by Stephen Johnson
I have always wanted to go on safari in Africa but the airfare hasn’t been affordable. That’s why I was intrigued to learn Kenauk Nature offers a safari-type experience that involves bear watching. The great thing? The cost to get there from Ottawa is only about a quarter of a tank of gas.
Kenauk is a private fish and game reserve located ten kilometres from Montebello, Quebec. The reserve rents out cottages but it also has programs open to the public.
Upon our arrival at Kenauk, we decided to start off the day canoeing. I am far from being an expert canoeist so was happy to learn we would be accompanied by our guide, Liane. She grew up at Kenauk and had explored the many lakes on the property. My wife Sandy and son David had never gone canoeing before, so it was exciting for them. We set off to explore Whitefish Lake and we were looking forward to what we might discover.
The conditions were perfect with the sun shining and the water as smooth as glass. David provided the odd moment of excitement as he shifted around the canoe searching for frogs and fish. We paddled for about 45 minutes without seeing any wildlife. We were making our return when David spotted something on land. “Look, a beaver,” David said. At first, Liane did not believe it since it is rare to see beavers on land. Paddling closer, we discovered David was right! It was the first sighting of a beaver on land this summer. David was thrilled with his discovery.
After the canoe trip, we were eager to make more animal discoveries. Next on the schedule was our bear-watching excursion. I was immediately hooked when I saw the safari-style vehicle that would be used for the expedition. We met our guide, Jean Sebastien, and loaded into the vehicle. It was fun riding along the back roads on our way to the first bear-watching observation point. It should be noted that all the bears in Kenauk are wild but appropriate food is provided at the observation stations to increase the chance of seeing bears.
At our first station, we saw what looked like a brown bear. Jean Sebastien explained that it was actually a type of black bear called a cinnamon bear. They are found throughout North America and are fairly common at Kenauk. We were able to safely observe the bear from a raised platform. It was incredible to be close enough that you could actually smell and hear the bear. Also, I had to pinch myself that this was the bear’s natural habitat and not just a zoo.
After observing the cinnamon bear, we moved on in our safarimobile (I love saying that!) on to our second checkpoint. Along the back roads, we spotted a black bear. Closer to the platform, we saw a young cub that quickly scurried away. Soon after, a large bear came for closer inspection of the raised platform. I have to admit to feeling slightly nervous even though he was not that close to us. The bear was not aggressive, just curious. David was mesmerized by the majestic creature while Sandy was taking photos of our National Geographic moment. After some time, the bear lost interest in us and slowly ambled back into the forest.
We made our way back to base camp with stories to share for months afterwards. I did not realize it was possible to have such a safe close encounter with a large animal so near Ottawa. The experience gave our entire family a greater appreciation for the nature that is literally almost outside our front door.
For more information about Kenauk and its services, visit, www.kenauk.com.