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October 12, 2009

It’s been colder than normal this year in Manitoba, a place known for its frigid climate. Nine straight months, December to August, of below-average temperatures. Some of the citizenry were becoming as somber as Swedes.
Then along came September. Hotter than July (and May, June, and August as well). Beach-goers were happy. Golfers were happy. “Stay-cationers” were even happy. Farmers (never entirely happy) were not so down.
But a cool, rainy summer is usually bad news for bears, and a warm September can make it worse. That‚s been the case this month in Manitoba and in neighboring Northwest Ontario. Bears have been getting into trouble.
Bears, like many politicians, are amoral opportunists.
When bad weather delays and/or reduces the berry crop and other foodstuffs important to their winter survival, they search for the nearest alternatives – often in populated areas. Garbage cans, barbecues, and bird feeders lure them into comfy neighborhoods. “Encounters” between bears and humans have risen sharply here this year. Inevitably the consequences are deadly – for the bears.

American Black Bear

A couple of weeks ago a 300 pound black bear (135 kilogram) was shot by police in Selkirk, Manitoba, a small city 15 miles or so (25 kilometres) north northwest of Winnipeg. Last week a smaller bear, probably a yearling, was killed in Balmoral, a community northwest of the city. So far this year, not one bear has shown up into Winnipeg, but they‚ve ventured in before.
Whenever this happens I think back to 1914 and the world-famous bear named
after this city. In late summer of 1914 a soldier on his way to fight in World War One stopped off in Northwest Ontario near Wawa (not named after a trombone sound, I‚m told) and bought an orphan bear, taking it along with him as a regimental mascot. That soldier, Harry Colebourn, named the bear after his hometown, Winnipeg – Winnie, for short, and took it all the way to the marshalling fields of England before he realized that bears and war probably were not a good combination. So he gave it to the London zoo.
Winnie was so docile and good with children it became one of the zoo’s star attractions and the inspiration for A.A. Milne and his son Christopher Robin.
People back then were less frightened of wild animals, it seems, less frightened of everything. And good-hearted “authorities” were less likely to eliminate quickly all perceived threats. Most certainly, 1914 was not the “good old days.”  Too many people died in that year, the authorities protecting the populace from one another in strangely murderous ways. But at least one small bear was spared. And that memory puts the good in “good old days” for me.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 12, 2009 8:12 pm

    Bears, like many politicians, are amoral opportunists.

    A great line in a great post, Gene!

    Was Wawa perhaps named after the sound of geese, like the convenience store chain in New Jersey?

    • gene walz permalink
      October 24, 2009 3:23 am

      For a long time I thought it was named after the sound of a trombone. But it in fact takes its name from the Ojibwe word for wild goose.

  2. October 25, 2009 7:50 pm

    Great to see a few Manitoba stories getting told!

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