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Year of the Great Bear

For kids, there are good bears—Gentle Ben and Smoky the Bear come to mind—and bad bears, like the three who sleep in their beds and steal porridge (although for me as a kid, that was a good thing). Then, there are the goofy ones like Yogi or the pudding-stomached Balou from the Jungle Book. But for today’s vacationing families, there is a fourth category, and that is the real thing— the grizzly or black bear who is roaming our parks and forests and sharing our summer holiday habitats.

Any family heading out West will soon discover that 2001 has been declared Year of the Great Bear. No tourist gimmick, this Great Bear celebration is a giant co-operative effort between tourist boards, attractions, park staff, museums and conservation groups to honour the mystery and majesty of bears, particularly grizzlies. Amazingly, over 70 tourist partners and communities in the Canadian Rockies and Montana have come together to plan some 5,000 events around this noble creature, a reliable indicator of the health or our wilderness spaces. And many are perfect for families.

Why not sign up for a family hike in Banff National Park with a naturalist to scout for clues of grizzlies and brown bears? I did just that a few weeks ago, and we found evidence and learned some interesting such as a grizzly needs to eat about 100,000 berries a day just to keep moving. And you thought teenage sons ate a lot? At the Whyte Museum, I also visited Bears: Imagination and Reality. The exhibit dioramas of momma bears and their cubs and the hands-on invitations to touch bear claws and foot padding were irresistible.

In Jasper, buy the $2 commemorative coin with the logo of the Great Bear. The proceeds go to conservation and education. Or take a weekday interpretive hike from the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. At the Calgary Zoo, take in some “Bear-ly” theatrics, or visit their real bears. If you’re lucky enough to have proper vacation time, why not embark on the self-drive Trail of the Great Bear? With the excellent map and booklet, families can explore some 3,350 km of wilderness through National and Provincial Parks—from Jasper to Banff and into British Columbia, from Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park on the Montana border and south to Yellowstone—in search of bear lore and activities. Along the way, stop for campfire talks, films, horseback treks, one-day motorcoach trips, teddy bear picnics, and minibus tours led by native guides who evoke the Spirit of the Great Bear in their ceremonies. You might not be able to cover the entire route, or even come upon an awesome grizzly, but you’ll see some breathtaking natural forests, wilderness areas and communities where the bear is your traveling companion.

And if you do plan on hiking the backcountry with the kids, or even marked trails, take precautions. Forget bear bells tied to sneakers. They’re not loud enough. Use bear bangers, make noise by singing or yelling, and travel in a group. There has never been a reported bear attack on a group of five or more. Stick to the trail and don’t let the kids wander off. Carry Counter Attack just in case, the pepper spray product, but make sure it’s not an old canister that’s been withering on a shelf. Be cautious near water, where bears like to hang out, or near big plantings of bear candy like the xx bush. And if you see a bear, walk backwards very slowly while talking gently and firmly. Yea, right! A new kids’ book, In the Path of Great Bear by Carole McTavish and Lori Nunn, shows how we can share our space and all get along.

MORE INFORMATION: For news of the 5,000 events and activities celebrating Year of the Great Bear, call 1-800-748-7275 or visit www.yearofthegreatbear.com. The Trail of the Great Bear International Scenic Tour links the wilderness areas through 3,350 kms in Canada and the U.S. For a detailed map, booklet, and information, call 1-800-215-2395 or visit www.trailofthegreatbear.com. Brewster has offered tours of the Canadian West since 1892. Their Banff Nature Walk links families with a professional naturalist. Half-days hikes $48 adults, kids half-price 12 and under. Their Trail of the Great Bear Discovery Drive program, offers a 7-night itinerary with car, accommodation, and admission to parks and attractions starting at $1540 per person. Call 1-800-661-1152 or visit www.brewster.ca.

HOW TO GET THERE: Signature Vacations’ Canada program features flights from Toronto to Calgary, rental cars, and suitable hotel accommodations. Particularly recommended as a base camp in Banff is the Douglas Fir Resort & Chalets. Two-storey suites give kitchen facilities, two baths, and sleeping for four. There’s a water slide and indoor pool on site. Rates start at See your local travel agent to book.





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