I was in Cochrane for a morning having travelled up on the Northlander train the day before. I'm really happy I decided to visit the Polar Bear Habitat and Heritage Village which is about 10 minutes' walk from the Railway Station,
I arrived at 10:30 and after leaving the main building walked through the forest to a large enclosure where Ganuk, a 600lb two and a half year old polar bear was to be found. The bear looked healthy, happy and curious about his surroundings. He apparently has three enclosures to choose from one of which is 2-3 acres in size. The keepers encourage him to explore all of the territory by placing food treats in the far corners.
At 11am (and also later in the day at 2pm) Ganuk was brought to a rock pool area for feeding time. A keeper explained what was happening using a microphone system and came down to answer questions at the end. Pieces of watermelon as well as pears and other foods were thrown in for him so that after a little hesitation (just like humans before they jump into a swimming pool) he decided to jump into the water to get the feed. Cleverly the pool has glass windows which allow the visitors to see him as he splashes around the pool. Having never seen a polar bear before I thought it was amazing to get this close while this big white bear was just happily "doing its own thing". The viewing building has plenty of information about all kinds of bears and particularly about the 1000 or so wild polar bears who live in Ontario to the south of Hudson Bay. There is a research program for keeping track of the bears year by year.
The attraction also has some old buildings from the Cochrane area (including one containing artefacts from the Ontario Northland Railway and its predecessors) and a Snowmobile Museum.
Basically the reason I would give this 5 stars is that it is so clear that the staff really care about Ganuk and polar bears in general. Their website shows that they have looked after several bears over the last few years, some were very old ones who came "to retire" and there were some younger ones who are now at Toronto Zoo. They call it a "bear-centred" program and that's exactly what it is - they try and find particular things that each individual bear will enjoy. It's a joy to see an animal treated so well with people dedicated to helping it to learn and explore. Whether you just want to see a big fluffy white bear up close or you take an interest in the work that is done in Ontario to protect polar bears in general, this is a great place to visit and well worth the 15 dollar admission fee.
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