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Life is different at the end of the road

Recently I travelled to Thompson, Manitoba.
Rob Shultz
Rob Shultz

Recently I travelled to Thompson, Manitoba. Surrounded by boreal forest, this northern mining community is known for its harsh winters—with temperatures falling so low that automobile and aircraft engine manufacturers test their products there in some of the world’s most extreme weather conditions. It’s the most northern Canadian city connected by road in the region, where civilization ends and an untamed wilderness begins.

I was invited by Spirit Way Inc., a community-based non-profit organization, working to build Thompson as the Wolf Capital of the World. This volunteer group has raised over $1 million for a variety of wolf projects. Arriving in Thompson, it’s clear to me that the people who live here have tremendous respect and appreciation for wolves. Streets and a walking path called Spirit Way are lined with statues of wolves painted by local artists, a 10-story apartment building proudly overlooks the city sporting a massive lighted mural of a wolf, and Spirit Way Inc.’s mascot is a spirited grey wolf named Timber. Even two streets in town are called Wolf Street and Wolf Street!

Despite Manitoba laws that allow for the hunting of wolves from August through March as part of a big game (moose, elk, caribou) licence, a flourishing wolf population surrounds the city. Sightings of wolves are common, and few of the people I spoke with could understand why anyone would want to hunt these magnificent animals. On Spirit Way’s website, www.thompsonspiritway.ca, Thompson residents and tourists can post photos and videos of their wolf sightings. Each month a cash prize is offered for the best wolf photo. There are some remarkable photos to prove that wolves and wolf packs roam in this region of Northern Manitoba. Spirit Way’s gamut of wolf projects underway from public art, to a wolf statue GPS hunt, to youth education, to public engagement, etc. allows this community to live up to its claim of being the Wolf Capital of the World.

What makes Thompson so different from other wolf-rich environs? The remoteness of the region and its harsh living conditions undoubtedly prevent the wolf-human conflict that commonly results from livestock and human population densities.

But credit also needs to be given to Spirit Way Inc., which has raised more than $2 million to promote eco-tourism and cultural heritage in Thompson. Its work appears to be changing local attitudes toward wolves by teaching people to value the wolf as an important natural resource.

Thompson’s celebration of the wolf is an excellent example of the environmental and economic success that can be achieved when we work to enrich public attitudes toward wolves through education. While local culture and remoteness give this community an advantage, its success has been fuelled by committed volunteers and community leaders who teach respect and understanding of the important role wolves play in a balanced environment. A message that the world and wildlife community should hear.

This editorial by Rob Shultz, executive director of the International Wolf Centre in Ely, Minnesota, which advances the survival of wolf populations by teaching about wolves, their relationship to wildlands and the human role in their future, first appeared in the International Wolf magazine. It isthe sixth in a series of Spirit Way articles highlighting news about their efforts to highlight Thompson as the Wolf Capital of the World.