Following years of planning, consultations, fund sourcing, and building, the world’s largest enclosure for polar bears is now in use by Cochrane Polar Bear Habitat residents Ganuk and Henry.

At five hectares and encompassing a natural lake that will freeze over in Cochrane’s sub-arctic climate for approximately half the year, the enclosure is not only the largest in human care, it’s arguably the most natural.


“The lake has fish, and there are so many exciting items for the boys to explore and play with.” said Habitat Manager, Karen Cummings. “The property already included the lake, so it seemed too great an opportunity to resist. We had to find a way to give our bears this space since it is as close to their natural environment as possible in human care. To see them swim in such a huge space is amazing, but even better is knowing they’ll go out on the ice in winter, just like they do in the wild. The learning opportunities are endless”.

Three viewing areas have been built so visitors can see the majority of the lake from different vantage points, and a live camera feed is available on the Polar Bear Habitat’s website.


Conservation Coordinator Dylan McCart was ecstatic to see the boys finally have access. “It is very encouraging to see the bears in such a large and enriching space. Providing the bears with more control over their environment, along with new substrates, outweighs the endless hours of work to ensure for a safe release. We hope that this unique space will open up new research opportunities to help us better understand the polar bear species”.

The “work” Dylan spoke of included building over 4,000 feet of 17’ high fence, moving a road, a hydro pole, and a building to accommodate the fence line. Steep grades and the fact the area used to be a campground were additionally challenging. Safety and security protocols had to be developed specifically for such a large area, and the bears had to receive months of recall training with dedicated triggers and rewards.

We knew we had something special, something that not only would help Cochrane, but do something more. We’re showing the world a town can make a difference in environmental conservation. – Mayor Politis

Henry and Ganuk took the moment in stride. First out was Henry, who after receiving encouragement from his keeper, continued with very little distraction to the water. Ganuk was more tentative, slowly exploring before finally making his way to the shore. By the time Ganuk jumped in the lake, Henry had already swum half way across. After investigating on their own for a time, both bears joined together in the middle of the lake, sparring and playing with no chance of hitting the bottom, disappearing for minutes at a time under water.

Trevor Long, Director of Sea World, Australia was on hand for the opening. “We couldn’t be happier that Henry gets to enjoy this unbelievable space. He not only has a big brother, but we now get to watch him learn more wild behaviours and skills. He’s really becoming the polar bear we hoped he’d be”.

Town of Cochrane Mayor, Peter Politis did the opening honours by cutting the ribbon. “When the town originally created the Habitat, we always dreamed of this day. We knew we had something special, something that not only would help Cochrane, but do something more. We’re showing the world a town can make a difference in environmental conservation. We’re showing everyone they can make a difference and fight climate change. It’s not just a great thing, it’s the right thing”.

The lake expansion was possible due to grants from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation and FedNor, with a generous contribution from the Town of Cochrane.

If you wish you learn more about this story and or the Polar Bear Habitat, you can reach one of the following people.