Story by Jody Robbins
MONTEBELLO, QUEBEC — The vehicle ahead of us is filled with shrieking women. The way they’re carrying on you’d think a raucous party (or perhaps a Chippendale dancer) was crammed into their mini-van. But they’re actually enjoying a different kind of wild life, by roaming through Parc Omega, a vast wildlife refuge, minutes from the picturesque town of Montebello, Quebec.
Originally used as a private hunting reserve, the park has been open to the public for the past 20 years, “to allow everyone the opportunity to connect with wildlife in their habitat,” says Oceane Godde, Parc Omega’s marketing manager. It offers Canadians a chance to go on a wildlife safari without having to trek to some distant savanna.
Animals such as, elk, bison, wild turkey, wild boar and several types of deer roam freely throughout the 1,500-acre park of varied terrain. Visitors can drive through a 12-kilometre trail, past prairies, woods and meadows, observing and even feeding some of the animals.
Before you get started, you’ll want to stock up on snacks — for the animals, of course. Bring or buy bags of carrots ($2) to feed the friendlier critters. Pick up provisions at Park House and be sure to ask if the Park Nursery has welcomed any new baby animals. Occasionally, the nursery takes in baby foxes, deer or raccoons whose lives are in danger, allowing guests the opportunity to witness their progress.
Animals with honing radars rush out to greet vehicles as you cruise along the trail — they know where their next meal is coming from. Looking cute and flattering passengers with their undivided attention, they’re after, and usually get, your carrots.
The animals certainly aren’t shy here. They brazenly snatched their treats from our hands, pressing their huge heads through the car window to get up close and a little too personal — which is why Parc Omega advises visitors to keep windows half closed.
You’re allowed to offer food to deer and Alpine ibex, but for security reasons buffalo and wild boars should not be fed. While they don’t roam free in this park, it’s still possible to view Arctic foxes, black bears and coyotes in open enclosures.
Ditch the car and strike out on foot to explore even more of the park. Rest assured, the walking paths are protected with only non-aggressive animals in the area. With picnic areas and washroom facilities, it’s the perfect spot for an outdoor afternoon. Just don’t make your snack too appealing, or more than ants will be after it.
From the end of June until Labour Day, you can walk the 3-km trail to the Old Farm. This recently restored historical barn and farmhouse serves as a living history museum. Kids can interact with their favourite barnyard animals and peek inside the farmhouse for a view as to how rural life was once (though you may have to warn them no one had iPads back then).
Open 365 days a year, up to 2,000 people a day trek through during the summer, making shoulder season an ideal time to visit. Of course, in the animal kingdom, spring is baby season, so be sure to check Parc Omega’s website for information on bottle-feeding opportunities.
Whatever the season and whatever their size, Parc Omega is an ideal spot to get comfortably close with some amazing North American animals.
MORE ABOUT PARC OMEGA
Admission: $17 per adult and up; check website for all fares.
Address: Highway 323 North, Montebello, Québec. Click here for directions or consult the map below for location.
Telephone: 819.423.5487; Email: email@example.com