Betting on Wolves

Thompson’s journey to become the Wolf Capital of the World

Two wolf statues overlook the Burntwood River at the northern end     of Spirit Way. The rebuilt Norseman floatplane appears to be taking off from the floatplane base behind it.

Two wolf statues overlook the Burntwood River at the northern end of Spirit Way. The rebuilt Norseman floatplane appears to be taking off from the floatplane base behind it.

Deep in the heart of Northern Manitoba’s wilderness, 739 kilometres from Winnipeg, lies the city of Thompson. Advocates in this once small mining community have set an ambitious goal for the city – to position Thompson as the “Wolf Capital of the World” by the end of 2015.

Some may say it occurred almost by accident, this quest to become the “Wolf Capital of the World,” but perhaps it was fate. With miles of untouched wilderness, pristine rivers and lakes, Thompson’s healthy wolf population has lived alongside humans here in harmony for years.

Volunteers from the non-profit group Spirit Way Inc. began construction on a two and a half kilometre walking and biking path, designed to highlight the city’s culture, art, heritage, industry and scenery, but along the way they would set in motion a chain of events that would forever change the human/wolf dynamic for the better.

The largest lighted mural in the world (86 ft tall) of a Robert Bateman painting is visible a mile away.

The largest lighted mural in the world (86 ft tall) of a Robert Bateman painting is visible a mile away.

“We decided we wanted to include a mural as part of the experience along the walkway,” explains Volker Beckmann, the volunteer project director for Spirit Way Inc. “We asked Robert Bateman for permission to reproduce one of his paintings.” Permission was granted by Bateman to reproduce either the image of an eagle, a wolf, a lynx or a moose. For whatever reason, fate perhaps, the other animals were eliminated and the wolf image was chosen. Charles Johnston, Winnipeg’s own famed muralist, agreed to tackle the immense project, which would stand an impressive 86 feet by 62 feet on the most prominent building in Thompson’s skyline, the Highland Tower. The mural is the largest photo-real mural in Canada, the largest lighted mural and the only Robert Bateman mural in the world.

The recreation of “Wolf Sketch” on this grand scale was stunning to say the least. Suddenly, with work on the walkway still underway, the mural began to draw massive media attention from across the country.

As appreciation for the winsome wolf grew, members of Spirit Way Inc. realized that people were fascinated with these enigmatic animals and that Thompson was uniquely situated to highlight them. The city had wolf art, wolves at the zoo, local Aboriginal knowledge, wolves in the wild and a link to tourists stopping over on their way to Churchill. With a new focus in place, they set out to unmask fears and to demonstrate how people and wolves can co-exist peacefully through education, research, and tourism.

“Four wolf statues of the 35 in Thompson overlook downtown. They are part of a province wide “GPS Wolf Hunt”

“Four wolf statues of the 35 in Thompson overlook downtown. They are part of a province wide “GPS Wolf Hunt”

The idea to become the wolf capital was presented to them at an International Wolf Symposium in Duluth, where they were lauded for their efforts promoting wolves.

Although the title “Wolf Capital of the World” is taken by self-proclamation, it is not a title Thompson plans to take lightly. By the end of 2015, Spirit Way Inc. members feel the city will have accomplished enough to warrant the title and the city will officially take it on.

Here’s what Spirit Way Inc. is doing:

  • Promoting eco-tourism in partnership with Churchill, the “Polar Bear Capital.”
  • Exploring the opportunity for a Wolf Centre of Excellence on wolf science, research, conservation, education, cultural knowledge, and eco-tourism initiatives.
  • Inviting universities to work on wolf research projects in Thompson, currently three are underway.
  • Creating a rock face sculpture, designed by Charles Johnston.
  • Running a collaborative education project, “Wolves without Borders,” for students from Thompson, the United States and Mexico where they can interact and learn about wolves.
  • Building the Boreal Discovery Centre; the new zoo will include a wolf exhibit that will meet international standards.
  • Developed a GPS Wolf Hunt to track down 49 Spirit Way wolf statues in Thompson, Churchill and Winnipeg.
  • Presented A Wolf Economy Discussion Paper to the provincial government.
  • Added a wolf sightings page to the Spirit Way Inc. website.

“Such a wolf educational experience and display of northern wolf and human co-existence can further the cause of wolf understanding and tolerance around the world. We are now on the radar screen of international wildlife and conservation audiences that are looking for a place to point to that is doing it right. We are it,” says Marion Morberg, president of Spirit Way Inc.

Over the course of history the wolf has been persecuted by humans and eradicated from many countries. In the United States, a huge controversy has developed over a decision in which wolves, once protected by the Endangered Species Act were de-listed and wolf hunting resumed. If fears, myths and misunderstandings continue, these charismatic creatures will continue to be persecuted, possibly to extinction.