Public meetings held to decide fate of Cochrane's Polar Bear Habitat

Polar Bear Habitat's board and Town Council are holding separate open houses to get public feedback on the fate of the facility.

Polar Bear Habitat good for Cochrane's economy, says facility's board chair

Open houses are being held to get community feedback on fate of Cochrane's Polar Bear Habitat. (Cochrane Polar Bear Habitat )

The Cochrane Polar Bear Habitat's board of directors is holding an open house Nov. 17 to share their plans for the future of the facility.

Last week, town council passed a motion to consider closing the Habitat.

Mayor Denis Clement says it costs taxpayers about $400,000 a year to run the facility.

J.P. Bradette is chair of the Polar Bear Habitat's board of directors. He says the board met with council a few weeks ago, gave an interim report, and thought they would be reporting back to council at a later date with a finalized business plan.

Bradette says that council's motion came as a shock.

He says the board does not disagree that there are financial challenges to keep the facility going. 

"But we were asked to come up with a business plan to try to close that gap," said Bradette. "And I guess what we're asking for is enough time to be able to complete the task that was assigned to us," he added. 

"You have a lot of very committed people on the board," said Bradette. "It's a skill-based board with many talented volunteers on the team. But having said that, we work for the Town of Cochrane."

Bradette says the board has put a lot of time, energy, and thought into the future of the facility. "We want to have an open and honest discussion with the public in terms of where possibilities could lie," he explains. 

Bradette says that both the town council's public input meeting on Nov. 20 and the board's open house on Nov. 17 share the same objective--to get feedback from the community about the fate of the facility. 

"I'd like to be hopeful and say that people generally are supportive of the habitat. It brings tremendous value to the community economically," he said. "It also brings brand recognition and reputational value to the town of Cochrane and to the northeastern Ontario region," he added. 

Bradette says the board wants to continue working with town council to come up with solutions to meet the needs of all the stakeholders and take into account the best interests of the bears.

The Polar Bear Habitat was originally developed as a revenue‐generating tourist attraction to take advantage of people travelling to Moosonee on the Polar Bear Express.

It is the only captive polar bear facility in the world dedicated to only polar bears.

The board's open house will be held Sunday, Nov. 17 from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Club Amical 50 Plus, 158 4th Avenue in Cochrane. 

With files from Martha Dillman