WOLF NEWS #6
(This was an editorial posted by Rob Schultz in the International Wolf magazine, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.)
Recently I traveled 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 gray 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) license, 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, wwww.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 fueled 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.
International Wolf Center
Ely, Minnesota, USA
MISSION: The International Wolf Center advances the survival of wolf populations by teaching about wolves, their relationship to wildlands and the human role in their future
WOLF NEWS #5
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 eco-tourism.
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 re-introduced to Yellowstone in the late 1990s, massive numbers of visitors traveled 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 3500 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 4th 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 3000 to 4000 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 traveling 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+ 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 back yard. 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. www.ManitobaHot.com 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, 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 3 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 4 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 ten 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 email at email@example.com. Visit www.thompsonspiritway.ca 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, and 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 eleven 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.
November 28, 2016