EPISODE 55 THE BLACK BEAR THAT JUST GOT TOO FRIENDLY: MARATHON 1963
We set up our base camp southeast of the paper mill at Marathon on the north shore of Lake Superior. Five of us doing a
geophysical survey searching for magnetic anomalies that just might be turned into a mine some day. Summer of 1963.
John Lloyd, Roger Nichols, David Murphy, Bill Gilbey and myself. By 1963 I had done this kind of work for several yuears
so our boss, Dr. Norman Paterson gave me the
responsibility for the camp.
And that became a problem.
No sooner did we get the tents up and the food supply in place than we discovered there was a black bear who seemed
to want to join our crew. This began as a novelty for the bear was more interested in stealing our food than gnawing at
This was dangerous business however. One night I got up to take a leak at our latrine only to return and find John Lloyd
standing with axe upraised thinking I was the bear entering our tent. John Lloyd was a Welsh geophyicist with no bear
experience. On another occasion the bear got one of our salamis hanging from a hook in our cook tent. I think the bear
took a mouthful of tent canvas with it. Otherwise the bear just walked…waddled…into the cook tent and made a
The bear was getting too friendly. Dangerously so. Action had to be taken … desperate action. But first we tried
another ploy. Let’s call it the ‘Garbage Can Lid and Nielsen’s Jesey Milk chlorate bar caper.”
“Hey Al, why don’t we try to shock the bear.”
“We could wire up the garbage can lid?”
(We had buried a big galvanized garbage can deep in the ground to act as a refrigerator and also
a protection of our food from red squirrels>)
“Suppose we hook the lid to our motor generator…wait for the bear to lie the lid…and then WHAM…give
him or her a shot of electricity.”
“And the bait?”
“Let’s use the chocolate bars…Jersey Milk. The bear has already got some so we know it likes Jersey Milk Bars.
(So , like a bunch of kids, we set our trap.}
“Drive the truck so it faces the garbage can…start the generator…and then we will wait.”
(All five of us crammed into the company truck..and waited…I don’t remember who held
the on / off switch. Might have been me. Might have been Gilbey as I think the plan was his
“Here comes the bear. Get ready.”
“Has the bear got the lid?”
“Yes…NOW! NOW! Throw the switch.”
“Too late … that is one fast bear.”
“He got the whole box of Jersey Milk bars faster that we could throw the switch.”
“Did he or she know we were in the truck?”
“Probably…seemed to consider us food suppliers…as if we were grocery employees.”
We failed. Now for the sad part.
We could not leave the bear free to wander in and out of the tents. Someone could get mauled for sure.
Sp we called in the Lands and Forest Ranger. He came with a long gun. Guns were never allowed in
our bush camps. That principle was established long ago. “If we had guns in camp, we would likely shoot each other,”
Floyd Faulkner told me way back in 1957 when I first got into the business. He was like correct. When people live
in close proximity to each other sometimes tension develop. so …No Guns. That was one of the differences between
Canadian and American bush crews. A good difference.
“We have a bear in camp.” I told the Ranger.
“Every day…scared it might come into a tent at night.”
“Sounds like a Garbage Bear.”
“People make garbage too available…bears find steady meals…and problems happen like you face.”
“What can be done?”
“Could a big bear trap be brought in?”
“No! This bear is just too tame….It will be a problem wherever it goes.”
“Does it have to be shot?”
“Yes, we’ll do it now. You say the bear is nearby?”
“Yes, broad daylight it wanders in around us. Never attacks though.”
“We’ll just wait then…Keep behind me.”
“Then the bear appeared…see the photograph.” (PHOTOGRAPH)
“Wait until I get a clear shot…one bullet.”
“There, the bear is smelling the air…got clear shot.”
ONE of the saddest things in my life. The poor bear was shot…dying. And it cried like
a baby. We all cried. I do not remember if we buried it…think we did. Then again the Ranger
may have taken it away. We were all very quiet that night. No joy!
Just so I do not end this story on such a sad note, let me tell an anecdote about Bill Gilbey. He was
a Brit sent over to get experience in the wilderness. His family owned the Gilbey’s Gin company in
England. They were part of the minor nobility. His father or grandfather had been nighted for some
achievement in business…probably gin making. Bill was a great guy. Tough, funny, enthusiastic.
He came to camp with a big copy of Eaton’s Catalogue and each night he would
peruse the Women’s underwear section and draw various items to our attention.
“Sad state of affairs, lads,”…”When we have to rely on this catalogue for our pornography.”
And then he would point to some young lady modelling skimpy underclothes.
I felt readers might need this comment so they would stop crying about the bear.
Bush work involved both bears and Mail Order Catalogues.