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Terrible Ted the battling bear

Grunts, roars and the smack of flesh on canvas have, for generations, echoed from Vancouver Island to Newfoundland. Pro wrestling is a gritty world populated by heroic "babyfaces," dastardly "heels," outrageous managers and outraged fans. We tackle some of the most colourful stories and characters to come out of the wrestling scenes from coast to coast.

It's man versus bear tonight at Maple Leaf Gardens. Terrible Ted, the towering trained bruin, is wrestling Bunny Dunlop, who normally referees these matches. Chaos ensues on the way into the ring. A spectator pokes the chained and muzzled beast, who charges at him, scattering fans in all directions. Soon, though, Terrible Ted wins them over by walloping Dunlop, his hapless human opponent. "They're all cheering for the bear," we hear in this clip from CBC Radio's Assignment
. Wrestling bears were popular from the 1950s until the 1970s. Other animals, including tigers, were also pressed into service. They were considered novelty acts intended to spice up the card between the serious bouts.
. Pressure from animal welfare advocates helped end the animal acts. As recently as the 1980s, the appearance of a wrestling bear named Sampson at sportsmen shows across Canada drew protests and threats of legal action.

. The Terrible Ted bout was branded a "grudge match." In a previous bout, the referee Bunny Dunlop had kicked the bear. In an interview with CBC Radio the day before the match, the bear's owner, Ted Garner, said Terrible Ted was a seven- or eight-year-old black bear from the Gaspé peninsula. The bear's claws were cut short and it was fed only vegetables. Still, "if he gets mean, he could hurt you very badly," Garner said.

. Garner mentions that Dave McKigney trained the bear daily, especially in winter to ward off hibernation. McKigney fought under names including Gene DuBois, The Wildman and The Canadian Wildman, until his 1988 death. He made Terrible Ted part of his act and travelled with the bear as far as the American south, often wrestling it himself. Terrible Ted wrestled from the 1950s until the 1990s, making it likely there was more than one bruin.

. In a 2003 newspaper column, wrestler Bret Hart reminisced about Terrible Ted living for a spell under the porch of his family's Calgary home. He recalled hanging his feet into the bear's cage and dripping ice cream on to his toes so the bear would lick it off. "I still have all my toes so I guess Ted wasn't really all that terrible after all," he wrote. He also told the story at the funeral of his father, promoter Stu Hart.

. A California woman led a fruitless campaign to free Terrible Ted. It included "The Ballad of Terrible Ted." A sample lyric: "And it's breaking his spirit, it ain't hard to see, He's nothin' at all like God meant him to be."
. While animal acts are largely extinct, so-called lady wrestlers and, less frequently, dwarfs continue to add variety to cards. Canadian stars have included Rhonda "Monster Ripper" Sing and the pint-sized brawling superstars Little Beaver (Lionel Giroux) and Sky Low Low (Marcel Gauthier).
Medium: Radio
Program: Assignment
Broadcast Date: Jan. 13, 1959
Reporter: Bob McGrath
Duration: 4:25

Last updated: February 12, 2013

Page consulted on January 30, 2014

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