Historic Sites of Manitoba: L9 Building / Institute of Arctic Ecophysiology Building (Amundsen Road, Churchill)
An 8,500-square-foot, one-storey, metal-clad building near Churchill was built in early 1955 by the Carter Construction Company of Winnipeg, at an estimated cost of $252,000. Known by the military designation of L9, the building was used through the 1950s and early 1960s as a laundry for the nearby Fort Churchill base.
In the mid-1970s, it was a laboratory for research on Arctic wildlife known as the Polar Bear Project, later the Institute of Arctic Ecophysiology. Two cedar-log residences from the Akudlik community were moved beside the building for use as accommodation by the scientific staff.
In early 1980, the facility hosted an experiment by a biologist from Norway, financed by the Canadian government, in which three polar bears were immersed in a tank of seawater with a layer of crude oil on top, to simulate an oceanic oil spill. Two of the bears subsequently died as a result of consuming oil adhering to their fur. The third bear only survived as a result of “extensive veterinary intervention.”
The building was vacated in the early 1980s and all of its windows were boarded up. The Akudlik residences were used for a university course held here from the mid-1990s to 2003 but have since been removed. The building was open to the elements at the time of a 2018 site visit and had been vandalized extensively. Some of the scientific equipment remains inside.
Photos & Coordinates
“2 city firms get contracts,” Winnipeg Tribune, 12 October 1955, page 4.
N. A. Øritsland, C. Jonkel, and K. Ronald, “A respiration chamber for exercising Polar Bears,” Norwegian Journal of Zoology, volume 24, pages 65-67, 1976.
“Polar bear research considered humane,” Winnipeg Free Press, 6 March 1980, page 23.
“Bear in Arctic oil spill test dies,” Winnipeg Free Press, 26 March 1980, page 3.
“Polar bear oil test defended,” Winnipeg Free Press, 11 April 1980, page 6.
R. J. Hurst, P. D. Watts, and N. A. Øritsland, “Metabolic compensation in oil-exposed polar bears,” Journal of Thermal Biology, volume 16, number 1, pages 53-56, 1991.
Financial support for research reported on this page was provided by Manitoba Heritage Grant 18F-H49829.
We thank Ryan Brook, Michael Goodyear, Tim Worth, and Paul Watts for providing additional information used here.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 14 November 2020