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GiveLife.ca

    
Day 16: Ignace, Ont.
Passions running high over bears
roaming free in Winnie's wood

JOHN STACKHOUSE

Wednesday, August 23, 2000

Somewhere in Winnie the Pooh's original hundred-acre wood, hunters are just waiting to blow away a bear or two. But they can't.

In the dense forests of Northwestern Ontario, birthplace of a real-life cub named Winnie, bears are running free this summer. And passions are running high over the province's decision in 1999 to cancel the spring bear-hunting season.

A moratorium was placed on the spring hunt to protect cubs that authorities feared were being orphaned in large numbers when their mothers were shot.

Local hunters lost a chance for more pelts. Camp owners lost a season of hunter-tourists, mainly from the United States.

Safe from their most aggressive predators, the bears rummage through garbage dumps such as the one in Ignace (population: 1,500), and wander into towns such as Ear Falls, where forestry officials recently caught two.

"I've seen more bears this year than in the last 10 years," said Tom Halverson, a woodcutter who has worked for 19 years in the forests around Ear Falls, halfway between Thunder Bay and Winnipeg.

So many bears are popping up in public places that local hunters -- and almost every male voter in the northwest is a hunter -- are calling for an early start to the fall hunt and for some sort of hunt next spring.

Some of the bear pressures, however, may stem from a poor berry crop, the result of heavy rains, which has forced them to wander farther for food. Locals say the bears also have been lured by sprawling garbage, the result of town dumps being privatized.

At Ear Falls, Mr. Halverson explained as he drove through bear country, the dump now charges $2 to $5 a load, and remains closed to locals -- but open to bears -- during much of the week. "Lots of people just throw their garbage on the road or in the woods," he said.

Another orphaned bear cub once brought a different kind of attention to this region. Eighty-six years ago tomorrow, a Canadian serviceman, Lieutenant Harry Colebourn, purchased a tiny black bear in White River, east of Thunder Bay, and named it Winnie, after his hometown, Winnipeg. When he was sent to England in the First World War, Lt. Colebourn took Winnie with him as a mascot of his 34th Fort Garry Horse and Canadian Army Veterinary Corps.

While the regiment served in France, Winnie stayed in the London Zoo, and remained there after the war, becoming a favourite of two London Zoo regulars, the writer A. A. Milne and his son Christopher. In 1926, Mr. Milne created the character Winnie the Pooh.

The Canadian-born Winnie lived for another 20 years in the London Zoo, according to a Disney-character monument at White River. Seated in a tree, the immortalized bear is eating from a pot of honey, not a garbage dump. And the only shooting is by a parade of camera-wielding Korean tourists.
John Stackhouse's Notes from the Road will appear daily in The Globe and Mail, and on globeandmail.com, until the Labour Day weekend. His conclusions will be published in September.


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