Canis Soup


If The Young City gets published, I've just found my first two acknowledgements. I was looking around for an answer to this question: "when was the last time that wolves were sighted in Toronto?"

Melissa at Wolves Ontario gave me the number of large predator biologist Maria DeAlmeida at the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and suggested that I call. So, I phoned her up and we talked a little about wolves. I learned some interesting things.

Ontario, apparently, is something of a canis soup. There are two known species of wolf, the northern grey wolf, and the eastern red wolf. The wolves of Algonquin Park appear to be red wolves, one of two remnant populations of a species that once ranged across eastern North America.

Then there are the hybrids. There are grey wolf/red wolf hybrids. With the arrival of the western coyote in Eastern Canada, a new breed of eastern coyote has appeared, which appears to be a hybridization of the western coyote with the eastern wolf.

The eastern coyote is proving to be exceptionally versatile, appearing in cities, eating fruits, rodents and almost anything on hand when deer isn't available. In Quebec, they're starting to prey on caribou breeding grounds and they've even appeared in the island of Newfoundland, having crossed the ice flows of the gulf.

The wolves of southern Ontario were rare by the 1870s, and the western coyote started to infiltrate the province from Michigan and take up the niche left by the departing wolves in the late 1880s. Further incursions from northeastern Minnesota and Manitoba took place in northern Ontario in the 1920s, complicating the picture. These are all best guesses, however, as no genetic history has been taken, and it's a little late for one.

Maria expressed a certain admiration of the eastern coyote's versatility, even if it is an intruder species that is pushing out and/or corrupting the local species of wolf. The hybridization is a surprising thing to see, since we normally wouldn't see such crossbreeding between these wholly different species. Perhaps dogs, coyotes and wolves are not nearly as separate as we'd like to think...

While it looks like there is no definite date for the departure of the wolves, it looks like I might be lucking in with the date range. Wolves were rare in southern Ontario in the 1870s, and the coyotes took their place in the late 1880s. The Young City is set in 1884.

Truth to tell, the wolves were probably gone from Toronto by 1884, as they never adapted to the loss of their woodland habitat and their large prey. Livestock may have been a tempting target, but with no cover to hide in, they were sitting ducks. On the other hand, coyotes were rodent eaters, and so would love prowling the wheat fields.

Still, since the truth is so unclear, one could get away with stretching the truth, using 1884 as a hard-and-fast date where the wolves make their last appearance in Toronto, before turning aside and heading north, a symbol of nature under fire from humanity's activities.

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