René Brunelle Provincial Park

Length of stay: 1 day
Visited: September 2021

René Brunelle is located in the small town of Moonbeam in the Cochrane District. It was named after a Canadian politician who lived in the area and represented Cochrane North in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario from 1958 to 1981. The park is situated on Remi Lake, which used to be a float plane base in the early 1900s. It features four sandy beaches, two hiking trails and other great opportunities to enjoy nature.

We spent the previous night at Kettle Lakes and left after breakfast. On the drive to René Brunelle, we stopped in Cochrane to check out the Polar Bear Habitat, which is reputed to be the only facility in the world dedicated purely to the care of polar bears. The Cochrane Polar Bear Habitat is home to three polar bears: Henry, Inukshuk and Ganuk.

We arrived just in time to see Henry being fed. Afterwards we walked around the grounds and explored a few of the exhibits that provide more information about polar bears. The grounds also feature a heritage village, which resembles what Cochrane was like in 1912. The exhibit showcases many buildings and artifacts, including a general store, train station, doctor’s office, shoe repair shop, barber shop, school house and homestead. We also checked out the snowmobile museum which is located next to the gift shop, which has an impressive display of snowmobiles through the years.

From Cochrane, it’s just over an hour drive to René Brunelle. We arrived at the park just after 2p.m and thankfully it had stopped raining.

Just to be safe, we decided to eat lunch at the sheltered picnic area at Phipps Point, which is located in the day-use area. Given that the shelter was located on a point jutting out into Remi Lake, it was quite windy. But at least it wasn’t raining.

Afterwards we hiked along the La Vigilance Trail (800m, rated moderate), which can be accessed from the parking lot at the day-use area. The trail follows the shoreline of Remi Lake through a mixed northern forest. Along the way there are a few interpretive signs about the history of early aviation in Northern Ontario and a bush pilot plane crash from 1922.

Ontario’s first bush pilots were descendants of WWI aviators. Their missions varied from forest fire and aerial timber patrols to photographic survey flights for mining exploration. From the trail there’s a lookout of Airplane Island, which used to be a float plane base. It was from Remi Lake that the first flight north into the James Bay area originated, where the first ambulance flight in Canada landed and where the first volume carriage of air mail took off for Moose Factory.

From 1922 to 1944, Remi Lake was an important link in the Ontario Provincial Air Service. From here, bush pilots ranged over the northern forests checking for fires and bringing aid to the distressed. The introduction of more versatile and efficient aircraft made the base obsolete.

Afterwards we hiked along the Spruce Lowland Trail (1.6km, rated moderate). The trail loops through the forest and features different communities of the boreal forest, each with its own special combination of trees, small plants and animals.

The description of the trail indicated that one of the highlights includes passing by a bear den. We were a bit hesitant to check out this viewpoint (what if the bears still use it as a den?!), but our curiosity got the better of us. It didn’t look like much of a den, so our guess is that it’s been abandoned.

The trail also features a large boardwalk section and passes through an old spruce bog. At this point the clouds were starting to clear and the sun even made an appearance. It’s amazing how quickly the sun can warm everything up, including our spirits.

With that we wrapped up all the hiking trails at René Brunelle. From here it’s a 2 hour drive to get to Fushimi Lake Provincial Park where we planned to spend the night.


My progress on the Ontario Parks Challenge can be found here

86 thoughts on “René Brunelle Provincial Park

  1. wetanddustyroads says:

    Ah, how beautiful are the polar bears – I love their names! Once again, love your trails (and the history behind them) … I’m glad you had some sunny weather, such a bonus I always believe!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It was neat to see the polar bears and to learn more about them. The trails at Rene Brunelle were sweet and short. I’ve always enjoyed the interpretive panels along the way that provide more information about the history of the area. After dealing with rain the rain and overcast over the past few days, it was amazing to finally see some sun! It’s funny how it can make such a huge difference in terms of our mood.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It’s pretty impressive how many parks there are in Canada. This pandemic has given us a good excuse to explore the ones close to home. It was neat to see the polar bears in Cochrane and to even watch one of them being fed.

  2. Ab says:

    What a beautiful and eventful day you had! I’ve never heard of this polar bear habitat before. They are so adorable! I will definitely save this for a future Roadtrip activity. T will love it.

    The aviation history of the area was also interesting to read about. Makes you realize how we sometimes take these smaller towns for granted!

    I’m glad the sun came out for you later that day after rain and rain. It does make such a difference to the mood of the day! Could use some sun this morning in fact!

  3. kagould17 says:

    A lot of history here, for sure. I was trying to figure out why the polar bear sanctuary is there, so I looked at a map. It is amazing to me how far South of Northern Canada, that Northern Ontario is located. We never strayed that direction any of the times we travelled through Ontario. Thanks for sharing and have a great day. Allan

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Northern Ontario is massive. It actually constitutes 88% of the land area in Ontario. Compared to the provinces out west, Cochrane really isn’t that far north. It’s often overlooked as it’s not nearly as scenic as the area around Lake Superior, but that means it’s not very crowded either which is always a huge bonus. Thanks for reading and hope you had a happy New Year. Linda

  4. Rose says:

    Wow! Polar Bears! Exciting, and they hand feed them? I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, we toured the Bear Center in Ely MN, and our guide fed a big black bear named Teddy, with treats from her pocket. Over the years, I’ve taken the advice – don’t feed the wild animals – to heart. So I was a bit shocked to see a ‘professional caregiver’ do it. I had to remind myself that those situations are different, the bears are enclosed, they don’t have the ability to roam freely to get food.
    Also, I have to ask, did you see any Polaris snowmobiles in the snowmobile museum? I worked at Polaris, located in Roseau MN, in 1990, before I went to college. I’m sure the snowmobiles I worked on are classics by now. 😊

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It was neat to see the polar bears up close and to even watch one being fed. I wouldn’t want to feed any type of bear in the wild, or even in captivity though. It was nice to be behind the safety of the double enclosed fence. I don’t remember if there were any Polaris snowmobiles in the snowmobile museum, but if it was a vintage snowmobile, then probably. They tended to showcase more of the older classic models and highlight how the snowmobile has evolved over the years.

  5. John says:

    Very beautiful woods and lake, it looks huge! I would be very concerned about the bears in the area. I am really enjoying your tour of the provincial parks! 🇨🇦❤️

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thankfully polar bears don’t naturally roam in this area in the wild, otherwise there’s no way we would have slept in a tent!! We did see a couple of black bears during our road trip though. Northern Ontario is such a beautiful area and the best part is that the parks aren’t very busy. If this pandemic is still out of control during the summer, looks like we may just have to return to Northern Ontario again.

  6. Little Miss Traveller says:

    How interesting to to find a polar bear habitat in Ontario and that you timed your visit at feeding times. The trail looks very tranquil and I could just see myself wandering along those boardwalks beneath the tall trees.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      We were quite lucky to have arrived just in time to watch one of the polar bears being fed as there are no set feeding times for them. It was a great way to learn more about the polar bears. Rene Brunelle Provincial Park was a lovely little park. I’m glad we stopped here to stretch our legs and hike along the two trails in the park. When we arrived the skies were dark and gloomy, but as we were heading out, the sun was just starting to come out.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The Cochrane Polar Bear Habitat was a great way to see polar bears up close and to learn more about them. There are so many amazing parks in Ontario (especially in Northern Ontario) and across Canada. We’re hoping to head out east this summer and visit a few of the parks in Atlantic Canada. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment. Linda

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      All three of the polar bears came from different zoos, which means they will unfortunately never be rehabilitated into the wild. This was actually the furthest north we’ve ever been at this point and it was neat to see how different the landscape was in comparison to southern Ontario.

  7. Lynette d'Arty-Cross says:

    Fantastic park! It looks like you had a very interesting visit. I’m thinking that this polar bear facility is a permanent home for them as opposed to rehabilitation? Feeding by hand would indicate that these bears can’t return to the wild.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It’s always nice to plan a few excursions to break up the drive on a long road trip. The Polar Bear Habitat was a neat way to learn more about polar bears. All three of the bears came from a zoo, which means the will never be rehabilitated into the wild. They do have access to 24 acres of natural environment in the habitat, but that’s as close to being in the wild as they’ll get.

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        For sure. It’s a shame that these polar bears can’t go back into the wild, but with global warming, who knows how much of a natural habitat they’ll even have left in the next couple of decades.

      • Lynette d'Arty-Cross says:

        Agreed. Some of them are changing their diet (eating moose instead of seals) and others are mating with grizzlies to produce a hybrid called a “grolar.” It seems they’re finding ways to adapt.

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        It’s pretty remarkable how animals and nature are able to adapt. I got a good chuckle out of the name “grolar”. How cute. Although, I wouldn’t want to come across one of those bears on the trail!

  8. leightontravels says:

    No one can say that the people naming these locales lacked imagination: Kettle Lakes and Moonbeam in particular. Surprised to see that polar bears are being hand fed. They must have been there since a very young age. The park looks lovely.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      For sure, the names of the parks and surrounding communities were definitely unique and memorable. They also had some interesting signs, including a UFO monument in Moonbeam.

      The polar bears have spent their entire lives in captivity and came from other zoos. It was such a neat experience to see one being fed. I’m not sure I’d be brave enough to do that, even through a fence.

  9. says:

    Always a delicate balance when you view animals in captivity, isn’t it. We’re not fanatical or anything but we always try and find out how sound these places are before we visit. And then sometimes, like with these polar bears it seems, the visit is completely rewarding!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      For sure. I always have mixed emotions when it comes to visiting a zoo or aquarium. These three polar bears came from other zoos so there’s no way they can ever be rehabilitated in the wild. The habitat focuses its energies on giving the polar bears more of a natural environment to roam and keep them engaged while also educating the public about conservation efforts and polar bears in general.

  10. Lookoom says:

    Put a bear in an article and it immediately attracts attention, so a polar bear! What a great thing to get close to one, it gives an impression of power.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Bears tend to have that effect, eh? This was the closest I’ve ever come to a polar bear and it was such a neat experience. It makes me want to visit Churchill Manitoba and see them in their natural habitat. There’s no shortage of places to visit and things to do. Thanks for reading. Linda

      • Lookoom says:

        Churchill is also on my radar, I haven’t managed to get there yet. The train experience was unfortunately not possible for some time.

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        It’s pretty impressive that the VIA rail goes all the way to Churchill. The trip is a bit lengthy (45 hours one-way from Winnipeg), but it seems like such a unique experience. It’s definitely on my travel bucket list.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The polar bears were very adorable and it was neat to learn more about where they came from and how they got here. It was also such a unique experience to watch one being fed. I would definitely not want to feed one in captivity or in the wild!!

  11. Bama says:

    The sun does the same thing to me whenever I travel. It can quickly make a hike more enjoyable and a day really nice. Those polar bears look so cute, and it’s nice that they live in a facility dedicated to caring for their wellbeing.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      We had a lot of rain on the first few days of our road trip so it was nice to finally see the sun and feel its warmth. It definitely made the hike more enjoyable. It was neat to see the polar bears. The habitat was a great way to learn more about them and how they are cared for at this facility. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment. Linda

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Seeing the polar bears was such a thrill. I didn’t even realize that there was a polar bear habitat in Ontario until I started doing research for our road trip up north. It was a great way to learn more about polar bears in general. Happy New Year to you as well. Hope it’s filled with lots of new memories and adventures. Cheers. Linda

  12. rkrontheroad says:

    I was fascinated with the polar bear reserve and looked up their web site. 24 acres for the bears! A great find. It would be interesting to know what percentage of the Ontario parks you’ve visited so far. I’m amazed that there are so many!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      All three polar bears came from a zoo, which means there’s no chance of ever rehabilitating them into the wild. It’s nice that there’s a polar bear habitat that provides much more space and dedicated care for the bears. This makes me want to go to Churchill, Manitoba to see more of the polar bears.

      In 2021 we managed to visit just over 100 provincial parks, which is about a third of all parks in Ontario. Most of them were operating parks, which meant that they had some facilities and activities like camping and hiking. We also visited a few non-operating parks, which are not always maintained and primarily focused on conservation. Overall I’d say our challenge was a huge success and very rewarding.

      • rkrontheroad says:

        I’ve heard about the bears in Churchill. That would be an amazing trip, but maybe a little scary to be so close to wild predators, however beautiful they are. Congratulations on visiting over 100 parks! We’ve enjoyed going along with you.

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        For sure. I would only go with a tour group. Safety in numbers, right? And thanks for your kind words. It’s been fun exploring more of what’s in our own backyard!

  13. annemariedemyen says:

    Fascinating! It would definitely be cool to see the polar bears. The first plane I was ever on was a float plane. I went from Thompson, Manitoba to a small native village on Fishing Lake with my boss. Halfway there, the pilot flipped the plane upside down so I could get a good view of the landscape. The last time I saw that boss, he still had claw marks on his arm. Before I left that job (road construction company) I had a couple of trips in a glass bottomed helicopter. I managed not to claw anyone by keeping my eyes closed.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I would love to visit Churchill, Manitoba to see the polar bears up close and in their natural habitat. I had no idea there was such a thing as a glass bottomed helicopter. Good call on keeping your eyes closed to ensure the safety of the other passengers. I probably would have done the same as I’m not a fan of heights. Sounds like you have some interesting stories from your previous work.

      • annemariedemyen says:

        I haven’t been as far as Churchill but northern Manitoba is beautiful. They used to have glass bottomed helicopters at summer fairs here – to take people on scenic tours. I have had a few interesting jobs over the years – up to and including the last twenty five in the construction industry here.

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        We made it close to the Manitoba border during our Northern Ontario road trip. We were so blown away by the scenery that I’ve started planning a trip to Manitoba. I’m not sure about timing as a lot of it depends on COVID (and work).

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        Words I love to hear. I’m pretty easy to please when it comes to the outdoors. I’m just amazed (and thankful) for all the wilderness and green spaces we have in Canada. I just hope we do a better just of conserving it for future generations to enjoy.

      • annemariedemyen says:

        As do I. Here in Saskatchewan a lot of people still do not see the problem. We are the land of denial or ‘over there’ when it comes to global issues. 🙄

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        It seems to be the same everywhere. Here in southern Ontario a lot of our conservation areas and green spaces are being paved over to put up new housing developments left, right and centre. All these decisions seem to be so short sighted and not well planned. Unfortunately once you chop down mature trees, it takes hundreds of years to grow them back. And there’s only so many times you can keep widening those roads.

      • annemariedemyen says:

        So true. Here people just don’t see the big picture. They feel it is a big city, third world problem. (Apparently they don’t see the news or watch the Discovery Channel. 🤦). Our city cuts down the trees in our green spaces to erect metal trees and open the spaces up for off leash dog parks – ’cause what dog would want trees in their park? It is just mind boggling.

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        I don’t get it. I couldn’t help but laugh at how your city has erected metal trees. Why?? It’s so sad. This pandemic has really demonstrated just how important our parks and green spaces are. And that we don’t have enough of them close to the city. Some of our parks have had to have police or issue permits to prevent overcrowding. But not everyone visiting appreciates nature. The amount of trash we’ve seen on the trails this year was just awful.

      • annemariedemyen says:

        We see it as well. It is sad that some people have such little respect for nature – or others. (The powers that be in Regina and Saskatchewan envy bigger more cosmopolitan centres – while claiming that our rural nature is better than crowded urban areas. Their decisions are based on anything but common sense.)

      • annemariedemyen says:

        The politicians keep getting worse and worse. I don’t know how Saskatchewan can find anyone worse than what we have now but I was shocked that we could get worse than Brad Wall. 😢

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