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Developing a wolf economy: wildlife tourism fuels Manitoba’s economy

In February 2012, a team of people from Spirit Way Inc.
polar bears sparring
Photographer Jiangou Xie at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge took this incredible photo of a black wolf near two polar bears sparring. These two carnivore species are of high interest to wildlife lovers around the world.

In February 2012, a team of people from Spirit Way Inc., University College of the North, Travel Manitoba, The Wildlife Society/Manitoba and Frontiers North Adventures met with government ministers in Winnipeg to present a discussion paper entitled “Building a Wolf Economy.” It was prepared after Thompson Unlimited had funded a feasibility study on Thompson as the wolf capital of Canada. The discussion paper outlined economic development considerations and opportunities in various sectors from wolf research, education, science, policy, art and culture, events and ecotourism.

Wolves are apex predators and play an important role in nature so that their prey do not overwhelm the ecosystem. Studies in Isle Royale National Park and Yellowstone National Park have shown the detrimental effect when wolves are removed from the landscape by arbitrary hunting or culling programs.

After wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone in the late 1990s, massive numbers of visitors travelled to the park to learn about and try to get a glimpse of wolves. In 2005 an economic study showed that 96,000 visitors came to the Yellowstone to see wolves and spent some $35 million for travel, accommodation, and meals, etc. In Ely, Minnesota, the International Wolf Center with its captive wolves attracts over 40,000 visitors a year and supports over 60 full- and part-time jobs in a community of 3,500 people. There are over 70 wolf parks in North America, and the public’s fascination with wolves can literally create an industry.

Tourism is the fourth-largest industry in the world. Did you know tourism in Manitoba is a $1.6 billion dollar industry each year with 23,5000 tourism jobs? Tourism generates more tax revenues for the Province of Manitoba than wheat! At a local level, every dollar spent by a visitor multiplies four times as the money circulates in the community.

In Thompson, the Heritage North Museum receives between 3,000 to 4,000 signatures in their guestbook each year from people from Asia, South America, Australia, Europe, United States and Canada. The majority of the signatures are from tourists travelling by train to and from Churchill. This is a captive audience that Thompson has wondered for decades how to break into and hold them before or after their visit to Churchill.

Thompson is positioned centrally in Manitoba, directly in the path of these wildlife lovers flocking to Churchill to see polar bears or beluga whales. Each July and August, over 12,000 people view, kayak, and swim with thousands of beluga whales in Hudson Bay. In October and November, 18,000-plus tourists visit Churchill to experience polar bears.

It is a misconception that tourists only want to visit the “big city.” Most tourism in our area happens right in our own backyard. The appetite for unique travel experiences is growing. The most successful destinations are no longer focusing on a list of things to see and do, but rather, publishing compelling stories and experiences that resonate with travelers. is such a site offering tourism content in fun, new ways.

As northerners, we live and enjoy everything that our accessible wilderness offers. We know there are great experiences to be had and great stories to tell. We have a lot to offer!

Tourism is everybody’s business as it can benefit the community at large and generates pride when residents showcase their community’s assets. When we all work together, big things can be accomplished. Tourism depends on the support of the entire community to be successful. From local residents who volunteer their time, businesses that collaborate on development initiatives and governments that provide financial support - it takes every member of a region to stand together. This is an exciting time as the government of Manitoba is working with the Manitoba Chamber of Commerce and Travel Manitoba to invest in tourism industry in the province.

Regional tourism associations need community support and leadership. Our strengths will be in international destination readiness, signage, transportation and infrastructure. Air access is one of the most important factors. Starting in the summer of 2015 WestJet offers a direct flight from Gatwick Airport in London, England to Winnipeg. This is the equivalent of a super highway from Europe to our door in Manitoba! Thompson can now easily benefit from same-day travel for wildlife adventurers who wish to visit our region from overseas. Currently, Spirit Way Inc. and Travel Manitoba are working on a major promotion campaign in England in 2017 to promote the Wolf Capital and Polar Bear Capital that will take advantage of that new airline corridor.

There are other seeds in place that will grow fruit in the short term. Did you know Thompson and region have three Manitoba Star Attractions? They are the Heritage North Museum, Pisew Falls and Spirit Way, a 2.5 km walking and biking pathway with 17 points of interest that has won four awards, and is one of the top 20 places to visit in Manitoba. Star Attractions are what visitors want to see and experience, preferably with informed and hospitable tour guides who can show the sites and tell the good stories.

One of the points of interest along the Spirit Way is a gigantic 10-story wolf mural which has become Thompson’s landmark and has received international attention. It was the only mural in Canada chosen for a World Book of Murals in 2008. Thereafter, Spirit Way Inc. developed a campaign to position Thompson as the wolf capital of the world and to develop best practices “in all things wolf.” Spirit Way Inc. is working with Frontier North Adventures to offer a Wolf Howl Walk in August 2017 for their guests who will stop in Thompson for two days along with their visit to Churchill and Winnipeg.

Wolves are hard to see in our dense boreal forest. That elusive nature heightens their appeal. Once wolves that are rescued or rehabilitated, are introduced at the Boreal Discovery Centre, there will be educational programs and viewing experiences for residents and visitors to learn and understand the social and complex nature of wolf packs that are always elusive.

Any great event or festival is successful with the help of volunteers, and a tourism industry for Thompson can benefit from having volunteers. Spirit Way Inc. is undertaking new and exciting projects for 2017 that will need volunteers. Watch for further updates to come. If someone wants to contribute and has their own great ideas they wish to pursue, or are unsure what to do, but would like to participate, they are welcome to contact Spirit Way Inc. through the Heritage North Museum, the visitor centre at the Meridian Hotel, or by email at Visit and like us at Facebook/Wolf Capital of the World.

Information on the wolf capital is becoming available on the Thompson Guide mobile app, a free app with the latest in calendar events with community content, services, festivals, entertainment, a northern lights forecaster, and much more! This app is a great way for Thompson and region to interact and stay in touch while highlighting ourselves to the world. It’s a free download when using the keywords: Thompson Guide.

Tourism is a real leader in Manitoba’s economy. It is critically important that we value this resource and foster its development for the continued prosperity of our province. It is estimated by 2030 that every one in 11 jobs will be tied to tourism. The drivers for a successful tourism industry are destination, strength and community engagement. Investing in tourism will only make Thompson and Manitoba an even greater place to live and work. Promoting the wolf capital of the world will help Thompson grow and diversify and will lead our community in the eco-tourism direction.

This is the fifth in a series of Spirit Way articles highlighting news about their efforts to highlight Thompson as the Wolf Capital of the World.

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