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‘BEAR WITH ME’

One starlit summer night in 1974, I lay fitfully in my self made bivouac on a small island in the middle of the Churchill River. I was alone; the only inhabitant on the island. At least I hoped I was alone. 

I shot up. What was that loud splash near the shore of my ‘flimsy little fort?’ Was it a bear making its way from the mainland? No, thank goodness! It was just a fish leaping from the water to snag an insect. 

I made it through the rest of the night, bleary eyed, but unharmed. It was all part of a survival exercise, included in the University’s Outdoor Education Program. 

For many summers afterwards, I canoed various parts of the Churchill. None of those trips involved any really close encounters with bears. 

Later, it came as a bit of a shock for me to realize that I might have encountered a resident ‘bruno’ right here on the busy streets of Prince Albert. 

Yes, and it was quite a famous bear. It was a she. She liked to be noticed, and would approach anyone if he or she did not shy away. She was known to enjoy preening for a camera, which led her to become somewhat of a ‘publicity hound’ always looking for a photo op. It paid off, as she was signed to a ‘Hollywood movie star role’ in “Alien Thunder” - the 1895/96 story of Almighty Voice. 

This exposure increased the bear’s notoriety, causing several people to travel from far and wide to see her, including a Canadian Prime Minster. (Diefenbaker) 

She, the bear, excuse me ladies, could be sweet talked. Several admirers, of the human variety, even dared to get close enough to try and do so. 

She also had other personal habits for which she became renowned. She could be more than a little snoopy. I know; I know; males also can be snoopy. This led to her moniker -‘Snoopy.’ She also had a drinking habit which she was quick to display. 

Despite her popularity, she did not live in a mansion. No, not even a zoo. While her mechanical abilities were never advertized, she did reside at an auto wrecking site. 

And that was what led to her demise as a celebrity. 

Snoopy’s home lay within the city limits on 16th Street West -West End Auto Wreckers . She was the pet of a gentleman, who shared the bear’s proclivity for attracting public attention. He was Frank Chester, a long time business man in Prince Albert and one who served as a most outspoken alderman on our city’s council. 

Snoopy lived in a large cage adjacent to Frank’s auto wrecking business. Here Snoopy learned several tricks. Each trick was rewarded with a sugar lump - a reward that was highlighted by Snoopy standing on hind legs to take the sugar from between Frank’s teeth. It was this reward that demonstrated Snoopy could be sweet talked, and it also led Snoopy to ‘snoop’ out her visitors to ascertain if there was a sugar lump or two stored away. 

Snoopy loved to drink - milk that is. But she never took to lapping the milk from a bowl. Rather, she insisted that she be fed from a bottle. So, she gained recognition for ‘hitting the bottle.’ 

As snoopy’s fame spread, she became a bit of a problem for the City Council. There was a by-law prohibiting the keeping of a ‘wild animal’ within the city. Despite the fact that Frank sat on City Council, and even offered to bring Snoopy to a Council meeting so she could demonstrate her domestic ways, an offer which was declined, the matter finally came to a head. Frank, the city ordered, must take Snoopy somewhere else. 

But where? 

Snoopy was too tame. She would perish in the wilds. And Frank flatly stated Snoopy would never end up as ‘Bear Steaks’ served to him or anyone else. 

The Moose Jaw Wild Animal Park came to the rescue. They had bears, but none of the female gender. They wanted and needed Snoopy, so that her heritage could be passed onto much needed offspring. 

Hence, Snoopy left Prince Albert. I never had the occasion to meet her. As a result, I remained ‘safe’ from bears both on and off the river. 

Too bad! Snoopy was a real character. 

She was part of the uniqueness of our Prince Albert of the North. 

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