This last weekend we were at my brother’s cottage at Moose Lake with my extended family. When we drove into the Moose Lake Provincial Park on Friday night the natural resource officer at the front gate warned us a black bear and her two cubs had been spotted on the side of the lake where my grandfather built our family cottage in 1960. Shortly after we’d unpacked our car, a neighbor from a nearby cabin came to tell us the mother bear and her babies were up in the apple tree on his yard having a feast of his apples. He figured the trio might be heading our way next. We kept a sharp look out but didn’t see any bears that evening.
I got up early Saturday morning, before anyone else in the cabin was awake, and decided to go for a walk. My brother Mark strolled into the kitchen to make coffee just as I was heading out the door, and I asked if he’d like to go with me on my walk. He agreed, but made me wait while he found a bracelet of bells and went out to his shed to get a sharp stick he had stored there. “Just in case we meet a bear”, he said. I thought he was being a bit over cautious but I was glad he was coming along. I had only seen him once since coming home from Hong Kong and was looking forward to a nice morning visit.
And we did have a great chat for about 45 minutes as we walked down the gravel road to the south end of the lake. At the community boat dock we turned around to head back to the cabin to make breakfast for our kids, who we figured might be waking up soon. Shortly after we passed by the rental cabins owned by the Silver Birch Resort my brother put his hand on my arm and started ringing his bells. There just a few meters ahead of us on the left hand side of the road was a huge black bear! Mark figured he weighed about 400 pounds.
I was petrified but my brother remained calm. We just stood there watching the bear, who had clearly spotted us. Mark talked to me in a low voice telling me not to move. Unlike grizzly bears who it is best to ‘play dead’ for, if they come toward you, with black bears you need to defend yourself. My brother had his stick at the ready but reassured me he was sure if we remained completely still the bear would eventually move away. After awhile the bear crossed the road and was sniffing around looking for food in the clumps of birch trees lining the lake. Mark told me there have been many more sightings of bears this year than is usually the case, since the berries are sparse in the forest this summer, and the bears have been forced to move into inhabited areas to find food. After about six or seven minutes the bear crossed the road and headed back into the forest. We waited a little longer and then walked by the spot where the bear had re-entered the bush—giving him as wide a berth as we could, my brother ringing his bells all the while and insisting I walk right beside him so he was between me and the location where the bear had gone into the forest.
A minute or so later a natural resource officer came by in his truck. Mark stopped him and told him we’d spotted the bear. The officer pointed out the bear trap he’d set up to try to catch the large male. So far he’d had no luck. Apparently in a few places in Manitoba they’ve had to shoot bears this year because they haven’t been able to trap them and transport them away from populated areas.
Mark and I kept walking and about ten minutes later when we approached the roadside cage where the cottagers deposit their garbage, Mark once again came to a quick halt. There in front of us was another bear, smaller than the first one we’d seen. Mark figured it was a female because when she spotted us she began to paw the air. Mark said she must be protecting cubs and we’d better put a little more distance between us and her. We slowly backed up and watched as she lumbered further down the road, went into the ditch on the opposite side, and then began bringing down tree branches with her paws and eating something from the branches. It wasn’t long before first one little bear cub, and then another, trundled across the road to join her. The mother stood on her hind legs to bring down more branches and the little bears stood up to eat berries from the branches she held carefully at their height. After about ten minutes the three of them moved slowly into the forest and Mark and I could finally head back to the cottage.
We had quite a story to tell at the breakfast table about our bear encounters. Mark said I’d better get the remainder of my weekend exercise by kayaking or swimming. He wasn’t going on any more walks with me. We heard the following morning that Saturday night the bears had visited the public campground and caused considerable damage to five campsites where the campers had been careless enough to leave food or garbage outside when they went to bed.
Two years ago on an early morning walk in Australia’s Hunter Valley I saw thirty-two kangaroos and I was pretty excited. I have to admit however that seeing four black bears on an early morning walk in Manitoba, Canada was every bit as exciting. I only wished I’d had my camera along to get some pictures of the bears.