TIMMINS, Ont.: On a cool evening, not long before the sun set, a tractor wound along a dirt path in northern Ontario, pulling behind it a trailer holding a few tourists, bundles of leaves and a huge sack of feed.
Several elk followed along, jogging beside the vehicle, hoping to gobble up handfuls of food. Ahead, a young moose named Felix lay in wait.
The interactions with the animals were taking place at Cedar Meadows, a resort and wilderness park nestled on the west bank of the Mattagami River in Timmins, Ont. The facility offers tours of the park to the public year-round.
In wintertime, the 175 acres become a picturesque wonderland, coated in a thick layer of white snow.
The tours offer locals and tourists alike a chance to get up close and personal with the park’s residents: a moose, a bison, 15 fallow deer and 42 elk. Another moose and six other bison are sequestered out of public view.
“It’s an opportunity to interact with them and see them, and still have that element of being wild,’’ said Richard Lafleur, who owns the facility.
Opened in 1985 as an equestrian centre, the business was converted into a 29-room hotel Wildlifenearly two decades ago. It’s since been expanded to 52 rooms.
Lafleur said it felt natural for him to keep animals on the property, having grown up on a farm.
But it also seemed like a good business opportunity, he said, noting that visitors were drawn to the wildlife that lived in the area even before he changed the focus of the business.
“Whenever we’d see some kind of wildlife _ a fox or whatever _ people would go hysterical,’’ he said, explaining that Cedar Meadows bought animals from other parks and zoos that were going out of business.
Jacinte Jean, a Canadian ex-pat living in California and travelling through northern Ontario, came to the park with her husband in hopes of introducing him to his very first moose _ a mission they accomplished.
“I’m a little bit surprised that the animals seem so friendly, and they’re all together,’’ she said, noting that the moose’s timid demeanour in particular was unexpected.
She and her husband leaned from the wooden trailer to cautiously hand the moose large bundles of leaves. They pet his antlers, which were then covered in a fine, downy coat that he’d shed come mating season.
Felix the moose was born on the property four years ago, Lafleur said. The animal’s father died before he was born, and his mother was struck by lightning a couple of years later.
Though the moose seemed tame, Lafleur said it’s important to remember that Felix is still a wild animal.
“A lot of people think they’re domesticated, but they aren’t,’’ he said, adding that there are certain best-practices people should adhere to while in the park.
For instance, he said, the animals can get spooked if people they aren’t familiar with disembark the tractor in the middle of the tour.
Also, they might see it as a sign of aggression if people look them in the eyes, he said, noting staff at the wilderness park are able to give visitors a rundown of dos and don’ts.
Ultimately, Lafleur said, the excursion in the Cedar Meadows park tends to offer something out of the ordinary to most visitors.
“It’s a really different experience for people,’’ he said.
Cedar Meadows is located at 1000 Norman St., Timmins, Ont.
Tours are $12 per person, and are held every day on a first come, first served basis. Alternatively, it is $180 for a private tour for a group of up to 25 people.