These are all of my interactions with wolves during my lifetime.
Driving north on the Icefields Parkway, in winter, my wife and I see a large male wolf trotting down the side of the road on the shoulder. We pull even with him and slow the car down to his speed, rolling down the window to get a better look. We are the only car on the highway, and he is the only wolf. We travel together for about a kilometre until he gets bored of us and moves off into the trees.
Driving with my father and his best friend north on Highway 102 from La Ronge, SK on the dirt roads. We are on our way to Southend to catch a plane to a fishing lodge. I’m in the backseat and tell them that I’ve just seen a wolf ahead. Neither my father nor his friend, Shaun, see it. After a kilometre or so they tell me I’m crazy. Just then, a very scrawny adult wolf appears alongside the road and I am vindicated. Shaun, who will hunt a moose after we are done fishing, suggests that I stay for the opening of hunting season because I am apparently skilled at seeing subtle movement in the distance.
When we get off the float plane later that same day, returning to the fishing lodge that we have previously visited, we are greeted by the owner and warned that there are wolves in the area nearby and to be careful about walking too far at night. The wolves, we learn, have recently killed the owner’s son’s dog: a huge, beautiful Alaskan malamute that we had previously seen as a puppy. The dog weighed more than one hundred pounds. Shaun, the hunter, immediately asks if he can hunt the wolves. He is told that he can’t, that it’s not legal. He offers to pay extra for it. He is told no again, in no uncertain terms, and reminded that the lodge is in compliance with all Saskatchewan fishing and hunting regulations. What then, we ask, will be done about these wolves? We’re told that the local fishing guides, who are Cree, will deal with them if it becomes necessary because they have treaty rights.
I think that what I knew about wolves was what a lot of Canadians think they know about wolves. They are beautiful, and majestic, but you worry about them being too close.
Over the past couple of nights I read Farley Mowat’s Never Cry Wolf and so I've learned a lot more. This is a veritable Canadian classic, but I had never read it. I’m not sure what I thought the book would be like, but whatever I thought, I had it wrong. I definitely did not know that it would be as funny as it is. Mowat is a tremendous raconteur and this is probably the book that I have enjoyed most so far during this project. I laughed out loud many times. Sometimes there are reasons that a classic is a classic.
Mowat, writing in the early-1960s about his experiences in the 1940s, intervened in a debate about wolves that is still ongoing today. Simply googling “wolf hunt” let me know where and how to get a license in Canada, the fact that BC changed the regulations on wolves so that the season is year-round in an effort to “aid ranchers in predator control”, and that Ontario didn’t loosen wolf hunting regulations as hunting groups had urged (arguing that wolf hunting would improve moose hunting conditions – a win-win for hunters, I guess). Here in Calgary, the local paper has run stories this year about Banff National Park wildlife officials killing two of the wolves in the Bow Valley pack after they became accustomed to human food from campers, and, in December, there was the story of the ski hill employee menaced by wolves at Mount Norquay. All of these stories are akin to what Mowat described a half century ago – although many of his stories are much more extreme.
Never Cry Wolf is one of those rare books that legitimately moved the dial of Canadian discourse on its topic. The book was roundly condemned by its opponents as pro-wolf propaganda, and, as the links above demonstrate, there is still a great deal to be done in the arena of wolf protection. I learned a ton from this one, and I hope that my son will read it soon as well.
One thing about Canada I learned from this book: Oh, so much. Let’s go with Moose Juice is Moose brand beer mixed with anti-freeze alcohol. Not recommended.