Persistent bear throws a scare into Winnipeg River cottagers
After ripping open refrigerator, hungry black bear keeps coming back for more
No one likes uninvited guests, especially if they're large and furry with beady little eyes and sharp claws.
That describes the very bold bear who put several scares into Kyla Hildebrandt and her family at their cabin on an island in Northwestern Ontario, along the Winnipeg River.
The saga began when Hildebrandt arrived to find unmistakable traces that a bear had been there.
"The back door was torn apart, the fridge was ripped open, and empty packages from food from the freezer were everywhere. It made quite the mess knocking everything over in the kitchen."
The family spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning up and checking the four-hectare island to make sure the bear wasn't still around.
They reported the bear home invasion to the authorities, while waiting for more family to arrive, including several small children and three large dogs.
That evening, the bear returned, walking right up to the side of the cabin.
"Everyone started yelling, and the dogs went nuts, but the bear just didn't care. He just walked away."
The Hildebrandts stocked up on bear deterrents like ammonia strips and bear bangers (a pen-type cartridge that makes a gunshot-shot like noise) in case the uninvited guest returned.
A week later, Hildebrandt and her family were sitting in the porch when they heard a large crash coming from the kitchen. Hildebrandt went to investigate.
"The garbage was tipped over on its side and I saw a big black bum sticking out of it. I thought it was one of the dogs, because we have two large black ones," she said. "So I'm walking up to it, scolding it, getting ready to give it a boot out the door when I realize, as it backs out of the garbage that it's a lot bigger than a dog."
Hildebrandt, who grew up at Falcon Lake where there are plenty of bears, estimates the bear stood at least a metre high at the shoulder, and was probably three or four years old.
The bear strolled away into the bush, but over the next few days, it came back to the cabin again. And again, despite the use of bear bangers to try to frighten it off.
After several return appearances of the bear, Hildebrandt called the police, and alerted their neighbours on nearby islands.
The other cottagers told her they had also had problems with what they assumed was the same bear. It had been showing up in broad daylight, completely unafraid, tearing off screens in attempts to get inside.
Wally Hill, who owns a cottage about eight kilometres downriver from the Hildebrandts, says he and his neighbours have had several visits from hungry bears in recent years.
I thought it was one of the dogs, because we have two large black ones. So I'm walking up to it, scolding it, getting ready to give it a boot out the door when I realize, as it backs out of the garbage that it's a lot bigger than a dog.- Kyla Hildebrandt
"You cannot believe the mess a bear can make in your kitchen," he said. "Until you've seen it, you simply can't believe it."
Even though Hill and his wife have become much more diligent with food storage, he says it's almost impossible to ensure a bear won't get a whiff of something with their heightened sense of smell. So far this year, he's they've had screen doors ripped by curious bears, but nothing as frightening as the Hildebrandts' run-ins.
"When you have a bear that is not afraid … rampaging through your cabin and it's not afraid when you make noise, that's a problem bear," he said
The Hildebrandts' cabin has been in the family since the 1980s, and there has never been a bear sighted on the island until now.
Kyla Hildebrandt speculates that a combination of dry weather leading to fewer berries might have sent the bear looking for food. Also, she says locals told her fewer bears have been hunted in the area over the last couple of years.
Despite the bear scare, Hildebrandt and her family plan to return to the cabin, southeast of Minaki.
"Obviously, we'll still be taking a lot of precautions. We've never left food or garbage out, but we'll be having bear mace available because the bangers didn't work. We're talking about having a gun available at the cottage, but that makes me more uneasy than a bear."
Hildebrandt's neighbours with guns will be watching for the bear. She says the police told her they have full rights to shoot the bear on their own property because it is a nuisance bear.
One of those neighbours is Hill, who says the area has seen "an overabundance of bears" this season, due in part to a late emergence of berries for them to feed on. Although he doesn't plan to take his rifle and go looking for problem bears, he's prepared to pull the trigger in self-defence if needed.
"No one I know wants to shoot a bear," he said. "I've been fortunate I haven't had to yet and I hope I don't."
According to Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, there have been 90 calls to the Bear Wise phone line that serves the very large geographical district covering the part of the Winnipeg River where the Hildebrandt cabin is located.
The ministry points out that it's important to note than one bear can result in multiple calls to the phone line.