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Thompson in hunt for world predator title

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Two of Thompson's pack of 52 mural-covered wolf statues howl outside the Provincial Building.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Two of Thompson's pack of 52 mural-covered wolf statues howl outside the Provincial Building. Photo Store

THOMPSON -- Touting your city as the global epicentre of a top predator may seem like an unusual tack. But that isn't stopping Thompson, already billed as the Wolf Capital of Canada, from pursuing Wolf Capital of the World status.

"In most countries, wolves were almost exterminated because of human-wolf conflicts with cattle ranchers, sheep farmers, reindeer ranchers, etcetera," says Volker Beckmann of Spirit Way Inc., a local non-profit leading the wolf charge. "Yet in northern Manitoba, there are no ranchers or farmers. Aboriginal peoples have a completely different outlook on wolves."

And not only aboriginals, as many Thompsonites of all creeds and cultures have climbed aboard an ambitious branding of this city that began in 2004.

That was the year Spirit Way was formed to drum up tourism in the Hub of the North. One of its first projects would be a massive wildlife mural to adorn the side of a prominent apartment building.

The $113,000 mural would be a 10-storey reproduction of a work by renowned Canadian wildlife artist Robert Bateman. A wolf was chosen from a list of candidates that also included an eagle, a moose and a lynx.

Upon completion in 2005, the powerful image of a lone wolf, perfectly capturing the animal's mystique, became the largest photo-real mural in Canada and the largest lighted mural on Earth.

"After the mural was painted and many people across Canada were expressing their interest, we began to realize there was a worldwide fascination and controversy with wolves," recalls Beckmann, a friendly-looking bespectacled man.

That response helped spawn another wolf-themed attraction, a series of wildlife-mural-wrapped wolf statues scattered throughout the city. Almost as hard to miss as the Bateman mural, the business-sponsored statues each stand more than seven feet tall.

There are now 52 statues, mostly in Thompson but with several in Winnipeg and Churchill. GPS enthusiasts are encouraged to locate all of them through Spirit Way's GPS wolf hunt.

Other projects are in the works, not the least of which is a captive wolf park for Thompson's planned Boreal Discovery Centre. Spirit Way has already raised more than $250,000 for the park.

Not to be forgotten is the fact that there are some very real wolves roaming the Thompson region. Ironically, wolf sightings spiked last November after the city hosted an international conference on how to cast Thompson as the world's wolf capital.

All of which shows Thompson had every reason to be confident when, in 2009, it declared itself the Wolf Capital of Canada, a claim no one has challenged.

Now the city is eyeing Wolf Capital of the World, a title that, as far as Beckmann can tell, is not used by any other community.

Surprisingly, there is no official body regulating "world capitals" of anything. Plausibly promote yourself, and convince enough people of your legitimacy, and you can become the world capital of anything.

Thompson has not publicly christened itself the Wolf Capital of the World just yet, but that hasn't stopped two U.S. wolf organizations from doing so.

A strategic plan is now being developed, Beckmann says, to "legitimately" position Thompson as the global wolf capital. The goal is to formally make the claim when the internationally respected Wildlife Society hosts a major conference in Winnipeg in 2015.

Today, with the Bateman mural now its most famous visual, Thompson's wolf-based branding has far outgrown its tourism-motivated roots.

Beckmann notes several wolf experts have visited Thompson and confirmed "a unique opportunity to highlight wolves in a new way and set an example to other jurisdictions in proper wolf management."

Not all residents are excited by the prospects, believing wolves are too marauding an animal to be the face of a city, particularly one whose crime rate has spawned a reputation for danger.

Nonetheless, wolves are fast becoming to Thompson what polar bears are to Churchill.

Maybe touting your city as the epicentre of a top predator isn't such an unusual tack after all.


Jonathon Naylor is editor of the Reminder newspaper in Flin Flon.

jonathon_naylor@hotmail.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 1, 2013 A11

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