At 10 pm, the night before the full moon, 40 wolves howled in chorus. At least, I think all 40 of the Adventuraid Parc Mahikan wolves joined in. I went out on the deck to better hear the wolf song, each wolf singing his or her own note. Spending a night in the wolf park in Quebec is an experience I’ll never forget.
A Saguenay Adventure
Quebec’s Saguenay-Lac Saint Jean region is known for outdoor activities, come sun or snow. So the 1,100-population town of Girardville, at the edge of Quebec’s wilderness, seemed like the natural place for an adventure park.
Former P.E. teacher Gilles Granal and his wife Marie-Christine Debail opened Adventuraid in 1995 after moving from France to Quebec.
Granal looks exactly like the alpha male who would run with the wolves.
He’s tan and muscular, with long brown hair, thick eyebrows, strong features, a large upper arm tattoo of a howling wolf and a smaller forearm tattoo of a wolf’s paw.
It’s clear that Granal is passionate about his wolf park. “For me, it’s not just to see wolf but in most natural area possible,” he says rapidly in strongly-accented French.
Parc Mahikan is different from a regular zoo in several important ways. The enclosures are much, much larger.
Visitors can sleep in huts, yurts and a house on the premises. And, if the tamest pack is in the right mood, Granal takes guests into the enclosure to get very up close and personal with the wolves.
How the Wolves Came to Adventuraid
While Granal has had dogs for 30 years, he wasn’t always a wolf guy. Wolves didn’t figure into the original plan for the outdoor adventure center.
Instead, the focus was on outdoor activities like canoeing, snowmobiling and dog sledding.
“There wasn’t any special event or turning point that made me get into wolves,” he said.
He worked with other animals, read about wolves, and slowly got interested. Then he got the opportunity to acquire his first wolves.
Granal learned to take care of wolves by trial and error. The first enclosure was too small, and the wolves were stressed and afraid.
When more money came in from other activities, Granal increased the size of the enclosure.
Since then, he says, “They’re not so suspicious. They show more natural behavior because they can hide from humans if they don’t want to see you.”
Over the last twelve years, the number of wolves has grown and falls into three packs: twenty Arctic wolves, thirteen gray wolves and seven imprinted. All the resident wolves were born in captivity.
Why doesn’t the pack eat Granal or his visitors?
“Men are not in the wolves’ food chain,” Granal explains, “because they’re not supposed to be in the wolves’ environment.” In other words, it could go either way.
The Wolf Experience
People still come to Adventuraid for outdoor adventure activities, but more and more for the wolves.
In earlier days, Granal noticed that the wolves were very curious about the canoers and snowshoers. He decided he could entertain the wolves by introducing them to the people.
“It’s not for the humans, it’s for the wolves,” he says. “That’s why we can’t guarantee the wolf activity.” Only one group of visitors is allowed in the wolf enclosure per day – if the wolves are in the mood.
Only one group of visitors is allowed in the wolf enclosure per day – if the wolves are in the mood.
On a Wednesday afternoon, our group prepared to meet the wolves. There were about ten of us – five in my group, and a French speaking family.
We were warned ahead of time that our clothes might get dirty or torn, so dress accordingly. After an introductory talk, we walked to the enclosure.
“We do things the same way each time so the wolves know what to expect,” Granal said. We marched to the enclosure and stood outside the chain-link fence.
The wolves assessed our entertainment value. They were cute and dog-like, with several coming right up and licking our hands through the fence.
They didn’t look all that big – but their teeth certainly did.
Inside the wolf park enclosure
The enclosure has a double gate with a holding room in between, like aviaries at the zoo. After a couple of minutes.
Granal went into the main enclosure, leaving us outside, to take the pack’s emotional temperature. He urged us to enter the first gate.
We all stood quietly while the wolves got used to our look and smell. After a few more minutes, Granal instructed us to enter the main enclosure and line up with our backs against the fence.
At first, we weren’t permitted to take photos because we needed to keep our eyes on the wolves.
It’s a tad intimidating to back up against a fence while a wolf pack decides if it wants to be friends or not.
One wolf came over to me and play-bit my wrist, just hard enough to let me know it could easily take off my hand and run away with it, should it want to.
When the wolves started to stand up on their hind legs, put their paws on our shoulders and lick our faces, they suddenly seemed a lot bigger. Especially their claws.
Granal told us to just say no to the scratching wolves. I decided that you can tell a wolf to get down as much as you want but it’s still up to the wolf.
After our line-up against the fence, Granal invited us to slowly walk along the insider perimeter of the enclosure. Since the wolves followed, we were deemed sufficiently entertaining to be allowed to stay.
Granal led us into the middle of the enclosure, where he suggested we crouch down. This brought fresh excitement to the wolves, as it made it even easier to run over and lick our faces.
At least half wanted to be petted and a couple rolled over onto their backs for a belly scratch. One gnawed on a big chunk of moose meat, while several competed for Granal’s affection.
Meanwhile, two wolves had their own score to settle. One furiously dug a hole as if to tunnel underneath the fence, which we’d learned extends at least a meter into the ground. When another wolf came too close, the digger growled. I gave that wolf plenty of space.
Sleeping in the wolf park
After 20 or 30 minutes, the wolves lost interest in their visitors. And when you’re boring your host, you know it’s time to go. Besides, it started pouring. We bid the wolves au revoir and went back to our on-site lodgings.
Adventuraid offers a funky mix of huts, a yurt and a large house to accommodate guests. The yurt and huts are closest to the enclosures, offering a front row seat to the sights, sounds and smells of wolves.
Some of these places are tiny, and come with a shared outhouse and shared sauna. For wolf lovers, Adventuraid is a wolf park that offers a rare opportunity to safely get close to lupines – as long as the pack is in the mood.
Teresa Bergen was a guest of Tourisme Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean