‘I lost money but I did what wanted to do’
For Alexandria resident Leanne Gregoire going to the zoo today brings back fond memories of the unique Lancaster attraction her grandfather started 48 years ago. “Everyone has a special memory of that zoo,” said Mrs. Gregoire, a volunteer at The Palace Retirement Residence in Alexandria who recently gave residents insight into a piece of Glengarry history.
Her grandfather, Rejean Julien, started the Lancaster Zoo in the Spring of 1968 and ran it until 1972 on County Road 2, near Summerstown, now the Cooper Marsh conservation area.
“I still have people who come in from the States and ask about the old man who had the zoo,” said Mr. Julien. “It gives me a lit- tle thrill every time.”
The park was home to 185 animals, including bears, llamas, lynx, snakes, birds and fish. The 52-acre property also had a curd cheese factory run by Wilburn Kyer, a restaurant, a fish stand, a souvenir shop, a doll museum, a windmill, and a wishing well, and his family’s home.
Mrs. Gregoire heard stories from her mother Lise Terriah, who was 13 at the time, of the family’s adventures growing up beside a zoo. Rejean’s and his wife Georgette’s seven children considered the zoo animals pets and gave many of them names.
One of Lise’s sisters, Debbie Julien, was 3 when the lioness, Sonya, accidentally slightly bit the jacket sleeve of her right arm when she was near its cage one day. Her father took her to hospital. Fortunately, her arm wasn’t injured, save for a “love bite,” a small mark on her arm from two teeth marks she still has today. “I remember my father cleaning it with iodine twice a day, and it healed,” Debbie said, adding Sonya was “such a beautiful lion.”
Despite this little mishap, none of the zoo animals hurt anyone. Most of the animals were donated as babies and were quite tame.
Debbie said when the lioness was still a baby, her sisters used to try to sneak it into the house and even into their beds. Mr. Julien closed the zoo after struggling financially with the non-profit operation, and later sold the property to William Cooper who turned the site into Cooper Marsh.
Mr. Julien had hoped the park could have received government funding as an education and tourism venture.
“I tried, I am not sorry that I tried. I lost money but I did something that I wanted to do,” he said. Now 82, Mr. Julien had worked as a taxidermist when he was young and developed a love for animals. Before opening the zoo he received training at Granby Zoo in Québec, and financed the Lancaster operation using his own money after leaving his job as a Cornwall police officer.
The zoo and amusement park drew visitors from throughout the area, as well as Québec and the U.S. After the zoo closed, he went on to become an animal control officer for the district.
The only vestige of the once popular site is a large cage that held three grizzlies. Mr. Julien still has a soft spot for all creatures. “I encourage people to keep animals -- as long as you look after them, and feed them well.”
A “love bite” did not diminish the family’s love for Sonya, the lioness
WILD STORIES: Former Lancaster Zoo curator Rejean Julien and his wife Georgette with some of the photos of their zoo.
TIGER TALES: The Palace Retirement Residence volunteer Leanne Gregoire, left, joins activity director Nicole Bourbonnais, following Mrs. Gregoire’s talk about her family’s connection to the former Lancaster zoo. Below: A letter writer had urged the...