As bears wake up from their winter hibernation, former Valemount resident Reg Bedard who now lives in Clearwater, recalls encounters she has had with bears throughout her life.

A bear among some red Indian paintbrush flowers 15 minutes west of McBride. /SANDRA JAMES

By Reg Bedard

I grew up on a farm in Popkum BC next to the Blue Ridge Mountain Guest Ranch, on the original Old Yale Road outside of Chilliwack.

My dad gave us instructions if we saw a bear when we were out picking blackberries in the farm pasture. Never run, he told us. Plus, if there’s a bear on a blackberry bush, leave the bear alone and walk quietly to another bush. It happened a few times. I’d be talking to a sister or brother, and get no answer, so I would peak and, well it was a bear. They don’t speak our language. So I’d leave quietly to another blackberry bush.

The neighbour worker at the Guest Ranch always shot one bear every fall. When you see a bear fully skinned out and hung up it will scare the hell out of you. It’s identical to a small human. The arms and leg muscles look the same as humans.

The neighbour gave us some bear meat—a roast—when I was about seven or eight. The meat was sweet, being that bear ate a lot of berries. My Dad would never eat bear meat. I don’t know why. 

Skipper Warnabolt built Bridal Veil Falls Lodge, Cafe, five cabins, a manager house, service station, grocery store and post office. A two foot steel pipe was put in the creek a little ways below the falls to produce power for all of these buildings. The pipe fed the generator when the creek water was too low to turn the water wheel. The water also fed the swimming pool in the lodge. Skipper had a wood heat system to warm the pool.

Well, the Trans Mountain Pipeline saw that Skipper had a two foot pipe with water running through instead of oil. I was in Popkum to see the Trans Mountain Pipeline through in 1953. I remember they dug up the road, placed the pipe, and had everything back in order when we went to catch the bus in the morning. That’s when the second easement was bought for the second pipeline now going through. 

Someone would bring Skipper a black bear cub almost every year. We would pet it and feed it ice cream cones. When the cubs got bigger Skipper would go to the bush and find a mother bear with a cub. Skipper would go get a bucket of honey and the cub and head back to the mother bear. When he got near her, he covered the cub with honey from nose to tail. By the time the mother bear licked it off the cub, she accepted it as her own..

My brother in law Chuck Bursinger raised two cubs from babies in a logging camp in Castle Rock. He fed them oatmeal porridge and bottle fed them canned milk diluted with water. He watched them and they knew how to put a bottle between their hind feet and the front paw would unscrew the top of the bottle.

Chuck taught the cubs how to hunt for food by pulling old logs apart so they could eat insect eggs. Chuck tried to hide from the cubs, but they always found him. Chuck told me if you’re in the bush and see a bear (non-grizzly), stand still and be absolutely silent, and hope that you are downwind as the bear relies on smell. 

One man in the logging camp kept teasing one of the cubs. Well he never quit teasing it and he paid for it. The cub went into the man’s cabin and trashed it. Don’t piss off a bear—he’ll get you. Bears have brains like dogs, and a good memory. Eventually, one of Chuck’s cubs went to Stanley Park Zoo, and the other died in an accident.

When I encountered my first bear while riding range out of Pritchard on Todd Mountain,  I brought the horse to a halt and watched it. That bear went over a brush pile and never made a noise. That gave me a whole lot of respect for bears. I saw lots of bears in that open range.

One February I took the bus to help my friends, Roma and Dave Wilson round up wild horses west of Tatla Lake. Pan Phillips, BC rancher and Frontier Cattle Company co-founder was on the bus as well. At the Redstone stop, a lot of people were getting on, and Pan turned around and asked me if he could come back and sit with me. I said sure. I had heard and read lots of stories about him before this, but this was the first time and only time I got to talk to Pan.

So I asked him questions I had from what I had read. For example, what he did when he threw the rock at the grizzly bear away down at the bottom in the creek. He said as he was heading out of there the horse was bucking and he was trying to get his rifle out of the scabbard. He said that the grizzly could have had him but the grizzly only hit his chap with its front paw and kept going.

While I was up at Burns Lake in 2017, in the swamp below the house I heard a lot of noise, so I went to see what was causing it. A mother bear was making her three cubs climb up a dead tree because they were too small to safely wait on the ground. I was hearing branches cracking as the cubs climbed. The cubs were protected up the tree while mom bear was eating skunk cabbage. A learning lesson for me. 

In the Fraser Valley skunk cabbage bloom is over a foot tall and bright yellow. In Burns Lake skunk cabbage is small like a calla lily and dull white, leaves and stems are short. Skunk cabbage is a healing plant if you get past the smell—it is good for human colds.

When the cubs got bigger the mother brought them back to teach them to eat skunk cabbage. The mother had them on a long log away from me until she decided to come off the end to my side of the swamp. In a loud stern voice I said, “You’ve been here long enough! Get out of here, go back to your side.” She turned around and stepped over the three cubs and never knocked them off. The cubs turned around and followed her. I’ve talked to other bears. They stand still when I’m talking. Maybe it’s because I’m not scared. If you’re scared your body gives off fear odour and they smell it.

My girlfriend Sharon Erickson and I were going back to work in Hunter Creek in 1996. We were around 40 miles south of Dawson City when I spotted grizzly bears. We slowed down and pulled over to the shoulder of the road. I kept the van’s motor running, and told Sharon to stay in the van. I grabbed my camera and walked to the back of the van and around the other side. I started talking to these grizzlies. The mother bear went and sat behind a small tree. The brown cub went with the mother. The silver tip cub was only interested in the food. Must be a male. His nose pressed so hard into the frozen ground that his nose was curled up. He was digging lupin root to eat. I had the opportunity to dig lupin root when I was at DensTiah lake. I ate the lupin raw. They taste like raw potato. Just the pea pods are poisonous, you can eat the rest of the lupin plant.

I was about 25 feet away from the cub. I got a good picture and gave it to my son Alan.

Bears have personality too.