I have always been intrigued by wolves. Books, such as Women Who Run with the Wolves inspired me, tales, such as the Capitoline she-wolf, intrigued me, and of course there were all those werewolf movies I grew up on! There’s no doubt I was eager to visit a wolf pack that was within a day’s drive from my own home.
The Haliburton Forest Wolf Centre is a 3.5-hour drive from Toronto, just south of the Algonquin highlands, and in one of the most spectacular woodland settings I have seen. The centre has made an extreme effort to keep the environment as natural as possible for the wolves, with 15 acres of forest for the pack to roam. Having said that, once you are there, it is never guaranteed that you will see the wolf pack, but they do feed them near the observation deck, so eventually they will return. They also have live video feeds from different areas of the wolf enclosure (in worst case scenario). So, the best thing to do is to make a day of it, if the wolves aren’t there in the morning you can come back later and check again. The beautiful landscape, plethora of lakes, and close proximity to some very cool graveyards make it an ideal location to explore.
We were lucky, the wolf pack was right in front of the observation deck and very active when we arrived!
“To look into the eyes of a wolf is to see your own soul- hope you like what you see.”
When my eyes locked with the golden eyes of a large black wolf my heart almost stopped and every hair on my body stood up on end~ hackles arched! It was a mixture of excitement, fear, respect and love all rolled into one heavy knot of anticipation lodged in the pit of my stomach.
When I say we met eyes, it should have been impossible, since the observation area is a large round room encased with one-way, ceiling to floor, sound-proof (or so we thought) windows. You are able to hear the wolves interact with each other through speakers in the room. But, my friend and I were surprised when a wolf would turn to look at us right at the snap of a shutter. They could not only sense we were there, but I believe they could pinpoint the exact location of my pounding heart if they wanted to. I believe that they were so aware of human presence that when a group of children ran up to the glass, the wolves would saunter closer to the window, pacing the area in front of the children while picking up old bones and noshing them with pleasure. This is not to represent the wolves as savage beasts, but only to display their vigorous power as predators. The encounter felt wild and untamed, in the most beautiful way.
We visited in early March, which was mating season. The wolves were very playful while challenging each other in demonstrations of tenacity. The alpha female would nip any other female wolf who encroached on her territory, later the scolded wolf would creep back, tail between its legs. One wolf would pin another wolf down, choosing to sit on top of him and look around feigning boredom, as the other struggled to get up. Their social interaction was so hilarious and interesting that my friend and I were giddy as we watched their antics.
I had mistakenly been calling the Haliburton Forest Wolf Centre a sanctuary, but in truth they don’t take in rescue wolves, since introducing wolves to this wild pack could be deadly. The centre also tries to have as little interaction with the wolves as possible, this makes things, like taking pictures very hard, since even allowing someone to wash the outside glass would threaten the natural environment. This had me wondering where the wolves came from, as my feelings are very torn about zoos and I’d hate to think these wolves were placed there only for our personal entertainment.
Upon further investigation, I found out that these wolves are the direct descendants of the wolves that RD Lawrence, famous Canadian naturalist, conservationist, and writer featured in his novel In Praise of Wolves. They had been owned by a photographer, Jim Wuepper, and were being kept in Marquette, Michigan since 1977. RD Lawrence had a part in relocating the pack to Haliburton in 1992 when the owner could no longer take care of them. In this way, the Haliburton Forest Wolf Centre was a sanctuary, but one that has been committed to the same pack of wolves.
The Centre has done a fabulous job in creating a museum which is attached to the observation area. The museum focuses on biology, history, lore and the image of wolves in popular culture. You could spend a lot of time going through the collection and there’s even a small theatre in the space.
I was surprised to see so much iconic werewolf imagery at the centre, as I know many wildlife associations believe that this perpetuates a negative stereotype of the animal. For myself, I have always viewed the creatures of horror as something to be respected, and not to be killed, as usually that’s where a horror movie takes a dark turn…right? It is humans that can’t leave something wild and untamed alone.
Another interesting point came up when I was watching the RD Lawrence documentary Canada’s Best Kept Secret. An interviewer asks him what he would tell his critics who accuse him of anthropomorphism, Lawrence denies that he puts human traits on wolves, instead he says that we can see ourselves in the traits of wolves. His main thesis always revolving around our existence with nature being one, and not exclusive of animals.
It is interesting to think that these horror tropes that are often used speak for our instinctual side, something we try to bury within, but yearn to release. I believe I embraced a small part of my inner wolf on this visit and it is with that thought that I state:
“Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.”
The Wolf Man (1941)