This big, boreal wildlife reserve is home to Canada’s northernmost population of bison, also called wood buffalo, and is located just east of the community of Fort Providence.
The free-roaming Mackenzie Herd wanders through these protected 10,000 square kilometres. Long ago these mighty bison stampeded all over Alberta, northern British Columbia and much of the Northwest Territories. But hunting and disease nearly wiped out the NWT’s bison population. In 1963, 18 of the remaining animals were relocated to this newly created reserve and the species was given official protection. The herd recovered to some 2,400 in the 1980s, though has since declined to around 850 animals.
Roadside parks in the area – including North Arm and Chan Lake – provide an opportunity to stretch your legs and explore the sanctuary’s flora and landscape. One of the best ways to view the Mackenzie Herd, though, is simply travelling along Highway 3. Lumbering bison grazing along the side of the road is an almost inevitable sight for travellers in summer. Drivers should also be ready for unexpected delays from the massive animals lazily crossing – or snoozing – on the highway.
Be alert and aware of bison when driving on NWT roads, especially at night. While you can take pictures from inside your car, do not approach or feed bison at any time.