MMF sends Christmas hampers to Churchill with the message 'we'll never forget the north'

It's not exactly a sleigh, but a northern Manitoba community was treated to more than 100 Christmas hampers Sunday courtesy of a specially chartered plane.

Manitoba Métis Federation chartered plane to fly food, gifts into northern town after rail service suspended

The rail line to Churchill was damaged by flooding in May, knocking out the only all-season land connection to the small northern Manitoba community. (CBC)

It's not exactly a sleigh, but a northern Manitoba community was treated to more than 100 Christmas hampers Sunday courtesy of the Manitoba Métis Federation and a specially chartered plane.

"Everybody should have Christmas and we want to make sure Churchill has Christmas, too," said MMF president David Chartrand.

The federation organized the trip and chartered a 46-seat plane to bring 120 hampers and 200 gifts for families in Churchill, Man., who were cut off from rails service after the rail line to the community was badly damaged by flooding in May.

The 900-person community relies on the line for shipments of food, fuel and other essential goods, which have had to be shipped by more costly planes or barges. An ice road to the community is in the final stages of construction, and shipments are expected to leave any day now. 

As a result of the damage to the rail line residents have faced rising prices as the federal and provincial governments negotiate with Denver-based rail line owner Omnitrax over who should pay for repairs.

'Goosebump scenario'

Chartrand said his organization wanted to help the town after seeing the hardship its residents faced throughout the year.

"We've got hampers for every family to make sure that they're going to have turkey at Christmas, because we do know the cost has gone crazy up in Churchill," he said.

"It's just our way of helping out and sending a message that Churchill matters. And [to] the people that feel that the south may forget the north, we're saying we'll never forget the north."

The federation worked with the Churchill mayor's office, school and a local Métis group to orchestrate the drive and make sure every child in school got a gift and every family got a hamper of staples like turkey and potatoes, Chartrand said.

The goods were flown up Sunday morning on the plane along with a handful of musicians who volunteered to perform as special guest Santa Claus distributed the hampers. Chartrand said they sang carols the whole flight.
David Chartrand, president of the Manitoba Metis Federation, is helping people in Churchill Man. have a merrier Christmas. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

"It gives you kind of the goosebump scenario and … you feel very good that you can make such a difference, and as a president I have the ability to make that call," he said.

Chartrand said the weather even cooperated, delivering mild temperatures and a very on-theme snowfall.

"The snowflakes are falling, the crystal ice is around the trees and it's just so beautiful right now in Churchill," he said.

"And the temperature is actually pretty damn good."

With files from Holly Bernier