For anyone who has come face to face with a bear when out on a trail, they know that the best situation is when the bear goes one way and they go the other. With the likes of Bear Aware campaigns, public education around keeping both people and bears safe is really worthwhile. We’re taught how to prevent bear attractants and what to do if we see a bear. All great and sensible advice but it wasn’t always this way.
Earlier last century, the residents of the Britannia Mine had a much different relationship with bears, especially for the people who lived up at the Mount Sheer Townsite. From what we can make out, bears weren't that common around the main townsites, but there are a few stories – true or not – of bear encounters both in the bush and even indoors. Perhaps most telling though is a report from one of the Britco News editions from the 1930s, following the shooting of bears at Empress Camp by a Squamish hunter.
The report states the following. “Our bears, the ones we fed and tamed, have left. Two of them have been murdered and the rest have gone in search of healthier localities. They were quite harmless. Commercially their hides were no good. They afforded us considerable amusement. They saved the bull-cook a great deal of firing in the incinerator, and yet the poor unsuspecting animals were slaughtered within a few minutes of being fed.”
Looking through our archive photos, this photo in particular is a mix of cool, yet scary. Today, it’s hard to imagine this kind of bravado, yet perhaps back then it was no such thing.
A quick look on Google turns up quite a few historical photos of people feeding bears – around the 1930s seems to be quite popular. Back in the day of course we viewed wildlife differently, and without ready access to technology we were less informed about the bigger picture implications of our actions. We know today that conservation officers and wildlife organizations still struggle with getting the message across, so imagine how this message would have come across eighty years ago.
We don’t know how many of Britannia’s bear encounters ended badly, either for the bear or the person, or how many of the bears were tamed, or what 'tamed' constituted, but it’s fascinating to wonder about the before and after events of these archive photos.