Our lovely neighbors to the north are celebrating the country’s 150 birthday this year so Canadian travel should be filled with all kinds of fun celebrations. However, if you’re looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of some of the festivities, wildlife explorer, Carol Patterson, is here to tell us how to experience an incredible Canadian wolf adventure just outside of Quebec.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have a wolf as your best friend? Gilles Granal, Aventuraid owner and wolf pack leader, knows and for those willing to drive to the end of the road in Girardville, Quebec he takes travelers into the midst of a wolf pack.
Most visitors fly to Montreal and connect to Saquenay-Bagotville Airport before driving two hours to Giradville. The tiny town is nestled in the Saquenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region, an area three times the size of Belgium with French charm and an abundance of wildlife. Three wolf packs live at Aventuraid. One pack has been imprinted on humans, so guests can come for an upclose visit in relative safety.
I feel like a suspect in a police line-up as Granal has our small group of travelers stand against the fence enclosing the wolf pack, the protection at our back ensures the grey wolves lick only our faces and we aren’t pushed over during their gregarious greetings. Gilles Granal warns, “We are only going in with the wolves because they want the stimulation, not because we want to see the wolves.” If the wolves are not in the mood, we will not go in.
Fortunately the wolves are feeling social and Granal leads us into the enclosure. Within seconds the pack surrounds him. A young pup snatches a loose handkerchief and there is a brief tug-of-war as Granal scolds the wolf before winning back his clothing. He sometimes loses – anything loose will be quickly snatched as a new chew toy – but Granal is the alpha human in this wolf pack and his dominance keeps guests safe.
As my Canadian wolf adventure begins, a large wolf sniffs me in places humans wouldn’t consider polite and then places two paws on my chest before licking my chin enthusiastically. I’m welcomed in wolf speak and my heart swells with affection for this impressive predator. Soon the wolves cease their boisterous jumping and we follow them into the trees and long grass.
Granal sinks to the ground as several of the wolves trot up and expose their bellies – a sign of submission – and we relax and gingerly kneel. A wolf rolls over at my feet and invites a belly rub while another darts closer to lick my face. I feel like I should be frightened – these are wolves, after all– but the creature depicted as vicious in movies or fairy tales are friendly in person. Sometimes they seem shy, fading back into the forest, or avoiding eye contract as they invade my personal space but they never seem aggressive.
A tourist who never left
Granal was himself once a tourist from France but fell in love with Canada and set up a wildlife observation center and adventure business. His official title is river guide, but at heart, he is as unfettered as the wolves that live on his property. Setting up grey and arctic wolf packs on his property, Granal imprinted one on humans, offering a tourism experience unlike any other.
He keeps prices low so wolf encounters are affordable for everyone but always keeps the wolves’ well being at heart. Even with a reservation at Aventuraid, Granal never guarantees a chance to walk with the wolves.
Eventually the wolves tire of us and wander away. Occasionally a silver-coloured flash of fur appears from the forest as a wolf trots by to sniff the ground, seeming almost surprised we haven’t taken the hint and left. Granal leads us out of the enclosure and assigns us to cabins dotted around the property, all within sight of wolves. He leaves us for twelve glorious hours within meters of the wolf packs. As dusk falls I peer from my window and see several wolves hovering near the fence, their ghostly appearance making me feel I’m living in a fairy tale.
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The quiet of the wilderness lulls me to sleep but a dawn chorus jolts me from bed. Every wolf on the property is baying, their haunting call vibrating through my body. I throw on warm clothes and let myself out into the early light, dew from the grass soaking my shoes as I hurry to the wolves.
The wolves I met last night are waiting by the fence, seeming to recognize their newest friend. Without risk managers taking the fun out of everything, I push my fingers through the fence wire as the bigger wolves jostle for a neck rub. Two pups confidently push themselves through the crowd, their licks soaking my fingers and stealing my heart.
Soon I will have to leave the world of wolves but for a few minutes I feel like a wolf whisperer.
Boomer Travel Tips
- You don’t need to speak French to visit Quebec. Most businesses have staff that speak English to answer your emails or calls.
- Add two extra days to your trip and venture to the Saguenay Fjord to see whales.
- Make sure you have plenty of space on your camera and a full battery before meeting the wolves.
Disclosure: Carol’s trip was sponsored by Tourisme Quebec and Tourisme Saquenay—Lac-Saint-Jean.