Wild bison never actually roamed the fields and forests of Ontario (that we know of), but Ontario is now home to farm-raised bison – ranging as far north as Cochrane, Ontario (north of Timmins) to as far south as Sarnia.
Native to the Great Plains of central North America and north to Yukon and Northwest Territories, these iconic hoofed mammals were almost completely extirpated from Canada by the mid-1880s. In fact, the Bison you see today are likely descendants of the 100 or so that remained.
A combination of factors led to the near-extinction, all stemming from European settlement in North America. Mainly, the fur trade and the slaughter of Bison as a means of starving Indigenous peoples that relied on the herds as a main source of food, and forcing them onto reserves. Conservation efforts and private ranchers prevented the complete extinction, leading to recent reintroductions of wild bison in Canada, and a growing community of bison farmers here in Ontario.
So why Ontario Bison?
Chefs love incorporating Bison in their menus. The meat is similar to your everyday beef, but provides a slightly sweeter flavour that is not gamey at all, despite its wild reputation. As a critical food source to the Indigenous People of North America, Bison is a staple in modern Indigenous cuisine.
Ontario producers like Bison Du Nord, near Temiskaming Shores in Northern Ontario, have emerged as leaders among bison farms, receiving Animal Welfare Approval. This means their animals are raised outdoors on pasture for their entire lives, using sustainable, high-welfare farming practices. The industry is rooted in the conservation of a species at risk of extinction, something that today’s farmers fully embrace.
“There’s a respect for the animal; there’s a respect for the area we’re in, Northern Ontario, and we think we’re going to be leaving this farm and these animals in a better shape than we came along 50 years ago.”
Feast On certified Oakridge Acres is a family-run farm and meat store in Ayr, ON. They raise a grass-fed bison herd and offer bison products and field-to-fork meals made with their bison meat and locally sourced ingredients.
While bison isn’t historically part of Ontario’s taste-of-place, they are part of Canada’s. You can now find bison products across Ontario – direct from the producers, from specialty retailers, or at some of your favourite restaurants. The Ontario Bison Association has an interactive map to find producers and retailers near you.
Here are four ways #FeastOn chefs are using bison
Their “Frontier” is a lean Bison burger, topped with buffalo mozzarella, blueberry chutney, lettuce, tomato, and fried onions strings.
Bison carpaccio (thinly sliced raw meat served with sauce) is available as part of their prix fixe menu. Note: They are currently closed due to COVID-19
Oakridge Acres raises bison on their Ayr, Ontario farm – offering bison products like meat pies, steaks and roasts.
Offers a bison burger with caramelized onion, pickle, lettuce and tomato.