Montebello, QC — As the light draws behind the hills of Montebello, the wolves begin to howl. My partner, Erin, and I sit in our Toyota Camry on a dirt road in the backwoods of Quebec, the windows cranked down — despite the November chill — staring wide-eyed out the left side of the car.
Fifty metres away, sitting on a hillside beneath the leafless branches of a poplar tree, is an Arctic wolf, white as a fresh sheet of snow, nipping hygienically at its right flank, unbothered by the low chug of our idling car. Suddenly, the wolf perks its ears, hearing something inaudible to us, arcs its neck back, snout pointing to the sky, and emits the most beautiful and most chilling howl I’ve ever heard.
From all around the car, deep in the woods, unseen, come answers. A chorus of lamenting howls and chortles rise on the night air like an approaching train. I glance over at Erin, who’s listening out her window, enthralled, hoping she won’t notice as I raise my window slightly and nervously place my hand on the gear stick.
Above: The wolf packs that roam Parc Omega are kings of the wild.
Above us hangs the yellow fingernail of a waxing moon.
The experience is hair-raising, but what I fail to mention is that all the wolves are safely contained within fenced enclosures … or so we’re told. Erin and I are sitting in the eastern end of Parc Omega, a Canadian-themed car safari, about an hour drive east of Ottawa in Montebello, QC. The park spans 2,200 acres (almost three times the size of New York’s Central Park), and is home to approximately 450 animals, constituting 20 different species.
The park was established in 1985 by Olivier Favre, an insurance broker from France, who bought the land with his childhood friends Paul and Alexis Spengler as a hunting camp. However, popular demand from locals swayed the three to convert the land into a wildlife park, opening to the public in 1991.
Above: Visitors can get up close to the animals at Parc Omega.
Since its inception, the park’s two main goals have been education and conservation, teaching visitors about Quebec’s flora and fauna while providing a protected area for animals to live in their natural habitats. The park’s population has grown over the years as the existing inhabitants propagate, and the park takes in orphaned animals. In total, Parc Omega’s species include elk, deer, boar, bison, moose, caribou, foxes, coyotes, bears, mountain goats, and, of course, wolves.
The park’s carnivores — bears, foxes, coyotes, and wolves — are contained within expansive enclosures located off the park’s car trail. But the other animals wander free within Parc Omega’s perimeters, enthusiastically greeting cars and people.
Above: There are many different species roaming Parc Omega, including these massive buffalo.
As Erin and I drive through Parc Omega’s entrance gate, we both giggle nervously as towering elk with pointed antlers surround our car, their mouths pressed up against our windows in search of carrots (the only food you’re allowed to bring into the park), dragging trails of saliva. The car jerks as my foot dances between the gas and the break, trying to ease our way through the wall of elk.
Further along the car trail, baby boar dart out of the woods, round and streaked with brown bristles, no bigger than a terrier. Erin and I lean out the car windows offering them carrots, until we see momma boar lumbering after them, a keg of flesh on feet, sharpened teeth gnashing in her mouth. Our hands quickly retreat, and I hit the gas pedal.
Above: A giant elk feasts on some hay at Parc Omega.
The north end of the park offers an opportunity to stretch our legs. There’s a snack bar, a gift shop, a playground, and if you venture along the walking trail, you’ll come to an operating farm with its own set of animals. A herd of red deer congregates in the open field behind the gift shop. As we pull into the parking lot, the deer migrate towards us, a sea of reddish-brown backs and wet muzzles. One deer nibbles at my pocket where I’m keeping the carrots. I push its head away but it’s persistent, stamping its front hoof in the dirt between us. I take one look at its budding antlers and realize the fight isn’t worth it. I drop a carrot on the ground and Erin and I hightail it in the other direction. The animals may be familiar with humans but that shouldn’t be mistaken for domesticity. As Parc Omega makes clear, these are wild animals.
East of the gift shop, there’s a short trail leading back into the woods. At the end of this trail is an observatory, all glass and white pine. The observatory overlooks the gray wolves’ enclosure. Approximately 50 wolves live in the park, separated into five wolf packs: the timber wolves, the Arctic wolves, and the gray wolves. The gray wolves are considered the park’s main attraction.
Above: There are over 50 wolves in the park.
Weighing up to 145 pounds, the gray wolves make German shepherds look like puppies, their hulking paws padding the ground of their enclosure, shaggy silver coats glowing in the dimming light, and long, pronounced snouts sniffing at a mixture of scents in the air. One lies in a snow patch close to the observatory. It looks up at us, its yellow eyes searching our faces, before losing interest and laying its head back down on its paws. The other wolves — there appear to be eight in total — chase one another through the trees, nuzzling their snouts into each other’s coats. Erin and I stand there watching for a long time, a sharp breeze nipping at our ears and fingers.
As it happens, this is only one of two gray wolf enclosures in the park. The second enclosure is part of the park’s latest attraction: its wolf cabins. Visitors can spend the night in one of several log cabins that adjoin a gray wolf enclosure. The cabin wall that attaches to the enclosure is made of glass. In the early mornings and late evenings, the wolves, curious, will approach the glass, watching as you boil your morning coffee or clean off a late supper. If you’re lucky, they may even howl goodnight.
Wanting to provide visitors with a better opportunity to observe the gray wolves, Parc Omega built its first two wolf cabins (which house four people) in the summer of 2018. After a season of full bookings, the park decided to expand. In the winter of 2020, Parc Omega opened two wolf chalets and two wolf lodges (both house six people), all adjoining the gray wolf enclosure.
The average price for a night in the cabin is $559, the chalet is $759 and the lodge $859. Prices go up with the size of the accommodation; the lodge being the largest. The chalets and lodges include fully equipped kitchens, while the cabins come with mini fridges and cooking utensils. Each accommodation has a covered patio and an outdoor fire pit that looks out on the enclosure, and a night’s booking gets you access to the park’s car trail during the day. But the real gem of the stay is watching the wolves in their natural habitat.
As Erin and I left Parc Omega that night, driving out beneath its blocky, welcome-to-Bedrock-style sign, we cracked our windows, the cool November night creeping in. Turning off the radio, we drove in silence, hoping to hear one last echoing howl.
About the Author
Andrew, a freelance writer based out of Toronto, has been scribbling notes out of a backpack for the past five years. Having touched down in countries throughout North America, Europe and Asia, this young writer has set his sights on trotting the globe. Along with TraveLife, Andrew has also been published in the Globe and Mail and a number of regional publications. Occasionally he posts adventure stories to his blog, Preliminary Talk.