Kyle is the President with Great White Bear Tours. He is the middle son to owners Don and Marilyn, with an extensive background in conservation. His knowledge of the community and landscape is an invaluable asset for Great White Bear Tours. Dorota’s passion for photography has brought an intimate glimpse and documentation of Churchill and the experience of a Great White Bear journey.
If we are to speak to the resiliency of Great White Bear Tours, it is important to point out that there is truly no aspect of the company that the Walkoski’s do not have a hand in. They continue to work hard, investing long hours, conceiving of new ideas, and ensuring that their company is excellent in every way. Pride in workmanship, attention to detail, and consistent reinvestment into their infrastructure and this community is vital to their success. The custom designed and built equipment is constructed to last. The company has a team of the most dedicated and professional drivers and guides, who have been with the company for years, while facilities and operating procedures have been developed and refined for the past 30 years.
“Mom and Dad are the only original operators left in the industry. I am now the general manager of the company and will continue to advance my skill set until I can run the show one day. My wife and I are raising two kids who are the fourth generation of Churchillian Walkoski’s. Great White Bear Tours has the deepest roots in this town. The entire industry is personal to us”.
Documentation of the landscape and wildlife is a significant reason why the company came to exist – responding to a desire by photographers to get a closer view of the stunning natural phenomena. And, it is only natural that Dorota, a skilled photographer herself, has helped communicate the beauty of the everyday with Great White Bear Tours.
“I have always been interested in photography but I was mainly doing portrait photography before moving to Churchill. My passion for wildlife and landscape photography really took off once we moved to Churchill and I had more opportunities to learn from Don Walkoski, who is an amazing photographer. It is hard not to want to capture all of the beauty that Churchill has to offer and being involved in the business has allowed me to get out and take more photographs that show what you can see if you go on a Great White Bear Tour”.
Though periods of Kyle and Dorota’s lives were spent in both Winnipeg and Churchill – Churchill has always been considered home – especially for Kyle, as it was where the majority of his childhood was spent. Eventually leaving to pursue a career in natural resource law enforcement to become a Natural Resource Officer – he immediately requested to be posted as far north as possible, where his heart was established. They settled in Gillam for five years, which allowed Kyle to work in Churchill with the Polar Bear Alert Program.
For Kyle, the company has certainly helped shape his identity, and it can be said that the work ethic and perseverance demonstrated by Don and Marilyn have impacted their three sons in a profound way. One memory Kyle describes, is going to the old scrap metal dump with the family and crawling around in the piles of old vehicles while his dad (Don) took parts for whatever he was fixing or building at that point.
"I remember going for family wiener roasts (bon fires) in Old Blue. Old Blue is the first vehicle my dad built that was used for tourism. He originally built it for going hunting and off-roading with his buddies and taking his family on small excursions to teach us about the bush. It was built from a short bus and an old 4x4 frame that he scavenged. I remember the original launch site for guests was literally a gravel road. No ramp, shelter, power or light. Dad did all of the field repairs in very poor working conditions. Improper tools, no parts, cold weather and bears in sight. Mom (Marilyn) brought us out to the site sometimes at night so she could watch for bears while he worked. Most of the drivers at the beginning were friends and family who wanted some extra work, or to lend a hand".
When asked about an awe-inspiring experience on the land, Kyle spoke to the exhilaration of watching big males spar and watching them play with ice blocks or trees – a wonderful indication of their personalities. Kyle also remembers harvesting his first moose at the age of only 13 on the lake with his dad. The immensity of this animal is not comprehensible until seen in person, he describes – frozen with awe in that moment.
Dorota too, is simply in awe of the beauty of Churchill. Every season is beautiful in its own way – the vibrant colours in Fall, the flowers and wildlife of summer, the clean crisp snow covered landscape of winter, and the icebergs in Spring.
"I remember the first time I came up to Churchill to see a Polar bear and I was on the edge of my seat the whole time waiting to spot one. All of a sudden, Kyle pointed out a bear walking through the willows and I just started at this amazing animal that appeared out of no where. I have seen lots of polar bears in the past 12 years that I have visited and now lived in Churchill and every experience with a polar bear is still amazing".
As Dorota and Kyle look forward to the next 50 years, they hope to continue offering premium Polar Bear viewing experiences to guests from all over the world. Their hope is that the company will still be owned and operated by the family. As long as the bears continue to migrate through the area and they are able to hunt out on the Hudson Bay then they foresee Great White Bear Tours thriving for years to come. At the moment, they have no intentions of leaving the Churchill community, and their children are being raised to have an appreciation for wildlife and the family business. When asked If there was ever a Walkoski clan motto, Kyle simply stated:
“work hard and take care of each other”.