Peawanuck First Nation – It was early morning, Aug. 10, the sun had not yet risen, and 20-year-old Rebecca Steele, a literacy camp counsellor in Peawanuck, was awoken by the sounds of a black bear trying to enter her home through the living room window. Steele heard crashing and banging. The bear was halfway into the home.
“The window was wide open and there’s a bear shoving his way through it,” Steele said, recalling the moment she peered into the living room and was just four metres from the bear’s head, shoulders and front legs – all inside the house at this point.
Over the past two months in Peawanuck the muskwak (Cree for black bears) have been plumping up before winter. They have been foraging in garbages and at the local dump, which is about 2.5 kilometres north of the community. When the sunsets and night takes over, the bears – believed to about five or six in the area – roam the streets, knocking over trash bins and looting porches. One bear even had the audacity to try and climb through a living room window, while the residents slept inside.
As Steele awoke she had a suspicion that the noises were coming from a bear.
“It didn’t really sound like Rob or Roxy (roommates) were up for a midnight snack”.
The last time a bear visited the literacy camp counsellors’ place – just two weeks prior – it had flipped over the garbage box, pulled out all the bags, ripped them open and ate what it could find.
Standing face to face with a bear halfway into her home, Steele managed to scare the bear away by yelling at it. Her roommate, Roxana Maria Barbu, was not even aware of the situation until she heard “Roxy, Roxy, Roxy, there’s a bear in the house!” A few moments later, pretty sure the bear did not come all the way in, they quickly closed the window, then armed with just a broom they did a quick check of the house and rushed to the adjacent apartment to alert the other camp counselor, Rob Fowler.
Just a few weeks prior, Madeline Hunter, who’s lived in Peawanuck her whole life, had a close encounter with a bear.
A late night card game on July 18 was interrupted by what seemed to be her visitor, Morgan Chookomolin’s dog, Cheeko, rummaging in the porch. Chookomolin was on her way to clean the mess when she opened the door, heard a “huff” noise and saw a black bear. “Madeline there’s a bear in your porch!” Chookomolin screamed before running back up the stairs and down the hall forgetting to shut the door behind her.
Hunter ran down the steps to take a peak to see where the bear went. It was outside, peering back inside at her. “Mash-chan-deh, get out of here!” Hunter yelled. The bear left only to return later and finish what it started, eating the mess of garbage it made.
Peawanuck (Weenusk First Nation) Band Councillor Georgina Wabano finds the bears to be a nuisance, especially this summer. She believes the bears are getting more brazen and too comfortable roaming the community. One bear even took a swipe at her dog. “At first, (black bears) were just coming around, digging through garbage bins and what not.”
The perception among locals is that too many bears feeling too comfortable in the community can be dangerous.
In July, one of those roaming black bears was shot and killed by Jason Metatawabin, a concerned resident of Peawanuck who noticed the increasingly frequent visits by bears over the past two summers.
With the bears coming near his home, Metatawabin explained, “For safety reasons I had to shoot the bear because I have two children in the house”.
Metatawabin’s home doesn’t have a porch door and there’s no way to lock the front door. He has already had an incident with a bear inside the porch, saying the bears are too brave and the community needs to figure out a way to get them out of town.
Wabano is aware of residents’ concerns and said that the local Nishnawbe Aski Police Services do patrols throughout the community for safety reasons and to keep an eye out for both black bears and polar bears, day and night. The community also has a security person on patrol, monitoring the bears during the summer months.
Last fall, during broad daylight, two bears helped themselves to about 27 smoked fish that were hanging in Jean Hunter’s teepee. “They came to rob me,” she said, re-telling the incident. The bears ripped a hole in the canvas, and Hunter recalls, it seemed like one bear was on watch while the other was busy taking down the fish from the rack. The bears were chased off. But one kept returning so an elder advised her that the bear should be put down.
The first time she saw the bears this summer they were quite scrawny. Now they are hanging around more and getting bigger. Typically, she said, they just pass through.
“If people are feeding them, of course they are going to keep coming back,” Hunter admonished.
She believes the bears will leave soon, once the berries have come out and the bears get their fill. But it has been a cool summer and it seems there are less berries, which mean less there is less natural food for bears.
Polar bears are yet another concern for residents of Peawanuck. Wabusk, as they are known in Cree, do not hang around like black bears but every once in a while a polar bear wanders up the Winisk River and into the community. Hunter recalls one polar bear that stuck around for about a week, it was even in the schoolyard, inside the fence. The polar bear was eventually shot and killed.
On Aug. 16 a polar bear was spotted by “the rapids”, an area just down the river bank from the community, where many of the residents park their boats. Another polar bear was seen by “The flags”, a clearing north of town, just last week. Polar bears tend to come up river later in the summer and sometimes find themselves in Peawanuck. Both bears spotted this summer ran off after their encounters unharmed.
The number of black bear incidents appears higher this summer, not only in northeastern Ontario, particularly the Peawanuck region, where official provincial numbers on bears are not available, but also in southern Ontario, where the province does keep tabs on the bear population and encounters.
On Aug. 10, three black bears were shot and killed in Sudbury. Two had entered an empty residence, and a third was previously injured and acting aggressively, walking about in an urban neighbourhood.
On Aug. 20, a mother bear was shot and killed in Sudbury, leaving its three cubs orphaned. The bears had found a “human food source and were eating this food when city staff contacted police,” according to the Sudbury Star.
Jolanta Kowalski, Senior Media Relations officer with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) explained, the Ministry “does not have detailed information on the abundance of black bears in the Peawanuck area.” Kowalski elaborated, saying a black bear population depends on the availability of natural foods and are very rare north of the treeline. She said MNRF is aware of black bear incidents in Peawanuck in the past, mostly related to the local landfill.
“We haven’t received more calls about problems bears in the (Peawanuck) area (this summer),” Kowalski added.
“Black bears are strongly attracted to landfills and other unsecured garbage, but polar bears are also attracted to these. Black bears can probably be deterred and chased away easier than polar bears, (by) using cracker shells, or chasing with an ATV. Both black bears and polar bears should be harassed aggressively to chase them out of the community.”
If people in the Peawanuck area have emergency encounters with either polar bears or black bears, Kowalski urged residents to call local authorities – Nishnawbe Aski Police Services at 705-473-2601.
For non-emergency problems she advised people to call the Bear Wise reporting line: 1-866-514-2327 (April 1-Nov. 30)
For information on preventing or reporting an encounter with a black bear, visit
Acting appropriately, Steele’s face-to-face encounter with a bear halfway into her home ended safely for both humans and bear. She now reminds herself and others, never leave garbage out and close windows before bed.