river estuaries and creek wetlands.”

2. Go on an Inuit Odyssey

Immerse yourself in all things Inuit with a week-long “Inuit Odyssey: Under the Ice & Snow,” a cultural adventure selected by National Geographic Traveler magazine as one of the “2011 Tours of a Lifetime”. The trip starts in Montréal at an Inuit-owned arts cooperative before heading to Kuujjuaq, the main town of Nunavik, Québec’s Arctic region. From there it’s off to Diana Island by canoe to scout for musk oxen.

Travel to the community of Kangiqsujuaq and mingle with locals, perhaps dropping in on a hockey game or to the school. Check out a sub-Arctic grocery store or prowl for locally made art. This traditional Inuit community is a perfect base for exploring Northern culture.

Launch into Inuit culture with a dogsledding trip led by the region’s top mushers on a traditional qamoutik sled. One of the highlights is heading out at low tide to pick mussels with locals — under metres-thick sea ice!

Workshops at ancient archaeological sites will introduce you to cooking bannock as well as traditional sewing and tools and you’ll also meet elders for storytelling sessions. Then indulge in meals with local ingredients like caribou and Arctic char while listening to traditional throat singing by Inuit women.

Article courtesy of the Canadian Tourism Commission

Photo: Churchill, Manitoba