What will happen to Spruce Haven Zoo?


City Council’s decision to allow Spruce Haven Zoo, owned by Ken and Helen Marshall, to be grandfathered into the forthcoming animal control bylaw, has been a hotly debated topic in Sault Ste. Marie these past couple months.

It has come to a head dividing many citizens – those who believe the zoo should be shut down and the animals sent to sanctuaries, and those who support the continuation of the Marshall’s family-run zoo.

An information session on the bylaw was held at Cafe Natura on March 28th, led by concerned citizen, Katherine G. MacRae.

Julie Woodyer from ZooCheck, a Canadian-based international wildlife protection charity, joined in on Skype to present her findings on the Spruce Haven Zoo, as well as make recommendations to citizens who would like to see City Council vote against the bylaw when it comes back for final approval.

Amongst the primary issues raised by attendees were the well-being of the animals, the safety concerns surrounding escaping animals, and the tourism and economic issues that surround having a zoo in an age where eco-tourism and responsible tourism are increasing in importance.

In other words – the damning TripAdvisor reviews, of the Spruce Haven Zoo aren’t doing much to promote the Sault.

“The eyes of the world are on us,” one citizen said.

And she’s not wrong.

Word of Spruce Haven Zoo has spread far beyond the borders of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

In addition to the reviews on TripAdvisor, an internationally renowned resource for trip-planning and tourism, the Dodo, a website devoted to sharing emotionally compelling animal-related stories worldwide, has also taken an interest in Ben the bear.

Almost 300,000 people worldwide have also signed this petition to have the Spruce Haven Zoo shut down.

In terms of safety, it is alleged that a wolf recently escaped from the zoo and, according to event organizers, “It has been reported to have happened before.”

Since the Humane Society has admitted that they do not have the equipment to capture carnivores such as lions, who are supposedly capable of jumping higher than their fence if they felt so inclined, it could be extremely dangerous for residents in the area.

But perhaps most concerning is the psychological impacts on animals like Ben, who has lived most of his life in a 20×20 ft cage.

Woodyer from ZooCheck explained, “He (the bear) has had no opportunity to express natural behaviours, like hibernating or searching for his own food, or any other behaviours that his natural biology has enabled him to do.”

She continued, “The only way he could exhibit normal behaviours is to be completely moved, it is the only way he could change his old habits.”

Ben isn’t the only animal to exhibit pacing behaviours, as explained in Doug Millroy’s previous column on the zoo.

Woodyer is confident that these animals could overcome these psychological impacts and thrive in a sanctuary environment, despite their mature age.

The sanctuary being considered for the lions is the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado, a multi-million dollar facility with a large space for carnivores to roam as well as experienced veterinarians on-site to provide the animals with the care they need.

The other sanctuary, the Aspen Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in Muskoka, has been deemed the perfect fit for Ben the Bear, as well as coyotes, lynx, and the wolves.

Zoocheck has offered to do this now, free of charge to the Marshalls, but this offer may not necessarily last.

There is no telling what the future will hold for these animals, or the Marshalls, if an agreement is not reached sooner rather than later.

Those supporting the closure of the zoo encourage the Marshalls – and City Council – to do this now, before it is too late for sucession planning.

While most people in attendance were on the closure side of the zoo argument, a couple of individuals – including a Marshall family member – made the case for the continuation of the business.

Helen and Ken’s son, Pete, claims that in 31 years, wolves have never broken out of their enclosure until now.

He stated that the neighbour was shooting at the wolf, which is why it panicked and tried to get out.

Pete also claimed that the zoo has had no issues with vandalism, threats from the public, or disruption of animals until after the City Council meeting heated up the conversation.

This is is perceived by the Marshalls as very disheartening behaviour from the community, as the Marshall family have always been great supporters of the Sault and have rescued a number of animals with love and care since its inception in 1988.

While those who oppose the zoo were adamant that this is not a personal matter, “We are not trying to say that the Marshalls are horrible people at all, we know they love the animals,” it seems as though the issue has become a personal one regardless.

This is most likely due to the fact that, as Pete stated, “Those animals are family.”

MacRae has told SaultOnline she is willing to reach a compromise with the Marshalls if they are not happy with the plans that Zoocheck has proposed.

Woodyer has also extended an olive branch with the hopes that the message gets to the Marshalls, saying that Zoocheck would happily arrange and facilitate for the family to visit the animals.

Going forward, there is still opportunity for council to oppose the bylaw. Previously, Councillors Bruni, Butland, Grandinetti, Fata, Krmpotich and Meyers voted to support grandfathering the Spruce Haven Zoo, while Councillors Christian, Hupponen, Niro, and Shoemaker did not.

According to MacRae, Councillor Butland admitted to not having read the materials provided to Council by both Zoocheck and Dr. Martyn Obbard, an expert in environmental and life sciences, specifically in regards to bears, claiming “I know nothing about wild animals.”

The concern with a number of the anti-zoo attendees was simply that Council’s decision was not an educated one.

One citizen stated, “If they don’t vote the way we want them to, at least we know that we gave them all the material we could for them to make an informed decision, and we will know what to do come election time.”

I’ve said this before and I will say it again. No matter where your opinion lies, the critical element in making any kind of decision or holding a stance is knowledge. So ask questions.

Call 1-888-801-3222 or email [email protected] to learn more about what they want to do specifically with our local animals. Reach out to Spruce Haven Zoo and hear them out. Reach out to Katherine G. MacRae to find out more about what was discussed at the bylaw meeting.

Once you have armed yourself with all the tools to decide what you think should happen to animals like Ben the Bear, call up or e-mail City Council. Sign the petition.

Or don’t.

But either way – make sure you have digested the facts.

Stay tuned as this issue returns to Council in the coming weeks.


  1. Yes, the Marshall’s took in these animals and have cared for them for many years. It’s been stated that the Marshall’s love these animals and that is not being disputed. However, experts have suggested a solution that would allow the animals to live out the rest of their lives in a more natural environment. It would allow the Marshall’s to retire knowing that the animals will get the care and any medical attention they may need in the future without any cost to them. The council can rest easy knowing that they don’t have to worry about any health or safety concerns with any animals escaping.
    I hope council will reconsider and do what is best for these animals. Let them go to a sanctuary.

  2. For all who have questions about what the experts and qualified wildlife professionals at the accredited sanctuary will do to facilitate Ben the Bear’s recovery, there is a phone number and email address provided in the article. Its worth looking into before you make your mind up that this isn’t right for Ben.

    As for Dr Obbard’s qualifications, please see page 3 & 4 of the report. Also find the pages and pages of research works and published articles he has been involved in over the decades, specializing in BLACK BEARS, as well as other animals.

  3. So… Let’s listen to Dr. Marty Obbard.. an expert on SNAPPING TURTLES (sarcasm), which Spruce Haven doesn’t have..
    Yes the Marshall’s may not be in their 20’s but to say they do or do not have a secession plan… Do you know this as fact? Simple yes or no question.
    How do you know the Marshall’s fur babies are not familiar with other people? Did they tell you that?
    Why would the city be on the hook if something were to happen to Helen or Ken Marshall? I would think the responsibility could fall to the fully capable next generation of Marshall’s that love just as much as Helen and Ken Marshall. Did you really think that their children would just give up their fight?
    The residents of Spruce Haven were not offered a gift they were offered a death sentence in disguise.
    Imagine Ben free to wander over acres of land? He is 31 do you really think he is going to frolic in the daisies? And climb trees? He wants to do what every aging living being wants, to eat and sleep. Go ask someone in their 90’s if they want to go running through a field and climb trees.
    Searching for food? Are you trying to starve him? Does a old person enjoy searching for food?
    Survival of the fittest.. do you think the younger bears are not going to be dominate and just hand Ben his food? Same with Thelma and Louise, do to you know who they are?
    So Katherine MacRae … Saying even if the Marshall’s enlarged the enclosure it is not good enough. This leads me to believe that this is a personal issue and not about Spruce Haven.
    How would these animals be moved without sedation?
    Enlightened to what is fair? Is it really fair to remove the Marshall’s babies because all you keyboard warriors have decided to ban together and cause chaos instead of physically helping the Marshall’s to enrich Ben and his siblings environment?
    Carol Thompson the refusal was not about the income, if money was what the Marshall’s were looking for they would not be strongly defending their family which includes Ben and his siblings!
    I am wondering why Peter Marshall was the only person reference by name in the article. Why wasn’t there names mentioned in regards to other comments?

    • Again..take some time to educate yourself before posting ignorant inane comments that publicly demonstrate your lack of knowledge. Plus read the Obbard report for yourself posted by another commentator and you’ll also find Dr. Obbard’s CV attached.

    • Wow. I find it very disturbing that this many “adults” are so uneducated. I mean…getting your Dissertation on a specific subject (which is actually necessary to get a doctorate), doesn’t mean you can’t also become experts in other fields. Dr. Obbard wrote his dissertation about 30 years ago for Christ’s sake! LOL. Man, people will cling to any garbage they want to “prove” their beliefs.

      • …and ignoring his 30 years of studying and research of bears, their habitats, psychological and physiological behaviors, including black bears and the hundreds of thousands of dollars in research grants to do so. Seems to me some of the commenters on this site may not know how to read, never mind possess any critical thinking skills?

        • Katharine…agreed! These people are grasping at his snapping turtle dissertation as though it completely discredits the following 30 years of work! Complete ignorance!

    • Ben would have his own acre sized enclosure. Other bears would not be harrassing him. Ditto for the lions. they would be kept together as they hae grown up together, but The Wildlife Sanctuary in Colorado, would give them their own large space. No other lions would have contact with them, so please do some research instead of spreding false information.

  4. To the people who keep claiming that the animals will “certainly die” if transported…that is simply incorrect. Zoocheck has facilitated many animal transfers – including elderly animals – and they have NEVER once lost an animal. Claiming that these animals will absolutely die if moved is nothing more than fear mongering and is a pathetic tactic to use. The Toronto Zoo tried to use that tactic…and they not only failed…they looked ridiculous after the elephants were transported safe and sound.

  5. The time is NOW for the people and City and the Marshalls to do the RIGHT THING. I’m not going to waste my time trying to educate every commenter on here that won’t even bother to educate themselves about wild animals, read the expert Obbard report or even learn the difference between a zoo and a sanctuary and the very reason wild life sanctuaries exist.

    When a society, a community, a City, a business, or an individual learns something and knows there is something they can personally do, to help better the lives of others, whether on two legs or four, I believe it is their duty to do better and to take action for the better.

    When a dark veil has been lifted, unless you choose to keep your eyes closed, you see the light.

    We’ve come a long way in knowledge and care when it comes to wild animals and understanding their biological and psychological needs, since the Bellevue Park Zoo era.

    A critical point that many seem to be missing here is that the Marshalls themselves are also elderly and have no succession plan in place for the animals or the zoo should they become unable to care for the animals or pass away ahead of the animals. Then the City would be on the hook to deal with these animals at the taxpayers expense.

    Spruce Haven Zoo has had its day and it’s time. Thirty years is a long time to run any business and there comes a time when business owners have to put a retirement plan in place. I see this as a GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY for the Marshalls. They can retire gracefully, knowing their animals are well cared for and enjoying a new life with room to roam in accredited sanctuaries with trained and highly educated wild life professionals and staff to rehabilitate them to have the best possible life in their final years as the Marshalls can finally take a rest in theirs.

    This is a GIFT being offered by Zoocheck and the Sanctuaries and I believe the people surrounding the Marshalls would do well to help them see the GIFT in this offering. The animals will be enjoying their lives in state of the art facilities designed specifically for them (that would cost HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS TO MOVE THEM) at NO COST to the MARSHALLS or the CITY. It is truly a WIN, WIN, WIN opportunity. A WIN for the animals, a WIN for the City, and a WIN for the Marshalls, allowing them to retire knowing their animals have the best environment and quality care possible in a space designed so they may experience their natural wild animal behaviors, all at someone else’s expense.

    And the Marshall’s will even be covered at Zoocheck’s expense to go and visit their animals themselves at the sanctuaries. IT”S A NO BRAINER TO ME AND DOESN’T GET ANY BETTER THAN THIS!

  6. Nothing will happen. City hall is too backwards and afraid to do the right thing they are more interested in listening to the drama from the uninformed Councillors like Myers. The status quo shall remain.
    It’s really a shame and it’s one more reason to elect new Councillors.

  7. The actions of our City Councillors thus far has been very irresponsible regarding this issue. They have not read all relevant reports or reviewed any of the Expert Assessments, or even in most cases, visited the Zoo before bringing forward and voting on the “Grandfathering” clause. Through their handling of this situation, tensions and anger has been brewing to some disturbing levels in our Community.

    I am glad that Mr Butland did finally visit the Zoo and is reconsidering the exemption even if only for the Public Safety Issue. Time for Council to show some leadership on this issue. Better late than never.

    • Very disappointing that there were no Councillors at the Information session they were invited to. Especially the Councillors that admitted they were uneducated. They owe it to us as citizens to thoroughly research all aspects of an issue. We deserve better.

  8. This is a very unfortunate situation based on consultation it is in the animals best interest to remain where they are. They will most likely parish if they are relocated.

    The Marshalls were given the original bear as a cub that would have otherwise been euthanized if the Marshall’s had not stepped up to care for the animal.

    And although their living conditions are not ideal it makes MORE SENSE to support the Marshall’s in order to provide these animals effective and kind end of life care then take them from the only caregivers they have ever known.

    The Marshall’s are apart of our community and they have helped rehabilitate countless animals over the years.

    Public safety is of utmost importance and I believe it is critical that the community come together to support these animals in what is in their best interest which is to support the Marshall’s in providing the absolute best care we can to them.

    • They had 25 years to make the conditions “acceptable and now they have an opportunity to do the right thing and they refuse? Totally unacceptable, these animals deserve a life after all that’s been taken from them…Sprucehaven gets zero sympathy or support from me considering they did nothing to address these issues before now..that bear should have been sent to a sanctuary years ago and it was their choice to do nothing.

    • Andrea Caldwell you realize that it’s plausible and quite likely it was the MNR who originally brought the bear to them.

      Would you rather see these animals live out their lives in an appropriate manner by helping the Marshall create adequate space or risk the very real likelihood that Ben the bear and others like him will parish from the stress of moving.

      I encourage you to research the information council used to come to their determination.

      Unfortunately these animals will end up paying the price of politics.

      Edited to add: yes something should have been done years ago but it wasn’t. Now we have the choice to let these animals die in peace or force their execution by moving them.

      • Moving them is not an execution. That is an irresponsible comment to make. You say you want people to do research…maybe you should too. Find out how many animals Zoocheck has helped moved…find out how many died on transport. Find out how many were older animals. Let them die in peace? They may have many years of life left…and you think it’s okay to leave them in small inadequate enclosures? Why? Just because they are old, they don’t deserve the effort of moving them somewhere better?

    • They are not going to die if they are moved, ZooCheck told us at the meeting that they are very experienced with moving older animals. If you think it is cruel to take Ben away from the Marshalls I ask you to try this. Go into a room where the size is roughly 20×20 feet, Stay there for a week with nothing to do but pace ten steps forward and then ten steps back, over and over , every day. When you get tired lie down on the floor. See how you feel after that week is over,Don’t forget that you are not allowed to have any form of entertainment or communication with other humans. that poor bear has lived this everyday for over twenty years. It’s cruel. I’m sure the Marshall’s love their animals, but loving something means doing what is best for those animals. Imagine Ben free to wander over acres of land in his natural habitat, searching for food, having a den to be able to hibernate, seeing new things, doing things are are ingrained into him, allowed to follow his natural instincts. The same goes for the lions and cougar. Essentially, these animals are prisoners,/ Love cannot make up for years of confinement and boredom. Please allow these WILD animals to be moved to where they can do what wild animals do. Someday their frustration may cause them to act out and really try to escape. If that happens there will not only be danger to the community, but they will also be shot and killed . It is wonderful that the Marshall’s rescued these animals and cared for them , but the time has come for them to be released to live out their final years in joy and comfort. Do the right thing Council.

    • Amanda Holmes thank you for standing up against people who support the Peta tactics. They show little regard for the animals themselves and are to busy trying to change the world to their way of thinking. Im sure these same people think they are right in determining what is best for everthing that is wrong in the world. If they would only reach into there pockets to help to better the lives of the older animals that having been fed, vet checked and cared for by the Marshall for year that would be one thing, but nope same ones just keep spewing “the wrongs” without donating or helping to better the lives of our local animals at Spruce Haven. To say that Peta, Zoo check or any of these animal activist would trespass, or be involved in creating a situation that could be turned into a mark against the zoo is completely unheard of…. lol ya that is sarcasm as that is just exactly what these animal activists do. Sad but true, they try to shut them down at any cost even to the animals they claim to want to save. Hopefully common sense kicks into council and the can live out there remainder of their lives in peace and I wish the same for the Marshalls also

      • Barbie Wallace You are so off base that you are out of the ballpark. You are completely wrong on every point. We “animal activists” have no agenda except to help those animals have a good and healthy life for their remaining years.

    • Amanda Holmes if you took the time to educate yourself and knew anything about wild animal sanctuaries, you would know that the majority of animals re-homed to sanctuaries are in fact elderly and come from road side zoos and circuses to enjoy better lives in environments that support their natural behaviours where these wild animals get to THRIVE often for the first time in their lives to have the opportunity to live more like the wild animals they are, with room to roam. These accredited sanctuaries are MULTI MILLION DOLLAR operations that are designed specifically to provide the best care and rehabilitation by trained wildlife experts, trained educated support staff and onsite wild life veterinarians.
      Had you attended the information yourself you would have learned these accredited sanctuaries have hundreds and hundreds of acres with each area designed specifically with acres to roam for the species living there and that due to the psychological behaviour of a severely confined animal such as Ben the Bear, keeping him in the same place even if enlarged would not be helpful to him as he needs to be moved to a totally different space that will allow his wild instincts to resurface and the desire to explore his new home.
      The animals are moved by trained, experienced wild life movers in controlled environments so your comments that the animals would parish shows a total lack of knowledge and understanding about the process and why sanctuaries exist in the first place. The loving, highly trained wild life experts that care for them, so these animals can, often for the first time in their lives, experience a life in an environment that respects them as living sentient wild animals.
      If you won’t even take the time to educate yourself in the difference between a sanctuary and a zoo, it would be best not to post and publicly demonstrate your total lack of knowledge, understanding and experience.

  9. Actually if you want some facts , ZooCheck shut down the animals being in Bellview Park and signed off on the animals saying that a 20 min move to Spruce Haven would be better than an 8 hr transport . The animals were much younger then and probably could have handled the move versus now . The city also signed off saying Spruce Haven would get no money from them even though it was the city that had them in Bellview Park . Spruce Haven has looked after these animals for years they have vets that look after them and the OSPCA makes visits also . Yes they definitely need bigger enclosures so why can’t everyone come together to make that happen .

    • That was many MANY years ago and most of those animals are gone…replaced with other unfortunate animals. The way the world viewed zoos and circuses and marine worlds is totally different than it is today… Most of us have become enlightened to what is fair to other living beings on this earth.

    • They deserve to live out their days in a sanctuary where they will actually be taken care off. Are you saying is mistakes are made years ago we should all just sit back and say “oh that’s Ok? How come it took them 25 years to properly address these problems…why is it now urgent to build a proper enclosure? Should have been done years ago and shame on them for not doing the right thing for those animals.

    • My problem with this is would they survive a move since they are so much older … ZooCheck moved elephants from a zoo and one had to be euthanized and another one died a year later and they thought that was a good move …

      • Robyn Hunter get your facts straight. The three elephants were moved successfully and thrived in their new environments for the time they had left. Iringa, was the oldest elephant in North America and had a degenerative joint and foot disease that happens when elephants are kept captive in zoos. At least she had the opportunity to enjoy the last two years of her life playing, socializing and spending time with other elephants as elephants are highly intelligent and social creatures. And BTW it cost Bob Barker from the PRICE IS RIGHT over $1 million out of his own pocket to have them moved and was stated as saying it was worth every penny and more!

    • That is actually a false statement. Zoocheck didn’t “sign off” on anything and has never suggested that animals should go to Spruce Haven. There are a lot of people out there making false (libellous) statements about individuals and organizations. Apparently some people prefer fake news to reality.

  10. You gotta be kidding… Most of council wouldn’t travel across the city for anything, and only a few of them bother to read materials provided them on any subject..I.E. Butland casting a vote on something he himself admitted he knew nothing about.. What kind of councilor is that..He should have excused himself from the vote if it was that unimportant to him…Hate to have him vote on a human life….

  11. I don’t believe for a second that anyone ever shot or did anything to cause the wolfs to escape from their enclosures , what excited them the day the human society was watching them roam free and jumping the fence . Give these animals a better remainder of their lives and out of this jail for profit About the animals stop the blame game!

    • Though I cannot say for certain if “Trespassers” are responsible for this alleged sabotage, it makes it even clearer to me that these Carnivores need to be relocated ASAP. How is it that these animals can be so easily accessed and subjected to being harassed and their enclosures tampered with? The wolf would not have so easily escaped the property with the perimeter fencing that Dr Obbard referred to in his assessment.

  12. When you get offers to relocate the animals to sanctuary ~free of charge..and you refuse..it is no longer about the animals it’s a loss of income plain and simple.

    • and I should add..that while its great to have a business, it shouldn’t be at the expense of wildlife who deserve so much better than this..I know they also run dog kennels…maybe they could concentrate their efforts more into that area as there seems to be a need for a place for pets to stay when people are travelling, that being said they would have to upgrade their current kennels.

  13. We should do what is best for the animals. I am sure the zoo owners have done a great job in taking in abandoned animals over the years and they are to be thanked for that. I am just not sure who should make the determination as to the future of this zoo. I would hope all councillors took the time to visit the zoo before they cast a vote.

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