The article “Bear-caused injuries ‘rare’” by Arron Pickard on July 24, 2012 was well written and informative but would benefit from additional information and clarification.
The inclusion of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) statement that 10 people have been killed by bears since 1881 is accurate but misleading.
While we have unfortunately experienced this many fatalities, nine of these occurred in the last 44 years. Moreover, the victims of these encounters are not simply statistics that should be thrown out by the MNR to assuage the fears of the general public after a black bear incident occurs.
They were people, with families, and their names should be included in a discussion of black bear fatalities.
The province’s first documented black bear attack occurred in June 1881 when John Dennison (82) was inspecting his bear traps on Happy Lake Isle, in what is now Algonquin Park.
Armed only with an axe, the octogenarian headed towards the trap and discovered a bear caught in the clutches of one of the steel traps. In a fit of desperation the bear attacked Dennison, a struggle ensued between the two, ending in both their deaths.
Ontario’s next black bear fatality did not occur for another 87 years. On Oct. 1, 1968, Jack Ottertail (53), a resident of the Neguaguon Reserve near Atikokan died after trying to defend himself against a marauding black bear.
Arguably the worst black bear attack in North American history occurred on May 13, 1978 in Algonquin Park near Radiant Lake.
Mark Halfkenny (12) along with brothers Billy (15) and George Rhindress (16) were attacked and killed by a predatory black bear while fishing in the park.
Since the attack was predatory in nature there was little that could have been done to avoid the incident, although many have suggested the bear might have been attracted by the smell of the fish the boys caught.
This incident was also unusual because it was a surplus-killing, in which the bear killed prey beyond the immediate needs of food.
Two months after the horrific tragedy at Algonquin Park, Lynn Orser (30) was mauled to death by a captive black bear belonging to her boyfriend, David McKigney. The latter was a bear wrestler and he and “Smokey” had performed in sports promotions through Canada and the United States.
Thirteen years after the incident in Algonquin Park in 1978, the park experienced another terrible episode. While camping on Bates Island over Thanksgiving in 1991, Raymond Jackubauskas (32) and Carol Frehe (48), were both killed by a predatory black bear.
The following summer, on June 14, 1992, Sebastien Lauzier (20) a university student from Timmins, was mauled to death by a black bear near Cochrane. At the time of the attack, Lauzier was collecting soil samples for a mineral exploration company.
The most recent black bear fatality occurred seven years ago. While camping at Missinaibi Lake Provincial Park north of Chapleau, Dr. Jacqueline Perry (30), was killed by a black bear on Sept. 6, 2005.
While her husband Mark Jordan valiantly tried to fight off the bear, suffering serious injury himself, Perry unfortunately succumbed to her wounds. He was awarded the Star of Courage award from Governor General Michaëlle Jean in 2007 for his efforts.
While 10 fatalities over a 131-year span may seem insignificant, one is too many. Also keep in mind that 7 of these deaths occurred in a 14-year window from 1978 to 1991. Black bear attacks are extremely rare, and fatalities stemming from these encounters are even more remote.
That being said, they can occur. so it is up to all of us to equip ourselves with the knowledge and tools in order to properly deal with black bears near the places where we live, work, and play.
Posted by Vivian Scinto