Banff 1959, Part Two - Wildlife face to face

Memory can be like a clear mirror, but only when what the eye views is “seen” with full attention as things happen. Otherwise the mirror becomes foggy, as if “breathed” upon. Or to put it another way, ‘when we let the film role with the cap still on our lens of the camera’, no picture will be developed. 

Banff in 1959 was a sleepy town.  

There was the classy Banff Springs Hotel; a trail riding outfit for horseback riding, and the Banff summer school up Tunnel Mountain. Banff Avenue had no T-shirt stores, jewellery shops, no Japanese signs in the windows, no mall.

There was a small Western “Chinese” restaurant, typical of the 1950’s, also a grocery store. 

During that summer, a black bear got into the back of the store twice and feasted on the sweets. I say twice; after he was caught the first time (tranquilized and carted off), he came back and did the same thing all over again! Tranquilized again, this time he was taken far from the town, never to return that summer.

Sometimes very early in the morning, I’d go over to the golf course at Banff Springs Hotel to collect golf balls that were here, there and everywhere. I sold these, for extra income. 

On those occasions I encountered the odd coyote or black bear in the distance, but was never threatened by them.

By mid-June, everything came to life. Snow was gone except on higher peaks. Flowers sprung up everywhere. Most to the bears awoke from their lengthy hibernation. Mothers and cubs hung out in the outskirts of town at the garbage dump. (This was 1959, remember.) 

Scolding their cubs, chasing them, getting them out of the trees – this was a sight to behold.

Out on my daily expeditions into the mountains, I’d often spot elk, whitetail deer, Bighorn sheep and mountain goats. And, bears. Now that they were up and around, extra caution was needed.

One morning while in a remote spot to do field painting, I came face-to-face with a big black bear, less than 15 metres away. “Oh-oh. What to do now? I’d been told never to turn my back to a bear. So then what?

I began to whistle a tune. The bear stood up on its hind legs, gave me a good look, and then lumbered off on all fours into the undergrowth. Phew! That was some moment! Another caution: never come between mama and her cubs. (But the trick is to know where the cubs are!)

Late one morning I was painting near a lake. Suddenly something bizarre slowly appeared out of the water. Dripping greenery hung from its long snout. Huge flat antlers, long gangly awkward legs. Had never seen anything like it! Looked like one of Mother Nature’s ‘misprints’. 

Later my landlady when she saw my sketch laughed and exclaimed, “Oh, Henri, that was a Moose!”

 Signing off, ‘til Part 3, coming up.