In front of our car, a wild pig covered in black, wiry hair shuffled and snorted through the snow on the side of the road. We stopped and it waddled across the road, and looked up at Jeremy at the passenger seat. He threw it a carrot. Shapes were moving in the treeline – bigger animals were coming.
We brought a Chevrolet Grand Caravan, (a great big soccer-mum people mover) to Parc Omega, a wildlife reserve an hour and a half out of Montreal near the small town of Montebello. Like a safari for Canadian wildlife, Parc Omega allows you to use your own wheels, and drive around spotting wildlife within the park. It was unseasonably cold on this April day, with a relentless snowstorm that covered the world in a ceaseless blanket of snow. Cindy and I were joined by her brother Jeremy, his girlfriend Karine, and Cindy’s friends Elizabeth and Maleine, all visiting from Paris.
Not far from the park entrance, a male reindeer was standing in the centre of the road, looking forlorn and majestic under the falling snowflakes. It stood side on, and turned it’s rack of great antlers towards us as we approached, and leisurely strode towards the car. The rest of the herd had already reached us by then, gliding out from the trees and the heavy snowfall to greet us. By now they surely knew the drill; cars means carrots. We had a whole bag full.
They pushed their huge lumpy faces through the open windows, smearing saliva and icy wet hair against the glass and window frames in sticky globs. The reindeer were huge things, and hungry, but had a gentle, patient attitude as we fed them from our hands. Cindy and Jeremy both placed carrots in their teeth and fed the reindeer that way.
Eager for a feed, more caribou pushed their big buckteeth and bulging goat-like eyes through the windows, jostling for food. When we began to move the car to continue the journey, they walked back to the trees.
The bison were kept in their own outdoor enclosure, although in the blizzard, they appeared as little more than dark shapes huddled in the snow, their silhouettes still unmistakable. We also saw red deer and wapiti (a deer species with soft, velvety antlers), and a handful of white wolves. Alpine ibex were around, but we didn’t spot any. Elsewhere in the park we knew bears were living. I couldn’t decide if bears hibernated or not. We discussed it, and decided that they did. Summer should be best for bear-watching.
We needed rescuing. With our fully loaded car, we became stuck on a slippery hill. The slick tyres were just spinning and gouging muddy trenches in the slippery snow. Even backing up and charging up the hill at full speed wouldn’t take our Grand Caravan to the top; the wheels were slipping too much. A ranger 4WD soon arrived, attached a rope, and towed us up the hill to our gratitude.
Just left from the main gate was a path that led to a wooden boardwalk to visit on foot. With the snow still falling, we had the park almost to ourselves. On one side of the zig-zag of the raised boardwalk was a large fenced off pen housing a pack of beautiful grey wolves, who, despite the cold, still wrestled and played and dug in the snow, and stood sentry atop rock formations. We stopped to look at them and they looked back at us. They seemed used to human presence, and paid us little mind.
Parc Omega. Very much recommended!