Thompson Manitoba By Irene Butler –
Published in TravelLady on line magazine –
A distant lone howl pierced the night sky. It set off a chorus of howling that wolves engage in to solidify the pack’s social structure and to signal their presence to neighbouring packs. A platter-sized moon cast a silver glow on the flowing water; the scent of pine wafted from the forest nearby. A shadowy raven flew overhead; this one appeared to have reached the four-foot maximum wingspan for these heavy-billed corvids. My husband Rick and I were sitting on the rocks beside the Burntwood River at the outer edge of Thompson where the city ends and the wilderness begins. Although we were reluctant to leave this tranquil fusion with nature, it was time to head back into town.
There could not be a more perfect setting to be serenaded by grey wolves than in this northern Manitoba community which has adopted this amazing animal as its symbol. Known for its resilient and flinty spirit, this fearless wild dog is a fitting choice for a place in which nature shows her severe side (with winter temperatures sometimes dropping to -40) and where we can personally attest to its remoteness. Thompson is north of the 55th parallel, 462 miles (739km) north of the provincial capital of Winnipeg. We drove for eight hours up a long straight highway sided by boreal forests and muskeg to arrive in this lively community.
Once nestled in our cozy hotel room, we walked the “The Spirit Way”, a route through the city where twenty-four howling concrete wolves dot the paths, each standing 7.5 ft (2.3m) high. Northern artists have adorned them with bold abstracts and scenes of the north, such as summer wild flowers, winter storms, spring thaws, and autumn splendour.
We were spellbound by the gleaming eyes of this powerful predator staring down at us from a 10 story mural. Painted on the side of a high-rise by Charles Johnston, this mural is a reproduction of Robert Bateman’s masterpiece – “Eye to Eye with Respect”. It encapsulates the sacred relationship between man and nature held by the Cree peoples who roamed the area for thousands of years. And the creation of wolves is ongoing. The first phase of what will be Canada’s largest rock face sculpture is now underway with ‘wolves baying the moon’; the final phase of ‘wolves stalking’ is scheduled for completion in 2008. Our visit to Heritage North Museum was a great resource to glean information on the habits of the grey wolf, as well as data on an array of fauna, flora, and area history.
While the animal spirit of the wolf prevails in the community – in human kind, the Miner is King. The nickel finds in the mid 50’s are the reason the town came into being. “Mother Inco”, as the International Nickel Company of Canada Ltd. was dubbed early on by locals, is still in strong production in its mining, milling, smelting and refining divisions. Now CVRD Inco Ltd., it continues to be the mainstay of the majority of citizens, either directly or indirectly, in this city of 15,000 residents. From the town’s inception Thompson became the hub of outlying communities for medical facilities and shopping, some of these communities being accessible only by winter roads.
Two annual festivals are held in this northern city. We attended Nickel Days in June, which included – what else, but a National King Miner Contest. We were amazed at the speed and dexterity of participants vying for top rank in sloshing, drilling, mucking and other esoteric activities carried on underground for extracting ore. A midway was in full swing with rides, games and multi-cultural food stalls. Thoughts of the Cree bannock bread still make my mouth water. Traditionally the dough was wrapped around a stick and cooked over a campfire until golden brown. Although the baking technique has moved to the oven, I could not get enough of the warm bread slathered in butter, topped with wild raspberry jam.
In February, when the aurora borealis (commonly known as northern lights) dance their finest in the night sky, locals and visitors take part in Winterfest. I can imagine down-filled parka clad families gathered for trapping, dog sledding and chainsaw carving competitions. Children’s activities abound. Inside the arena a variety of stage shows entertain spectators. Needless to say, in Thompson, winter sports enthusiasts never fear a shortage of powdery white stuff for snowmobiling, snowshoeing, downhill and cross-country skiing.
During our summer visit we hiked the outstanding trails at Paint Lake Provincial Park and Pisew Falls, which respectively are a handy half-hour and hour south of town. The warm weather brought out the campers and boaters in full force, and we watched fishermen pull in fine catches of Trout, Pickerel and Northern Pike.
With good eateries and accommodations, the friendly community of Thompson is the perfect go-between – if like me, you want to enjoy the great outdoors without roughing it. Our reprieve from the bustling cities of the south revived our souls and gave us a renewed reverence for nature. It is said that once the rugged northern terrain is experienced, there is a mysterious force that draws one back. Is the essence of this magnetism the spirit of the wolf? Whatever the source – we know it to be true.
For more information:
CVRD Inco Tours – 204 778-2777
Winnipeg to Thompson – takes 2 hours to fly, 10 hours by bus, 8-10 hours driving a vehicle, 20 hours by train.
Driving in winter – check road conditions; be sure to have warm clothing and survival gear along. There are only few service stations along Hwy 6 N.
Summers – bring mosquito repellent for the woods & Enjoy!
Picture Credits: Rick Butler