Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Bear - an Exercise in Meaning Making

From the desk of Kim Gough, Program Developer, Royal BC Museum

Fellow blogger, Tim Willis, recently posted about the renewal of our forest diorama in the natural history exhibition. Along with many visitors, I am looking forward to the striking grizzly bear mount returning to his place by the stream. It got me thinking about the bear's story and how people connect to him. Is it with fear, fascination or indifference?

About two years ago, my partner and I were camping at William A. Switzer Provincial Park in the Alberta foothills. As soon as we arrived we noticed all the bear warning signs and heeded them accordingly. We kept our campsite clean, made noise while hiking and watched for scat and other bear signs.

Later that week we took our canoe out on Gregg Lake. We were paddling along the shore approaching a narrowing, quietly enjoying the sights and sounds of the lake when I heard a loud "Whoomph!" I turned to my left and saw a cinnamon coloured grizzly bear staring at us from the rushes. He must have been foraging when we startled him. In the time it took me to call out "Bear!" he charged towards the shore - bringing him within 5 meters of our canoe. I thought to myself "He will run away" when he stood on his hind legs. I raised my paddle and started hollering out while my partner deftly turned the canoe towards the middle of the lake. Then the bear got into the water and started swimming towards us!! We started paddling like crazy and I looked over my shoulder to see the bear swim across the narrow and get out on the shore on the other side of the lake. He then tracked us along the shore watching until we were well into the centre of the lake. We lost sight of him after about 10 minutes, but we didn't forget. That night I barely slept (pun intended) and in the morning we packed up and left a day early.

I learned a few things - bears are huge, they are fast and they SWIM!! Most importantly I learned that you have to bear aware even when you are canoeing - especially if you are close to the shore.

We won't ever know our bear's full story, but I'm hoping he can certainly inspire some of you to tell yours. I'd love to hear about your bear encounter.


  1. What a great story!!!!!!!
    I am glad I don't have one to match it!

  2. Although I find the forest diorama to be fascinating, as an animal activist, I would like to know how the bodies of the animals displayed at the museum are obtained. Please tell me that they are not killed for the purpose of entertaining the public at the Royal BC Museum.

  3. A friend once told me about an extraordinary encounter... she and her husband were kayaking out in the waters of Haida Gwaii when they saw an object in the water ahead - a large blob with two small blobs on either side. They paddled toward it. Only when they were a few metres away did they realise it was the head of large bear paddling for all he was worth across a wide stretch of ocean. They turned and paddled very briskly away.


  4. Hello Judy,
    I spoke with the Manager of Natural History, and fellow blogger, Kelly Sendall and he said the museum has been acquiring specimens for its natural history collections since 1886. The specimens you see in our exhibitions have come to the museum in a variety of ways. In the past curators went out to hunt and trap animals for their collection. Our scientists still collect specimens,for research purposes not display, following strict conservation guidelines and employing humane techniques.We also get animals from members of the public who bring in animals that have died accidentally on the road or their property. I hope that answers your question.


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