Trick-or-treaters on Hudson Bay get helicopter escort, polar bear patrol

The Canadian Press ~ The News
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

CHURCHILL, Man. - Most trick-or-treaters are well-versed in Halloween safety: travel in groups, wear colourful clothing and only stop at brightly lit homes.
The drill is slightly different, however, for kids in a remote Manitoba town on Hudson Bay.
Youngsters in Churchill are warned not to dress in furry white costumes, to steer clear of baited traps stuffed with seal meat and to listen for the tell-tale sound of fireworks.
That's because these candy-seekers have more to worry about than ghosts and goblins. They need to avoid a different kind of predator on Halloween - the polar bear.
In Churchill - known as the polar bear capital of the world - Halloween falls smack in the middle of the busiest time for the iconic mammals. The bears are restlessly wandering around as they wait for cooler temperatures so they can head out onto the frozen winter ice.
Add to that streets crawling with about 300 trick-or-treaters and their tasty bags of treats. The combination could be deadly.
But Conservation, Parks Canada and RCMP officers have ensured everyone's safety for the last 40 Halloweens and this year is no different. Thirty of them will encircle the town and keep an eye on youngsters going door to door.
"It's a precautionary measure because the polar bear is a predatory animal," said Const. Mike Boychuk. "Our main goal is to have a safe community whether it be from humans or from bears."
School children get a visit from the polar bear patrol team to go over safety tips. On the day of Halloween, several conservation officers take to the sky in a helicopter to see if there are any bears nearby. As dusk descends, Mountie patrol cars and other emergency vehicles are parked around the town's perimeter with their lights flashing.
Other units patrol the town of about 1,000 and also look out for bears, while about half a dozen bear traps baited with seal meat are set up.
If a bear is spotted, said conservation officer Andrew Szklaruk, he and his colleagues are called in to shoo it away.
"We'll use our trucks, our horns sometimes and also 12-gauge shotguns with cracker shells and rubber bullets at times," said Szklaruk. "Our cracker shells are pretty much like fireworks. They're launched from the 12-gauge shotgun, go out about 200 feet and explode making a large bang."
That kind of ruckus is usually enough to make a bear think twice about entering the town, Szklaruk said.
But if the animal persists, a tranquillizer dart is used and the bear is carted off to "polar bear jail" - holding cells where the bear is isolated until it is released back into the wild.
The precautions seem to work. Few can recall a polar bear actually breaching the town's perimeter on Halloween since the program started in the 1960s.
The last deadly attack in Churchill didn't even occur on October's spooky night, but in 1983 when a resident who was scavenging packages of ground beef from a burned-out hotel ran into a bear in a dark alley.
Churchill Mayor Mike Spence said the evening bear patrol has become routine, both for parents and their children.
Kids know not to dress up like polar bears or anything resembling a white furry beast for fear of sparking a false alarm. They are told to stay away from bear traps and to never follow any large bear-claw footprints in the snow.
But living side-by-side with the predators is nothing new for these kids and their parents, Spence said.
"The children are always alert."

Organizations: Parks Canada, RCMP

Geographic location: Hudson Bay, Manitoba

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page