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International Wolf Center


Last year, our committee came across this centre in Ely, Minnesota, when doing research on wolves. Their website,, is packed full of information. I initially contacted Dr. David Meech for wolf advice on how to improve the wolf enclosure at the Thompson Zoo. He referred me to Lori Schmidt, Curator, who was very cooperative in her knowledge of how to manage captive wolves. Their educational programs are comprehensive, and their knowledge base on wolves is significant. Their web cams display a gorgeous, panoramic view of their facility.

The opportunity came up two weeks ago to head south and my wife and I drove 900 miles to visit Ely, Minnesota to see the IWC. It was a great trip and a wonderful visit. Northern Minnesota is much like Northern Manitoba except more towns and more people. Ely is about an hour off the highway so you have to have a reason to go there. For a town of 3000 people it is beautifully tucked in the midst of forest, lakes and rivers. At the edge of Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, an outdoors person’s paradise…

Although they hadn’t opened fully for the summer season, Lori Schmidt graciously took some time off her work as an instructor at Vermilion College to give us a back scenes tour. I was impressed… with the architectural design of the centre, its location, the entrance, their displays and the wolf enclosure. Large windows give one a face to face view of their 6 captive wolves. Their habitat is very well designed and extremely “natural” looking, not some type of “canned” enclosure, as smaller animal centres can be.

The wolves showed their friendly side when they recognized Lori, yet they showed their pack behaviour when a non-regular procedure occurred for our benefit. You could see the wild side! Wolf behaviour is in constant research around the world because of the animal’s intelligence, pack behaviour and interaction, and the human/wolf conflicts that do occur.

We next travelled to Minneapolis to meet with Mary Ortiz, Executive Director, IWC. Again, Mary was very courteous and cooperative to answer many questions as to how we could enhance our wolf enclosure in Thompson and develop wolf research, education, tourism and conferences. Our goal is to develop Thompson as the Wolf Capital of Canada. Manitoba has few regulations on wolves in captivity, because they are not endangered in our province. Manitoba has some 6000 wolves.

Thompson has all the raw sustainable resources to develop a “wolf industry”…. captive wolves, wild wolf packs, aboriginal traditional knowledge, amazing public wolf art, and a neutral stance on wolves and humans. Add this to our links to Churchill, Polar Bear Capital of the World, and we are confident we can develop new attractions and programs about wolves.

I look forward to continuing our new relationship with the IWC in the future and hope we can help promote their centre and the wolf ”cause”. Stay tuned to many ideas and developments in the works.

In the Spirit!

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Gearing up for Summer


Summer’s coming in the North, and Spirit Way Inc is gearing up for a lot of activity. Thompson just held the annual CHTM Trade Show and it had an excellent turn out. On Friday and Saturday one could barely move in the exhibition space because of all the people. The Spirit Way booth was well attended. Jan Hall donated a wonderful wolf quilt to raise money for the new wolf enclosure at the Thompson Zoo. We sold over 500 tickets in 3 days! One new contractor in town said he was very impressed by the wolf mural and wanted to send all the info to his relatives in Quebec. We handed out a lot of information sheets about Spirit Way and encouraged people to look at this new website.

We are starting to get people submitting their Wolf Sightings on our website. That’s great and we hope you spread the word. The sightings are important evidence for comprehensive scientific wolf research that could start in 2010.

A Spirit Way ad hoc committee is working with the Thompson Zoo to enlarge and enhance the wolf enclosure. The existing cage was built by Rotary Club over 25 years ago, and needs to be renovated. The intention is to go from a cage to a wonderful wolf habitat. It would be a better experience for the animals and the visitors. Doug Ross, former Executive Director of the Assiniboine Park Zoo will be contracted as a consultant to redesign the enclosure and develop a Wolf Management Plan for the zoo keepers. The project will cost around $190,000. It will become a tremendous asset for the Zoo.

Friends of Spirit Way will be launched in May, 2009. This will be a casual group of volunteers who are willing to join a fun group of people who are proud of their community and want to help protect and maintain the public features and attractions of Spirit Way. We’ll meet twice a year. Friends can choose what they want to help with and how much time they can spend. We hope you will consider joining. Go to the Home Page and click on the Friends button. You will receive a very special lapel pin and certificate. Orientation session will be held later this month.

A clean up day will also be scheduled for later this month. Give us a hand when you hear it announced on the radio or shown on the Home Page.

See ya all in two weeks!

In the Spirit!

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How Did it All Happen?


In order to understand the future, it is helpful to know the past to appreciate how we got where we are today. Who would have known that what started as an idea to rekindle some community pride at a Chamber of Commerce meeting would rejuvenate our community in a major way? Along the route were a few key turning points that made the difference whether to proceed or not…Â

In August, 2003, Randy Sawatzky, manager of Thompson Renewal Corporation, offered to fund 50% of a proposal to develop a walking trail from the Museum. Along the way were ideas for 9 Points of Interest which started from creating Canada’s largest mural. After a presentation by Randy Sawatzky and I failed to secure the other 50% from City Council in October, the Chamber of Commerce under President Bob Wall approved the balance of funds to contract Design North to prepare a Master Plan. Without that simple decision, there would not have been a Spirit Way!

During that process, a number of individuals were interviewed for input. Anita Campbell supported my suggestion of  highlighting Aboriginal art and culture which needed a more visible presence in Thompson. MLA Steve Ashton felt “this could be Thompson’s Golden Boy project”, as we overlooked a 10 story blank wall of Highland Tower 1/2 mile away from his office window. On our committee’s walking tour, Diane Shefford pointed out some unique bedrock that became the Nickel Belt Story point of interest. Dave Moore pointed out a “sweet spot” for a viewpoint of the potential Highland mural. Shaun Harman casually suggested there should be a tribute to Lambair and pilots. Well, four years of work by volunteers later and over $200,000 in donations resulted in the awesome, restored Norseman floatplane and Thompson Lions Club Park thanks to Fred Palmer, Marion Morberg, Nick DiVirgilio and the many, many volunteers. What started out as 9 became 18 points of interest when the Master Plan was finished.Â

In May, 2004 after a presentation to City Council to approve the Master Plan, only four people showed up at a public meeting – Alain Huberdeau, Tamy Burton, Dave Moore, and myself – and formed Spirit Way Inc. (SWI). Other community members were invited and over 3 years a working committee of 12 people, under President Alain Huberdeau, met WEEKLY to plan, manage, fund raise, and facilitate all aspects of the project. That in itself was an accomplishment!

Yet in hindsight, what a naive thing to do… undertake 18, repeat – eighteen, projects at the same time? Someone said two or three would have been enough for any community. Another naiveté was thinking that everyone would share the same vision, or that everyone would support what was good for Thompson. But invariably there are other agendas. Progress began slowly.Â

At a surprise announcement in February, 2005 Scott MacDonald, President of Inco, presented Spirit Way Inc. a cheque for $30,000 at a Chamber of Commerce meeting for the Rockface project. Now, that was an endorsement! In June, the first Gala fundraiser occurred at the Thompson Inn. It sold out 30 days in advance and was a huge success.  $22,000 net was raised in one evening! Thompson had been in a malaise for a few years and was looking for something to take pride in.

Grant proposals were written. Presentations made. Funds solicited. Some were awarded. Others rejected. The Rotary Club of Thompson became the first partner to undertake a bold move and developed the Great Kid’s Slide, now renamed the “Otto Bindle Slide” as a tribute to one of their original members and a pioneer of Thompson. The Slide was controversial. Some did not want it to proceed. But President Tom O’Brien and Rotary proceeded. Today, it’s a fun place for local kids in winter, and a beautiful scene to watch with the huge wolf standing guard!

After biding our time for 18 months, SWI sent a contingent of Thompson supporters, Marion Morberg, Dan McSweeney, Judy Kolada, and myself to Winnipeg in May, 2006, using donated Calm Air passes, to meet with Bob Brennan, CEO of Manitoba Hydro. We offered Hydro a PR opportunity to sponsor a mural of a Robert Bateman painting, which he had never allowed before. It would be a first. As McSweeny said, “In the future, the economic wealth of Northern Manitoba will come from northern hydro power”. Then why not have a Hydro mural in the North as they have in Winnipeg? Three weeks later, his office phoned to say Mr. Brennan had been impressed and Manitoba Hydro would donate $125,000! What a huge endorsement and another major turning point. Spirit Way was being recognized from afar by an outside source. At the Gala presentation in June, 2006, Ed Danyluk, local Customer Service Manager, received a standing ovation from the audience. Not something you receive at work everyday!

Of course, finding the right muralist was a challenge. Seven proposals were received from across North America. The lowest offer came from Seattle, Washington, but the committee felt choosing a Winnipeg artist would be preferable as the sponsor was now Manitoba Hydro. One company’s rep drove 9 hours to Thompson and then back to make a half hour presentation. Why? To paint the first Robert Bateman mural in the world would have been a feather in any portfolio.

Charlie Johnston’s name came up as a casual reference from Steve Wilson, Graffiti Gallery of Winnipeg as Winnipeg’s award winning muralist. He was chosen and Charlie created a masterpiece in its own right. Read his BIO on… to understand Charlie.

And read the fascinating story how Charlie got started on the wolf mural…

There was some criticism that a local artist had not been chosen. Painting murals one story high is one thing. Painting them 10 stories high plus reproducing a Bateman painting exactly takes it to a whole another level of artistic skill. Johnston had been painting murals for 23 years. He was a master and his world class mural proved it. His work set the bar to continue all Spirit Way projects with very high expectations.Â

And why a wolf mural? That was a fluke. After approaching Robert Bateman with a request to allow us to use his art as the subject matter, I looked at 100s of Bateman paintings. I superimposed four of his animal paintings onto a photograph of Highland Towers – a lynx, eagle, moose, wolf. Then we discussed it. Bateman stated the wolf was his preference. It was the best choice for Thompson for two reasons… From downtown or across the river a mile away, one can only see the top half of the Highland Tower wall. The appeal of the painting comes from the wolf’s stare. Its face is in the top half of the painting and no background scenery, trees, mountains competes with that. And Bateman had painted the wolf in 1990 as a predator looking at the viewer “eye to eye with respect”. Perfect! What a tremendous message to preach to our community. If all our actions were undertaken with respect, the world would be a much better place. Today the Highland Tower wolf mural has become a landmark for Thompson. It was recently published in Greece in a 300 page reference book of world murals and the only one in the book that is a full page in size. That says something!

From the mural Spirit Way progressed. Four awards to date. Numerous magazine articles written in Canada. A CTV half hour show on Spirit Way. Unprecedented positive publicity that continues.

There are so many people to thank that helped us get to this point, it’s almost impossible… the Spirit Way Board. Tim Johnston and Judy Kolada have been supporters since Day One. Wayne Hall has been indispensable as construction supervisor extraordinaire. Marion Morberg and Fred Palmer devoted 3 years to restoring the Norseman. Tom O’Brien and Rotary. Geoff Lamontagne at the Galas. Calm Air and Burntwood Hotel were key. Recently Dave Jensen, Al Meston, Pierce Roberts and Rhonda McDonald and all the firefighters. And the list goes on and on.

As we now move forward, the next stage is to protect and promote. Spirit Way belongs to the community. People will soon forgot who was on the committee when it all started. Spirit Way is a public asset that requires upkeep and maintenance. Let it deteriorate, and Thompson’s reputation will be blemished. Everyone should promote it to the hilt. It’s a positive asset with tourism and economic potential. It’s a public relations beacon. It’s a recruiting tool. It’s a cultural and heritage storybook. It takes a 2+ hour walk to experience and understand it all. It proves why Thompson is a great community in which to live, work, and play. Enjoy it all! Ekosi.

PS. Spirit Way Inc. is now looking for 25+ key Thompsonites to become official FRIENDS OF SPIRIT WAY. The invitation is to YOU. What kind of person are you – do you watch things happen or do you want to make things happen? See the website herein for details. We want to make things happen, and prove why Thompson is a great place. Join us as a FRIEND!

Volker Beckmann

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Launching a New Website!


The launch of our new interactive website starts the next era in the Spirit Way initiative. Over the past five years a tremendous amount has been accomplished from a great core of volunteers who have raised over $1.4 million. We are not finished. Enhancements are still underway. This Blog will be a way to keep people informed as to our progress and our next goal. If you have thoughts or comments on Spirit Way in Thompson, simply contact us. There are some exciting things in the works that we will share with you as time goes on. We will update our Blog at least every two weeks, so please come back often.

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Manitoba Tourism Award -€“ Product Development 2008

More information coming

June, 2008

Prairie Design Award for Spirit Way
Display Structures
Manitoba Tourism Award – Partnership 20

More information coming

Spirit of the Earth Award – 2007


Sponsored by Manitoba Hydro

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