Teddy bear hunts take Newfoundland and Labrador by storm

Teddy bears are taking over windows across Newfoundland and Labrador, and children are out to count them all.

People all over the province are putting teddy bears up in their windows for children to count

With public health experts and government officials urging Canadians to stay at home much as possible, the teddy bear hunt offers families an activity to do together at home, on a walk or in their car. (Submitted by Seanne Justin Heath)

Hundreds of bears are being hunted in Newfoundland and Labrador, but for a good cause.

And don't worry, there are no rifles involved.

From Nain to Port Hope Simpson, Stephenville to St. John's, people all over the province are putting teddy bears in their windows to encourage children to get out of the house — while maintaining social distancing — during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jodi McCarthy, the owner of Sugar Shack in Labrador City, started the hype in the Labrador West region. She says the response has been overwhelming.

"Within two to three hours there was bears everywhere in town," she said. "It was so emotional to see. There's bears on Ski-Doos, there's bears playing hockey, there's bears on quads, and [kids are] using their imagination."

You never know what you might find on a bear hunt, in this case it was a hedgehog, llama, mouse and a penguin. (Rebecca Martel/CBC)

People in that community have also been donating prizes to give away to children who are searching for bears, and counting their hunt.

"Anyone that goes hunting bears now can log how many bears you find and your name will get thrown in for one of these great prizes," she said.

The hunt is spreading across the province, with hundreds of bears spotted in Gander this week.

Paula Clark's two grandsons examine their teddy bears from inside a house in Gander. Paula Clark started a Facebook group to organize a teddy bear hunt in the community, which quickly grew to hundreds of people. (Submitted by Paula Clark)

"We're trying to keep life relatively normal for kids right now," said Ashley Evans, who has been encouraging her neighbours to display their bears.

"This is something, you know, completely new to the majority of us around here. We've never seen anything like this before.

"We're trying to keep life normal for them, and not show that, you know, the world is a little scared right now." 

Evans has been home with her son, Blake, for about two weeks but they've been hunting to pass the time, and showing off their own bears too.

"Despite what's going on in the media and everything else, there is a sense of selflessness here," she said.

"While we're all still trying to figure out how we're going to live our lives for the next couple of weeks and months, trying to figure out loss of jobs and groceries … everybody is still putting the smile of other people first." 

Crysta Lee Button filled her windows with dozens of Nintendo-themed toys. (Submitted by Crysta Lee Button)

The hunt is even bringing out some emotions that some parents haven't seen in some time.

"The kids see bears and they're excited," McCarthy said. "The parents are smiling, the kids are pointing. It's just so emotional to see everyone having fun but still abiding what the government has put in place."

From one place to another

Noah Martin, 13, of Cartwright has racked up some impressive numbers — he counted about 70 bears in one night.

"It's good to see the community come together and think of these great ideas just to bring joy and to take our minds off of it," Noah said.

Although the first hunt went smoothly, Noah says next time he's going to bring paper and a pen to help keep him track.

The Bibeau family was one of many families out and about in Happy Valley-Goose Bay this week looking for stuffed animals. (Rebecca Martel/CBC)

Cruising around in their parents' car, Paige Wheaton, 13, said she and her sister Charlotte, 9, spotted more than 600 bears along the streets in Gander.

"The big E.T. was awesome. It was huge," she said. "We saw a Pikachu. There was a bunch of Beanie Babies too."

"My youngest, especially, has a little more of a hard time with all this going on," added Kerry-Anne Wheaton, the girls' mother. 

"And of course my older one would like to be out with her buddies. But we want to participate just so that kids that were feeling the same way could have the joy of hunting teddy bears at our house." 

Along with her bears, Cartwright resident Jessie Bird Pardy was quick to dig out some old books from her childhood for children in the community.

"Opened up one of the storage chests and here in one corner was a pile of books belonged not only to me, but from my brother and some to my daughter as well," Pardy said. "The oldest are going back over 50 years and [I] thought, 'Well, no one is looking for them,' so I bundled them up, sticked them in the snowbank."

Old books lined the snowbank outside of Jessie Bird Pardy's house on Monday. (Submitted by Jessie Bird Pardy)

Pardy said during these times you have to be able to smile, and she encourages everyone to participate in the teddy bear hunt.

"Just do it. It isn't silly. If it makes a little kid's day you've not only made that child's day, you've also gone a long way in helping the parents because I would think some of them are getting close to wit's end," Pardy said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Janice Goudie, Rebecca Martel and Garrett Barry