World class. Those are the two best words I can think of to describe the North Island Wildlife Recovery and Educational Centre, tucked away in the secluded – but easily accessible – backwoods of the mid-Vancouver Island area.
The NIWRC, as it is referred to locally, is located on eight acres on a quiet back road in Errington. Founded in 1984 a little further north on the Island, the centre moved to its current home at the old farm site in 1986, and has slowly evolved in to a stunning facility that serves a multitude of purposes – all of them well.
The story of NIWRC began with an injured Great Horned Owl and the ministrations of Robin and Sylvia Campbell. It has grown over 30 years to include the care and rehabilitation of thousands of birds and mammals, most notably raptors, black bears, wolves and cougars.
Most wildlife treatment facilities that I have visited over the years have been smallish operations focused solely on the the tasks at hand – getting the patients back out in to their natural habitat. They have been interesting, but not particularly memorable. I don’t think there is an NIWRC visitor anywhere who could say that about the beautiful facility here on the Island. Not only is it interesting and memorable, it leaves guests enraptured. I put that down to the fact that the Campbells, their board of directors and the many staff and volunteers who make this place run have not only a love for wildlife, but an innate respect for it. It shows in every nook and cranny of the place.
The entry to this magical world is through the centre’s gift shop. Which, of course, left me expecting commercial aspects all the way through. I was so off-base on that presumption that it’s embarrassing. Once you exit the gift shop you are transported into a world where nature reigns supreme.
The tour of NIWRC begins in the Museum of Nature, a spectacular mortise and tenon timber frame structure that houses dozens of static displays of wildlife in their natural habitat. Detailed information tablets are located in front of each specimen, and the push of a button supplies visitors with an audio experience of what that particular creature sounds like in the wild.
After marveling in this structure for quite some time I wandered past the very well-equipped treatment centre and nursery and on towards the massive eagle flight cage – at 140 feet long, 30 feet wide and 20 feet high, the largest of its kind in Canada. The flight cage allows for one-way viewing of many of the eagles that are in rehabilitation.
From the flight cage, on to the black bear rehabilitation area, where natural habitat is the byword – no neat and tidy enclosure here, but rather a tangle of blackberries, a pond and a mess of other stuff that forms the real world of a black bear.
The beautiful rustic public viewing area also echoes the NIWRC’s dedication to providing as natural and non-invasive a habitat as possible for its non-releasable residents – while visitors can most certainly see the many species on display the animals are able to maintain their distance and privacy to a very great degree. Again, that intrinsic reverence for the creatures is so very evident.
A ramble around the release pond and along the nature trail yields up yet more delight – interpretive signage along the way identifies many species of the plant life to be found at the centre. And finally, a stop in another striking building, the wildlife learning centre. Again, more wonderful displays and innovative learning opportunities, and a video heralding some of the work that NIWRC does. When you visit be sure not to miss this video – it is stunning and inspiring. The beautiful footage of the raptor releases brought a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye.
Hands down, the North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre is one of the ‘must see’ attractions on Vancouver Island. The great work that they do combines with the lovely environment and positive vibe to make it an enlightening, heart-warming and very positive experience for even the most cynical among us.
The North Island Wildlife Recovery and Educational Centre is located at 1240 Leffler Road, Errington. Please note that the centre is wheelchair accessible (they even have a wheelchair available). The centre is not open year-round, so best to check out their website to ensure that you won’t be disappointed if you venture there. Further information can be obtained at:
GPS co-ordinates are:
Lat. 49.293249490397066 Long. -124.35802459716797
N 49 17.595 W 124 21.481