Saturday October 21, 2017

'My friends and family think I'm crazy that I still live here after being attacked by a bear'

Montrealer Erin Greene is lucky to be alive after being attacked by a polar bear, and she's so grateful to the people of Churchill, Man. that she decided to stay.

Montrealer Erin Greene is lucky to be alive after being attacked by a polar bear, and she's so grateful to the people of Churchill, Man. that she decided to stay. (Iris Yudai, CBC)

Listen 13:58

Warning: contains some graphic details.

You'd think being mauled by a polar bear in Churchill, Man. would convince you to live somewhere – anywhere – else.

But for Erin Greene, it's exactly the reason she decided to stay.

"It shows people you can push past your trauma, you can face your fears and come out of it positive," she said.

Greene, who grew up in Montreal, first came to Churchill over four years ago on vacation and quickly fell in love with the northern Manitoba town of 900 that calls itself the world's polar bear capital. 

Erin Greene

Part of Erin Greene's left ear was torn off when a polar bear attacked her. (Submitted)

Her near-death experience with one of the town's celebrated residents took place as she and two friends were walking home from a late-night Halloween party.

"We all looked and there was a polar bear that was barreling down the street, just running towards us," she said. "Our first instinct was to run."

But the bear caught up to Greene, grabbed hold of her head with its mouth, and ripped off part of her scalp. Greene remembered that a bear's snout is sensitive, so she punched it. The animal dropped her, then quickly picked her up again by the shoulders and tried to break her neck.

Greene said the bear treated her like a "rag doll." As she saw blood pouring down her body, she thought, "This is how I'm going to die."

That's when the rest of the town sprang into action. A local resident named Bill Ayotte appeared and swung at the bear with a shovel. The bear let go of Greene just as others arrived with rifles. One man shot the bear four times but still, it didn't stop. Finally, another man drove his truck straight into the bear, and it fled.

Greene and Ayotte were airlifted to a hospital in Winnipeg. The town rallied behind them and raised money to pay for all of Greene's medical bills.

Ever since, Greene has felt nothing but gratitude towards her fellow Churchillians.

"Most of my friends and family think I'm crazy that I still live here after being attacked by a bear," said Greene. "But I didn't want my last memory of Churchill to be something horrific and terrifying."

She also feels she owes it to heroic neighbours like Ayotte to stay. 

"I want to live in the same place he does," she said. "I want to impress him all the time and I want him to be proud of me. I want him to know he saved a good human being."

Ayotte was awarded the Star of Courage, one of Canada's highest honours for bravery, for saving Greene's life.

Erin Greene

Erin Greene keeps up four jobs in order to keep calling Churchill, Man. home. (Iris Yudai, CBC)

Nowadays, Greene works four different jobs in Churchill. She manages a gift shop, teaches yoga, leads paddle boarding tours in the summer, and serves as an "unofficial dog walker." She's also a little more cautious than when she first arrived.

"When I walk down the street I'm always looking over my shoulder," she said. "I don't think that's something that'll ever go away, but I don't think it's a bad thing. Churchill is a place where we co-exist with polar bears so we should be looking over our shoulders."