WOLF NEWS #8
Matt Paproski is an independent, wildlife filmmaker based in Drumheller, Alberta with a passion for animals including his two wolves he rescued from a game hunting farm. He has raised them as pups and works with them as movie actor wolves in the film industry and for educational purposes. His company, Starland Studios, has produced and distributes a TV series, Wildlife Wranglers, and film, Cougar Crossings. His wildlife films not only require government permits to house and travel with his animals, but demand special animal care procedures to ensure safety for all concerned and the utmost diligence and respect for his treasured animals.
In early 2015, Paproski read in the news that Thompson was being labeled as the Wolf Capital of the World. After some preliminary investigation, he reached out to Spirit Way Inc. (SWI) to form an alliance that could be beneficial in fulfilling the destiny of his two wolves.
After a few months of introductory emails, Paproski learned that Spirit Way had almost completed a large state-of-the-art wolf habitat in a natural setting at the Boreal Discovery Centre. As no wolves were yet living in the 1 1/4 acre space, SWI felt it would be an appropriate time to invite the filmmaker to Thompson to explore possibilities. Paproski arrived at same time that actor and musician Tom Jackson was in Thompson for a benefit concert for the Wolf Capital of the World campaign.
Thanks to complimentary passes from Calm Air and hotel room and meals provided by the Meridian Hotel, Paproski was hosted for several days in Thompson. The film maker said he was impressed with the passionate SWI volunteers he met who were devoting a large amount of time in helping their community. The hospitable nature of the residents in this northern city quickly shone through.
While Paproski was in town, SWI board members kept him very busy. He did some candid filming of the Tom Jackson concert, toured the Boreal Discovery Centre, showed some of his company’s films at a screening, spoke at elementary schools to classes of young students, was interviewed by CBC North and the local newspaper, and spoke to Thompson Unlimited, the local economic development corporation, about the possibilities of a launching a wildlife film making industry in Thompson. For SWI directors, this was a new area of interest and economic development that had never been considered in Thompson before. Paproski made reference to the many wildlife film festivals world wide and the huge market for such films. He would be willing to organize such a film festival in Thompson.
A preliminary plan emerged to prepare a documentary film, ‘The Journey of Two Wolves’, about Paproski’s wolves, Timber and Aurora, that could visit Thompson and become ambassadors for the Wolf Capital of the World. By coincidence, “Timber” is the same name as the SWI mascot! A unique, educational wolf film could be broadcast on television and the internet and draw attention to Thompson in the wildlife film market. Key messaging would communicate that Thompson’s willingness to co-exist with wolves can help develop eco-tourism and the economy, and set a strong example to the world. As an apex predator species, undisturbed wolves can reinforce the need for protection of the Canadian boreal forest, the largest intact ecosystem in the world. Negative and wrongful issues that malign wolves could be addressed correctly in the film to help overcome long standing myths and fears. A strong educational slant would align with Spirit Way’s intention to develop a Best Practices model for all things wolf and cover wolf issues such as captivity, poaching, trapping, trophy and helicopter hunting. Other positive angles for a northern film could be made on behalf of animals, aboriginal peoples, the environment, and the community. It became obvious there was great potential for more than one film and even a series of TV and online documentaries.
Last year, President of SWI, Marion Morberg and Paproski began marketing the film project at the annual On-Screen Manitoba All Access Forum held in Winnipeg. They met with potential broadcasters and co-production partners that could assist in getting a wolf film released to the international market and at film festivals. Morberg quickly recognized that more discussion should happen with Thompson and industry players including Manitoba Film about developing a media industry in the North. While in Winnipeg, Morberg and Paproski met with Phil Lafontaine, the former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations. He was willing to assist and advocate how helping wolves would be beneficial for northerners.
Paproski also introduced Morberg to his associate Dr. Ken MacQuisten, owner of Grouse Mountain Wildlife Refuge. Dr. MacQuisten provided very helpful advice regarding rescued wolves, as well as how SWI could take advantage of the wildlife film industry.
Recently, SWI submitted a proposal for a Canada 150th Anniversary grant to “Celebrate Canada’s Wildlife & Wilderness” that would include eight days of events, called Wild Borealis. Planned activities would include bringing Aurora and Timber to Thompson for public engagement, educational experiences at schools and special events, and film making in the Wolf Capital of the World. A wolf pack’s complex intelligence and social behavior could be studied by local volunteers and youth to learn how to care for rescued animals in captivity.
Paproski expressed optimism to be invited to Thompson for the 150th Anniversary in the fall with animal handler, Laura Dougan, and his camera crew. His team would travel across many scenic landscapes from the Badlands in Alberta to the boreal forest of northern Manitoba. The trip would be documented for sharing on social media and a future documentary wolf film.
Paproski’s smiled when his creative mind suggested that community and indigenous leaders could be invited to gather for a special closing ceremony at Thompson’s 150th celebrations and gatherings. Great reverence could be made to Timber, Aurora, and all wolves in the north, as indigenous people have always held high respect for this animal. After seeing first hand the new wolf habitat at the Boreal Discovery Centre, Paproski remarked, “This is the best space I have seen in Canada. Some day when Timber and Aurora are ready to retire, it might be a great place for them to visit or stay in the Wolf Capital of the World.”
WOLF NEWS #7
At the Wildlife Society Conference, held in Winnipeg in October, 2015, members of Spirit Way Inc. and the Boreal Discovery Centre from Thompson promoted their plans and programs to a record attendance of 1560 people. A few university students who visited the Wolf Capital of the World display booth were dismayed to see a GPS wolf “hunt” in Thompson, until they learned that Spirit Way Inc. was promoting a hunt for wolf statues!
The idea for the Spirit Way Wolf Hunt grew out of the Spirit Way project. Spirit Way is a two-kilometer long “Manitoba Star Attraction”. This easy walk takes you past 17 unique points of interest that have won awards for Spirit Way and made it one of Travel Manitoba’s “Top 20 Places to Visit in Manitoba”.
The GPS Wolf Hunt was conceived by Volker Beckmann who designed a small passport booklet that show the statues produced by the Spirit Way group. Each statue had been sponsored by a company or agency for $5000. The statues are identical in shape but painted completely differently by various artists. The statues are 7.5 feet tall and made of solid concrete weighing 5500 lbs. The prototype was shaped from styrofoam by award winning muralist Charles Johnston of Winnipeg. A fiberglas mold was then prepared by Peter Wall of Roland, Manitoba. Gerry Derocquigny of Lorette, Manitoba, a retired concrete craftsman, gets each statue poured and shipped to Thompson once the order is received.
By 2009, Spirit Way had moved and positioned the heavy 49 wolf statues in three cities – Winnipeg, Thompson, and Churchill, and the GPS Wolf Hunt was launched. This Hunt is a form of geocaching, which is a popular pastime requiring the use of a global positioning system (GPS) to locate caches in precise locations. Most geocaches contain small objects which you either record in a log book or exchange for a small object of your own. The Spirit Way GPS Wolf Hunt requires that hunters simply locate 49 wolves across Manitoba. “It’s a unique way to combine the quickly-developing past time of geocaching, with an appreciation for art and the adventure of visiting parts of Manitoba you might otherwise not see,” said Beckmann.
The statue hunt requires the person to purchase a GPS Wolf Hunt booklet for $5 from a vendor in each city. They must check the website, www.thompsonspiritway.ca, to obtain the latest GPS coordinates, as some statues have been moved since the passport was printed. The mission is to find each statue using the GPS coordinates and enter the statue’s name/title into the booklet. They must get all the titles correct and have that confirmed in each city by a special rubber stamp in their passport. Once all three rubber-stamped impressions are entered, they have completed their hunt that has taken them 1000 miles from the prairies around Winnipeg to the boreal forest around Thompson to the tundra at Churchill. It is a fun and challenging travel adventure across Manitoba!
The last step is to simply send their contact information to the website. A personalized MASTER WOLF TRACKER PDF certificate is sent via email. It is signed by all mayors of Thompson, Winnipeg and Churchill. The recipients can print their certificate, frame it, and hang it on a wall as many do. Their name is also posted on the website as a Master Wolf Tracker.
Stan and Lynne Ritz of Winnipeg were the world’s first GPS Master Wolf Trackers. “This was an awesome adventure and we really enjoyed the wolf hunt,’ said Stan Ritz. “Our adventure left us with memories to last a lifetime.” The couple found all the wolves in Winnipeg before driving to Thompson and boarding the train to Churchill. Many trackers are visitors from all parts of North America. One couple were touring from Peru, South America, and found all 49 statues to be recognized as Master Wolf Trackers. One family from Flin Flon had their children take turns writing the wolf’s name into their booklet. Mom said, “The kids were having a blast running to each statue to see who could reach it first. We giggled and laughed a lot. The hunt is a fun thing to do as a family.”