When Stephane Denis and his partner Sophie moved from Dieppe, France they purchased a piece of land smack dab in the middle of Quebec’s stunning Laurentian Mountains. Dieppe has a strong connection with Canadians as many took part in the abortive raid on Nazi held France during WW II which preceded Normandy.

Like many Europeans they shared a fascination with all things native and aboriginal…their philosophies, cultural practices and philosophies. Unlike many others they made their dream a reality by seeking consultation with Algonquin Chief, Dominique Rankin.

The result: Kanatha-Aki, Algonquin for “guardian of the boundless earth” a healing centre for all. Visitors can stay in authentic teepees, fish (with their bare hands), zipline across rivers and through forests or ride horses to see the spectacular herd of the endangered wood buffalo. Unfortunately they recently lost the five year old white buffalo that was born into the herd…considered so sacred by the Algonquin that the burial ceremony took a week to complete. Shortly after, another albino calf was born which died after at only a month of age…resulting in another one week ceremony by the reverent Algonquin.  

I decided to spend my afternoon here horseback riding up to see the centre’s herd of rare wood buffalo. The horses, ably handled by Stephane’s daughter, Leana, are also rescue animals, slowly being fed and groomed to health. All with different characteristics, each was chosen to suit the riding ability and personalities of the rider.

Mounting my horse, an old paint named Hansel (so called because of the two-tone painted-on look of his coat) , we trekked off through the spring Laurentian forest to visit the herd.

Once on my way, I couldn’t resist starting to humm an old Western song, “I Ride an Old Paint”. We had an hour to perambulate about the property and up to the field where the wood buffalo dwells. They are not molested in any way, not used for food and simply allowed to dwell in peace. This endangered wood bison herd (not a true buffalo at all) is breeding and thriving, helping to almost double the North American count of the species though they still only number about 7000. The more well known plains buffalo is much more numerous than the wood buffalo.

The day was misty and drizzly and as we approached the field nothing was in view.  We waited as Leana tried to call the herd over.  At first I thought we would be disappointed. She called and called again.  Then like a scene from Canadian pre-history, the bison herd ambled toward us over a mist shrouded ridge, youngsters prancing around and the alpha male, Bob ( who has dreadlocks like Bob Marley) and the alpha female leading.

I learned something very important right away…do not pat any other bison but Bob on the head. He gets really jealous and annoyed. The alpha female however, is permitted to lick your hand as a sign of her acceptance.

An enjoyable visit ensued with the bison placidly standing, a calf intermittently suckling his mother and a few other juveniles prancing animatedly around the field. While the adults were very placid we were told that they can be nimble and powerful when provoked and Bob could make short work of any predator that dared disturb his herd. He seemed to bear no animosity to humans though, even though we are the species that almost eradicated his kind for food and sport.

After a visit of ten minutes or so Bob turned slowly away. Gracefully and with dignity he led his troupe back into the mist, leaving us humans quiet, pensive …and perhaps feeling a bit guilty.

Story by George Burden

Photos by Stella van der Lugt





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