On the drive west on Hwy 1, just before Brandon is a "Star Attraction" sign. WestmanReptileGardens is tucked out of the way, just a few minute drive off the highway. Just getting that sign was one of the many struggles faced in Dave Shelvey's dream of having a place to share the animals he is so passionate about with everyone.
Dave and his family have worked for decades putting this Zoo together, finally opening its doors in 2005. I am constantly amazed at both his work ethic and his ingenuity in getting things done. He has created this facility using his skills in combining high tech (geothermal heating) and salvaged materials, including the buildings themselves (old barracks from Shilo). This is a monument to one man's effort and dream.
When you pull in, as you walk up to the entrance, you see the turtle pond. Most of these turtles are rescues and surrenders that get to spend the summer outside in the big pond, and then go indoors for the winter months. If you see a little turtle in a pet store, there is a good chance it's mom and dad are here. And don't miss the tortoises, always a treat to see.
Once inside, Candi (Dave's very understanding wife) will greet you and the experience begins. Whether you like bugs, snakes or lizards, you will find something that interests you. But it doesn't stop there. There are some animals that you wouldn't expect to find here in Manitoba, just off Hwy 1.
Doc, the largest African Dwarf Crocodile in the world is one of Dave's favourites, yes, I said largest in the world. He's had some other world record holders in the past as well. Jojo, the American Alligator (easy to tell which one he is, he's the one that will "see you later") is a very popular guy. There is always a reaction when people see the giant snakes, Burmese, Reticulated and Rock Pythons, as impressive as they are in horror flicks, up close they truly spectacular. Rarely seen in North American zoos, Westman is also home to some of the world most venomous snakes, including the Black Mamba.
Dave's charges also have appeared on stage and film, from Pythons filling in on Canadian dates with Alice Cooper (the permits for crossing the border with his usual animals are almost impossible to get) to movies filmed locally, like Category 7, the crew at Westman are called upon to wrangle reptiles for the big screen.
It truly is one of the best reptile exhibits in Canada, and a popular field trip for students, I've had quite a number of my customers make the trip out just to see the animals. Its not for everyone, but if you want a different day trip that will engage the kids, this is a must do. And if you're just driving along Hwy 1 by Brandon, why not just drop in and see.
WestmanReptileGardens, you can download the map at reptilegardens.ca, or just follow the Star Attraction signs. They do have seasonal hour changes, so it might be best to call first. 204-760-4030