It doesn’t feel like an overstatement to say my morning at Omega Park was magical. The spectral hush, the crunch of the frozen snow, the elk, moose, bear and wolves ….. it all felt a bit otherworldly. And very, very exciting.
My tour of Omega Park was part of a press trip with Ottawa Tourism and Tourisme Outaouais. I didn’t pay to enter. You can read more about my press trip here.
Omega Park lies on the edge of the small town of Montebello, about an hour’s drive from Ottawa, Canada. It’s in Québec, and the Park’s French name is Parc Oméga. This part of Québec is known as the Outaouais Valley. The Valley’s a rugged, rural place where bears find plenty of hidey holes to make their dens, and beavers build dams along the river. And Omega Park’s a 2,200 acre space where indigenous animals roam in a safe, natural environment. The closest thing I’ve experienced before is a large animal safari park, but it’s so much more than that. Omega’s an environmental and cultural centre, set up to celebrate Canada’s wildlife, as well as the settlers and indigenous people who’ve made the country what it is today.
Driving through Omega Park
I met my guide, Technical Director Serge Lussier, at Omega Park’s Park House. The Park House gift shop, piled high with stuffed animals and Canadian memorabilia, was enticing, as was the scent of coffee drifting from the Park House restaurant. But we moved quickly on. The drive through Omega Park is 15km long, and I wanted to see as much of the park as possible before my lunchtime appointment elsewhere.
Land of the First Nations
Our first stop was in the Land of the First Nations, a space where totem poles from aboriginal tribes circle a lake. The lake was frozen solid when the snow tyres of Serge’s car crunched to a halt nearby. We climbed out, and a large group of fallow deer began edging its way towards us. Some deer were nervous, but the bolder creatures were rewarded with a carrot from Serge’s bag.
After feeding the deer, we wandered down to the side of the lake. Serge pointed out the walking trail underneath the lakeside trees, and the totem poles of different sizes, arranged around the frozen water. In the warmer months, tribes converge on this spot for their ceremonies.
We passed under the wings of an eagle, carved by an Algonquin artist. He had told Serge that anyone who makes a reasonable wish while walking under the wings, might expect their wish to come true.
Deer and elk at Omega Park
I thought the fallow deer were bold in coming up to take our carrots, until I met the elk and red deer at Omega Park. These stately creatures, some as large as ponies, just sauntered up to our stationary car, and stuck their noses in through the window, demanding to be fed.
Wild boar and their tiny piglets trotted merrily among the elk and deer. Although boar aren’t native to Canada, they do well in the country’s climate. Omega Park’s French owner wanted to introduce them as a reminder of his home country. Almost all of the park’s other animals are indigenous Canadian species.
Wolves at Omega Park
Parc Oméga’s divided into different ‘ecosystems’, with its animals grouped together according to whether they live in the forest, tundra or Alpine region. They’re separated from each other by wire fences, to keep predators away from prey. Dotted around in the park’s different ecosystems were wolves: black, grey, and Arctic wolves as well as coyotes.
Like the other creatures, Omega Park’s wolves wore their winter coats, so they looked big, bright and beautiful. When we stopped and I saw the eager canines come bounding towards the fence, it was easy to see their relation to domestic dogs. But the wolves’ eyes sent a chilling shiver down my spine. It was like looking into the eyes of a shark: pure instinct, with no mercy.
Canada is home to the second largest population of grey wolves in the world, with only Russia having more. At Omega Park a special observatory lets visitors get close to the wolves. Only a pane of glass separated us from the pack, and we could peer down on the wolves from the viewing platform above. A new cabin experience even lets visitors ‘sleep with the wolves’, in a log hut with panoramic glass windows looking directly onto the wolves’ territory.
Land of the Pioneers
Serge described Omega Park as a ‘living museum’, and in the Land of the Pioneers, we briefly escaped the winter cold and went inside the Lumberjacks’ Camp. The air of the cosy log cabin was rich with the scent of hot chocolate and rousing folk music. In front of a roaring log fire, Serge told me a little about the history of the lumberjacks who built so much housing and public buildings in the region, and the trappers and traders who helped set up an economy based on fur from the 17th Century onwards.
As well as Lumberjack’s Camp, in the Land of the Pioneers visitors could go into the Trading Post to find out more about Canadian trading history. For children there was a wooden Enchanted Cabin to play in, and a treetop walk in the warmer months. A restored farm gave an insight into farming life in the 19th Century, and people could take a snowshoe walk with very friendly deer. Serge said that families often spent three to four hours in this part of Omega Park.
Encounters with Canadian animals
After our visit to the Land of the Pioneers, we whizzed back to Park House. On the way, I saw animals that I’d never encountered before: musk oxen, bison, and a Rocky Mountain goat. We stopped to watch a pack of Arctic foxes, skittering around in the snow like fluffy white Pomeranians. Far off in the distance I saw caribou, but closer to our car was a moose, which had been rescued as a calf when its mother was hit by a car. He lived with a goat as a companion. To my surprise, we also saw a bear. It was hibernation season, but Serge told me that some bears don’t sleep as deeply as others. They’ll wake occasionally, and go for a short stroll close to their den. This was exactly what one brown bear was doing when happened to be driving past. I felt very fortunate to have seen him.
My time at Omega Park was all too brief. Visitors would need a full day to make the most of the opportunity to see all the animals, and to properly explore the Land of the First Nations and the Land of the Pioneers. I captured as much as I could in this short video. Look out for the gambolling Arctic foxes!
How to get to Omega Park
Omega Park is an hour from Ottawa, and an hour and a half from Montréal, along the Highway 50 O. The address is 399 Route 323 North, Montebello, Quebec J0v 1L0. Pay attention to the frequent signposts to Park Omega as you get nearer. My SatNav took me to the wrong place, around five minutes down the road.
Ticket prices and opening hours vary depending on the season. For more information, see the Omega Park website.
Places to stay in and near Omega Park
Omega Park offers a variety of accommodation options, with tipis, tents and cabins available in the summer, and an all-year-round ‘sleep with the wolves’ cabin experience. You can find details here.
Five minutes down the road is the hotel is Fairmont Le Château Montebello, the largest log cabin in the world whose distinguished visitors range from Bing Crosby to Margaret Thatcher. The cosy, genteel resort offers activities like snowshoeing, dog sledding, cross-country skiing and ice skating. Guests can spend time in the spa or the elegant swimming pool, and eat seasonal local produce in the hotel’s restaurant, Aux Chantignoles.
As well as going to Omega Park, I also stayed in Ottawa, where their annual Winterlude festival was in full swing. You can read about Ottawa and Winterlude here.
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