It was the late-night howls of sled dogs that gave Richard Lafleur the idea for his latest attraction. Lafleur, who owns Cedar Meadows Resort and Spa in Timmins, Ont., used to offer dog sledding trips to guests around his 100-acre property. But at night, the dogs howled, keeping guests awake. After receiving complaints over the noise, Lafleur spun the story. He started telling guests that the dogs were part wolf. It was in their nature to howl. Suddenly, guests wanted rooms close to the enclosure. They wanted to hear the wolves howl at night. It became an attraction.
That was 10 years ago, but Lafleur has held onto the idea. With the sled dogs no longer around, Lafleur plans to bring real wolves to the resort. After receiving a $300,000 grant from the provincial government intended to stimulate business in Northern Ontario, Cedar Meadows has started building five “wolf chalets”.
These accommodations will include a bedroom with a glass viewing wall that looks out onto a 10-acre enclosure, housing between five to eight wolves, which Lafleur will buy from a zoo. “The enclosure’s fairly big. And considering these wolves will be from a zoo already, there’s not too many zoos that have a 10-acre park. They might have a one- or two-acre park. I’ve also added a big half-acre pond in there and there’s a creek running through it, so it’ll be very natural,” Lafleur says.
Is the wolf the most Canadian animal?
Legally, Lafleur could fit 22 wolves in the 10-acre enclosure, but to avoid any in-fighting, he plans to keep the group to a small pack of wolves. These wolves will be kept in a secure enclosure as the rest of the 100-acre property houses 43 elk, 18 fallow deer, and 16 bison, which can be viewed on wildlife tours.
Lafleur doesn’t have a date for when the chalets will open, but he expects it to be some time in the summer of 2023, with average nightly prices going for about $500 to $600.
The wolf chalets have drawn some criticism, though. Lafleur says some locals aren’t crazy about the idea of living next door to an apex predator. And there are questions around the ethics of housing wild animals for people’s entertainment.
Simon Gadbois, a psychology and neuroscience professor at Dalhousie University who studies wolves, says that these types of attractions are popular in Europe but most of the sites in North America have closed down.
“It seems that in North America, we moved on from the concept of captive wolves. Especially, I would say, if it’s in the context of entertainment,” Gadbois says.
Nowadays, for wild animals to be held in captivity in North America, the public expects there to be a clear conservation and educational mission, Gadbois says. It needs to go beyond being an attraction.
The other concern about captive wolves is how much space they need. Gadbois says it depends on the type of wolf. “Canadian Siberian wolves are sometimes nomadic. You can’t even put a number on how far they travel because they will follow caribou wherever they go,” he says.
Wolves that have grown up in zoos, however, won’t have as expansive a range. Ten acres—while on the small side, Gadbois says—should be enough to accommodate five to eight wolves that have grown up in captivity.
“If you had said they were captured around the Mackenzie River and brought into that enclosure, then I would have said, that’s not good,” Gadbois says. “But if they’re coming from a zoo. I’m going to assume that they’re moving to better conditions. That makes me feel a lot better about this.”
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