Poor Bear Bad People

In a place within the townsite of Banff , nailed to a wall with no claws is the hide, head intact of a Grizzly bear. No reference is made to who this bear is or why he is hanging on the wall. The most noteable observation of this speciman is the bullet hole between his eyes. Tourism didn’t like this Bear, he was bad for business.

It all started in late summer of 1980 the year of the catastrophic eruption of Mount St. Helen’s. An eruption that sent ash to over 80,000 feet into the atmosphere and as in years gone by in other eruptive periods, the volcano once more sprays its ash over Banff National Park. One of the adverse effects of the ash fallout that year, was it produced an extremely poor berry crop, the usual Bear’ sustenance.

Just to the north of Banff is “40 Mile Creek” which comes down from Cascade Mountain, crosses under the trans canada highway, meanders through some thick brush, and a name change occurs to ‘Whiskey Creek” from there it continues on past the Rec centre and yet another name change to “Echo Creek” and then flows into the Vermillion Lakes.

Over an 11-day period in August, 1980 , three bear attacks occur at Whiskey Creek . The tourists retreated and stayed away as the international media portrayed Banff a place under attack by a killer bear.

The first attack, on two men fishing, occurred not long before the Labour Day long weekend, Banff’s last chance of the year to make big tourism money. So the park wardens were under pressure to get rid of the bear as fast as possible.

There was confusion from the outset: The animal in the first attack seemed to be a very large black bear. But the first victim, before he died with his lower face torn off, wrote in hospital that it had to be a grizzly. A case of mistaken identity?

When the black bear was tracked and shot, he turned out to be a local resident with his own tattoo. The threat appeared to be over. The wardens allowed visitors to go back into the Whiskey Creek area.

Then more attacks came, next on two Swiss men and the last victim, a young would-be car thief. The wardens still refused to admit it was a grizzly. But when they finally saw its tracks, they were shocked by how big it must be. For several days they and the grizzly hunted each other. Finally, a road-killed elk provided the bait for an ambush. Weighing 761 pounds (345 kg), the second-largest grizzly in Banff’s records was dead. His claws taken one by one to those who conquered him.

Back in those years, Bears were common in Banff and many feasted on the scraps dumped in the back alleys by the local restaurants including the big hotel operators. Parks Canada finally cracked down on the garbage problem. In 1981 the landfill at Banff was closed to household garbage. The “dump bears” or tourist attractions had no choice but to return to nature.

Those bear-proof containers you see in parks and highway rest areas are the direct result of Whiskey Creek, and they have largely solved the garbage-bear problem.

The Whiskey Creek grizzly, 10 years old, was an outsider, unknown to the wardens. The only bigger grizzly in Banff was Sparky, a peaceful old 800-pound garbage addict who’d lived in the Lake Louise area for years.

It is partly as a result of these attacks that the idea was born that you should lie face-down to shield yourself against a grizzly, which, lacking thumbs, will want to pick up your head in its mouth as a dog does a ball.

An outstanding book “The Black Grizzly of Whiskey Creek” written by Sid Marty, a former Park Warden, describes the true events surrounding these bear attacks. You will love it, it will scare you, it will entertain you, it will educate you and as tragic as it was, many good things evolved. This reading should be a prerequisite to anyone who lives here and to those who want to come and visit.

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