Tag Archives: bears

The Bears are Up!

Over the past two weeks, my social media newsfeeds and photo streams have been blowing up with posts and images of bear sightings here in Whistler. Ah, it is that time again, isn’t it? With the first signs of post-hibernation being on the very last day of March when a few Instagram posts of paw prints in stale snow surfaced.

Pioneer Myrtle Philip holding Teddy the bear, 1926. Philip Collection.

Myrtle Philip holding Teddy the bear, ca. 1925. Philip Collection.

With each new bear sighting comes varying emotions: some people feel fear, others joy, and for many uncertainty. Whistler locals love sharing their bear stories, often suggesting that black bears are generally quite harmless to humans. One local, Colin Pitt-Taylor, claims he accidentally cycled into a black bear; Colin leaving the scene unharmed, and the bear leaving seemingly unfazed. Another local and avid golfer, Colin Gower, claims to have come rather close to numerous bears along the Nicklaus North golf course. This is no surprise, as black bears have settled into our golf courses, ski hills and parks (even though they’ve inhabited Whistler long before us humans decided to move in).

Today, most Whisterlites have a high level of respect for bears, and in fact, bears have been held in such high regard as far back as we can trace. Archaeological evidence suggests that bear worship (also known as Bear Cult or Arctolary) may have been a common practice among Neanderthals in the Palaeolithic periods. Bear worship did not stop there. To name a few examples: Celts believed bears to be incarnations of the goddess Artio, the Ainu people of northern Japan considered the bear to be the head of the gods, and First Nations throughout North America honour the bear with costumes, masks and images carved on totems.

Photograph by Michael Allen.

Photograph by Michael Allen.

It is clear that bears have been admired by humans throughout history, but even still, when pioneers came to settle here they began hunting and slaughtering bears, exploring new territory and clearing land for their homes. Grizzlies were virtually exterminated from the Canadian Plains and the western United States, and at this time, bears were generally regarded as human-eating monsters – a much different take on bears than our archaic predecessors might have reasoned.

Thankfully by the twentieth century, public perceptions of bears began to shift. Laws limiting hunting were enacted and residents of national parks realized the importance of coexistence. However, at this time, bears were often used as amusement; tourists would feed them and gather around the centrally located garbage dump to watch as bears fed on our waste.

Bears in the garbage dump (future site of Whistler Village), ca. 1965. Petersen Collection.

Bears in the garbage dump (future site of Whistler Village), ca. 1965. Petersen Collection.

Jump to the present day and we seem to have greatly improved on this coexistence thing. Laws and regulations have been enforced to protect bears, further limiting hunting and keeping our food and waste secured in bear-proof bins and depots. Most Whisterites and visitors have adopted a deep level of respect for our approximate 100 black bear residents, understanding these ursine beauties as independent beings, crucial to our ecosystem.

Alex Philip holds Teddy the bear, 1926. Philip Collection.

Alex Philip holds Teddy the bear, 1926. Philip Collection.

So, should we be frightened by our thick-furred residents as they appear from their long, winter slumbers? Statistically speaking, you’re more likely to be killed by a domestic dog, bees or lightning than killed by a bear. In fact, no one has ever been killed by a bear in Whistler. Furthermore, one in 35,000 grizzly bears and only one in 100,000 black bears will kill a human. As Sylvia Dolson and Katherine Fawcett describe in their book A Whistler Bear Story, bears are “gentle, with the capacity to be fierce,” “entertaining and playful, yet capable of killing,” and “your favourite cuddly stuffed animal, morphed into a massive body with sharp teeth and long claws.”

While it is true that most run-ins with bears have proven harmless, it is important to stay safe and know proper bear safety. Visit http://www.bearsmart.com/ for a great resource on how to be bear-smart!

An Unlikely Pair: The Story of Molly the Bear and McGee the Pig

Have you ever found yourself in an unlikely relationship? Perhaps a friendship with someone you thought you’d despise, a romance working against all odds or an interspecies partnership with your pet that you never expected to grow so strong. Most of us at some point in our lives have been pleasantly surprised by an unexpected yet beautiful relationship.  Conceivably, the most unlikely duo in Whistler’s history is Molly the bear and McGee the pig.

So how did a pig and a bear come to be such great friends? Well, McGee the piglet was bought by a young girl named Betsy (DeBeck) Henderson at a farmer’s market in New Westminster, while Molly the bear cub was adopted by Betsy’s father. Molly was originally from Bella Coola – where Mr. DeBeck worked – and went by the name, Crisco (because she loved to break into cookhouses and eat shortening).

Betsy spent two summers at Green Lake in 1936 and 1937. During this time, Betsy’s brothers worked in the logging industry, also at Green Lake. Determined to keep the family close, Betsy’s mother insisted the family rent a cabin on Green Lake. They did just that, and with them came the whole family – including a cow, McGee the pig, Molly the bear and a Springer Spaniel named Freckles.

So began the unwavering bond between pig and bear. Neither of them took to the other animals the same way they did to each other. The two would play, eat and nap together. It’s safe to say that they rarely left each other’s sites. Even when the family would play a game of baseball, McGee would watch Molly as she’d try to grab the players and stop them from running from base to base.

After spending two summers at Green Lake, the DeBeck family continued their journey and moved to Victoria. What we know of Molly and McGee ends here. However, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, perhaps this strange and dynamic duo will inspire all of us to be especially appreciative of those inexplicable relationships in our lives, approaching them with nothing but warmth and love.

Whistler’s Original Teddy Bear

As we celebrate Bear Month here at the Museum, we thought we would tell the story of Whistler’s most famous bear, Teddy. Whistler has a long history of living with bears, but very few instances take the “living with” part quite as literally!

In the spring of 1926, Myrtle Philip and some guests from her Rainbow Lodge were out berry picking in the forest when they heard what sounded  like a crying baby. They went to investigate and found a bear cub. They could not find the bear’s mother, and since such a young orphaned cub had very little chance of surviving they decided to take him back to Rainbow Lodge.

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He was named Teddy the Bear, and he soon became very popular with all the guests and staff at Rainbow Lodge. Teddy was the lodge’s unofficial mascot for the summer. He seemed to especially enjoy climbing, eating treats, and cuddling.

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Over the summer Teddy grew, as bears tend to do! Myrtle knew that Teddy could not stay at Rainbow Lodge, but was probably too domesticated to survive in the wild, so she contacted a friend at the Stanley Park Zoo in Vancouver to see if they would be willing to take Teddy. The zoo officials wrote Myrtle back right away saying they would be happy to take him.

Myrtle made the trip down to Vancouver with Teddy a few weeks later. Myrtle was sad to leave behind Teddy, she had become very attached to him, but she knew that she could not keep him. After that, whenever Myrtle was in Vancouver she would try to go and see Teddy at the Zoo.

For many years Teddy would recognize the sound of Myrtle’s voice and would go running over to her when she called his name. Myrtle would spend hours talking to Teddy, even having conversations with him that consisted of them grunting back and forth to each other.

Although the other zoo visitors surely thought she was some crazy wilderness lady, talking to a bear, Myrtle did not care. She loved Teddy, and was just happy to spend some time with her old friend.

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As part of Bear Month, we are holding 3 consecutive “Family Bear Days” on Saturday August 17th, 24th, and 31st. Each Bear Day will feature a unique presentation by local bear researcher Michael Allen, followed by a fun bear-themed craft activity. The activities run from 2-4pm at the Whistler Museum, and are included with a regular museum admission. See you there!

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August is Bear Month at the Whistler Museum!

One of the great joys of a Whistler summer is the chance to see one of our valley’s dozens of resident black bears. Still, they remain widely misunderstood by visitors and locals alike. Thus, in the name of black bear education, with a healthy dose of celebration as well, August is officially Bear Month at the Whistler Museum.

Quite possibly the cutest photo in our archives, or anywhere else for that matter. Best buds Molly & McGee share a laugh at Parkhurst Logging Village, circa 1937.

Quite possibly the cutest photo in our archives, or anywhere else for that matter. Best buds Molly & McGee share a laugh at Parkhurst Logging Village, circa 1937.

We kicked things off with our 17th annual LEGO-building Competition last weekend, where 50 kids built some awesome LEGO creations along the theme, “What if you were a Whistler bear?” We saw everything from cozy bear dens, to high-tech airplanes to assist bear conservationists of the future, and lots more.

For the upcoming 3 Saturdays we will be bringing even more bear events with our Family Bear Days featuring renowned local bear researcher Michael Allen. Each day will feature a special presentation by Michael Allen on a different bear-related topic, followed by a family friendly bear craft. Everyone is welcome and all the activities are included with a regular admission to the museum.

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Tomorrow, the series starts off with the presentation  “Behaviour of Whistler black bears,” providing a solid overview of the other “local population” and the particular adaptations they have made to Whistler. Afterwards, you can make your own bear mask and practice your bear-y behaviour!

On August 24th, Michael Allen presents “10 mothers, 20 years: a look at the changing bear family.” Following the talk we will make families of bear puppets using pine cones, and other materials! Finally, on August 31st we conclude with “Nocturnal fishing bears of the Squamish River.” Sneaky stuff. For this week’s craft, everyone will get to create their own bear stamps!

Hope to see you there!

Michael Allen photo.

Michael Allen photo.

 

Molly & McGee

There’s a photograph in the Museum collection of an unlikely pair of friends: a bear cub and a piglet, leaning into each other as they happily lay on their backs. Until very recently, we assumed that the bear cub in the picture was none other than Alta Lake’s most famous bear cub: Teddy.

The photograph in question. If you look deep into the background you will see a dog looking on – his name was Freckles and he preferred to keep to himself. The original print belonging to the Museum was very faded, so we weren’t able to see that this bear does not have a distinctive white patch on its chest. This print came from former resident Norm Barr, and the bear’s lack of markings is easy to spot.

For those of you who have never heard the story of Teddy, it goes like this: In 1926, Whistler pioneer Myrtle Philip was out picking berries to make a pie with some Rainbow Lodge guests in the woods when they heard a whimpering sound. They soon discovered it was coming from a lone bear cub, whose mother was nowhere to be found.

Eventually, they decided to take the bear back to Rainbow Lodge, where he was given the name Teddy and spent the summer happily playing with lodge guests. By the fall, Teddy was getting too big to remain at the lodge, and was taken to the Stanley Park Zoo, where he lived out his days. Myrtle continued to visit him at the zoo over the years, where he would run up to the bars to greet her.

Teddy the bear in 1926 – note the white patch of fur on his chest.

Teddy is the subject of many photos in the Museum collection, so it was easy to surmise that the bear in the photograph with a piglet must be Teddy as well. Recently, Archivist Sarah Drewery interviewed Norm Barr, the son of former Parkhurst owners Ross and Alison Barr, and discovered that there was another bear cub in the Alta Lake area, a decade after Teddy. This bear was named Molly, and Molly’s best friend was McGee – a piglet that had been purchased in New Westminster by a teenage Betsy Henderson (née DeBeck).

Betsy was interviewed this past month about the two summers she spent at Green Lake with her family, in 1936 and 1937. Her brothers worked in the logging industry, and her mother was eager to get the whole family together, so they rented a cabin at what used to be the Lineham’s mink ranch, prior to the Depression. According to Betsy, the remnants of the mink ranch remained, in the form of cages all over the property.

Making their way to Green Lake, the family of six didn’t travel lightly. At a time when travelling meant you had to take the train, the DeBecks managed to bring what might as well have been their own zoo with them: a cow, McGee, Molly, and a spaniel named Freckles. Not to be limited to four animals, they also rented two horses, and had a third horse which her brother Denis apparently found. Not one of them had prior experience riding a horse as they led their rentals away from the barn, but that’s another story altogether.

So if McGee came from a farmer’s market in New Westminster, where did Molly come from? Apparently Molly formerly went by the name “Crisco,” after her penchant for breaking into the cookhouse in Bella Coola, where she lived, and eating Crisco to her heart’s content. Betsy’s father Edward was working in Bella Coola, and decided to bring the bear cub to his family, staying at the mink ranch. As you can imagine, her owners were not remotely reluctant to give her away. Although Betsy’s mother initially said she would leave the instant the bear cub arrived, she was easily swayed when Molly got off the train and promptly wrapped her arms around her legs.

Molly standing on her hind legs. She looks quite different from Teddy in this photograph.

The travel from Bella Coola included taking a ship to Vancouver, and then the train from Vancouver to Alta Lake. While onboard the ship, Molly spent her time in Edward’s sleeper cabin. When Edward ran into a friend who had a rough night on the boat and needed some sleep, he promptly turned over the keys to his cabin, neglecting to mention that Molly was fast asleep on the couch. It seems that the friend initially thought he was hallucinating, but was a bit of a jokester too, so he quickly saw the humor in the situation.

After the second summer at Green Lake in 1937, the DeBeck family was moving on to Victoria. While they had a large lot in New Westminster and were able to keep animals, they were moving to a small city lot in Victoria, and had to say goodbye to their motley crew of pets, save for Freckles the spaniel. The DeBecks approached the Alaric family, who had a logging operation on Green Lake, and sold them the cow, Molly and McGee.

Molly and McGee enjoy a meal together in 1937.

The story of Molly the Bear highlights how easy it is for something to take hold and then continue to be perpetuated until it becomes an inextricable part of the history, taken to be true. One such tale is that Teddy and the piglet (now know to be Molly and McGee) were the best of friends until one day Teddy got a bit hungry and decided to eat the piglet. There is no truth to this, but it was repeated so many times it became easy to believe. Even when we learned that the piglet wasn’t consumed, we no longer questioned whether the bear in the photograph was Teddy. It’s amazing to realize the power of a single image.

By collecting oral histories, we are working to build a stronger understanding of Whistler’s history – Molly is just a small (and cute!) example of how effective these interviews are proving to be. Perhaps there are other photographs in the collection like this one, waiting for the story behind them to be unlocked as we speak with early residents of the valley.