A Tragically Hip Syllabus for Canadian History

Journey through Canadian history with the Tragically Hip.

This syllabus is intended for an upper year seminar course and would focus on various themes in Canadian history. Each class would begin by listening to the Tragically Hip song highlighted that week and would be followed by a discussion about how the content fits into larger subjects and themes in Canadian history.

Week 1: “At the Hundredth Meridian” Fully Completely (1992)

James Daschuk, Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life (Regina: University of Regina Press, 2013)

Week 2: “Courage” Fully Completely (1992)

Carl Berger, The Writing of Canadian History: Aspects of English Canadian Historical Writing Since 1990 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1986)

Week 3: “Little Bones” Road Apples (1991)

Dan Malleck, Try to Control Yourself: The Regulation of Public Drinking in Post-Prohibition Ontario, 1927-44 (Vancouver: University of British Columbia, 2012)

Week 4: “Three Pistols” Road Apples (1991)

Dimitry Anastakis, “Tom Thomson, Murdered? Canoe Lake, Ontario, 1917: Art, Nationalism, and Americanization in the Interwar Period,” in Death in the Peaceable Kingdom: Canadian History since 1867 through Murder, Execution, Assassination, and Suicide (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2015): 104-118.

Ryan Edwardson, Canadian Content: Culture and the Quest for Nationhood (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008)

Week 5: “Bobcaygeon” Phantom Power (1998)

Cyril Levitt and William Shaffir, “Baseball and Ethnic Violence in Toronto: The Case of the Christie Pits Riot, August 16, 1933,” Polyphony 7, no. 1 (Spring-Summer 1985): 67.

Irving Abella and Harold Troper, None is Too Many: Canada and the Jews of Europe, 1933-1948 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1983)

Week 6: “Fifty Mission Cap” Fully Completely (1992)

John Chi-Kit Wong, Lord of the Rinks: The Emergence of the National Hockey League, 1875-1936 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005)

Andrew Ross, Joining the Clubs: The Business of the National Hockey League to 1945 (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2015)

Week 7: “Nautical Disaster” Day for Night (1995)

Jeffrey A. Keshen, Saints, Sinners, and Soldiers: Canada’s Second World War (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2007)

Week 8: “Fireworks” Phantom Power (1998)

Gary Marcuse and Reg Whitaker, Cold War Canada: The Making of a National Insecurity State, 1945-1957 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995)

Andrew C. Holman, Canada’s Game: Hockey and Identity (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2009)

Week 9: “Montreal” Unreleased song

Gail G. Campbell, “ ‘Are we going to do the most important things?’ Senator Muriel McQueen Fergusson, Feminist Identities, and the Royal Commission on the Status of Women,” Acadiensis 38, no. 2 (Summer/Autumn 2009): 52-77.

Blake Brown, Arming and Disarming: A History of Gun Control in Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012)

Week 10: “Wheat Kings” Fully Completely (1992)

Constance Backhouse, Carnal Crimes: Sexual Assault Law in Canada, 1900-1975 (Toronto: Irwin Law, 2008)

Week 11: “Born in the Water” Road Apples (1991)

Matthew Hayday, So They Want Us To Learn French: Promoting and Opposing Bilingualism in English-speaking Canada (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2015)

Week 12: “Now the Struggle Has a Name” We Are the Same (2009)

J.R. Miller, Shingwauk’s Vision: A History of Native Residential Schools (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996)

Ian Mosby, “Administering Colonial Science: Nutrition Research and Human Biomedical Experimentation in Aboriginal Communities and Residential Schools, 1942-1952,” Histoire Sociale/Social History 46, no. 91 (May 2013): 145-172.



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NHL Previews in History: Volume II

In October 2014 I started a series called NHL Previews in Canadian History. My goal was to write short NHL game previews and predictions and place them in the vein of Canadian history. I was fortunate enough to have the latter part of the series featured in the Northern Life as a weekly column, “History ‘n’ Hockey.” This season I renewed that partnership with the Northern Life and also wrote for a Los Angeles Kings blog, The Royal Half, in a similar series called the “Preview Professor.” Unlike my offerings in the Northern Life, my work with the Royal Half anchored NHL previews (Pacific Division teams) in the context of notable anniversaries in California history. Both series included my predictions on the outcomes for the game previews featured in each column.

8 October 2015: History ‘n’ Hockey: NHL Hockey Returns to Ottawa (0-0)

13 October 2015: Preview Professor: The Great One Becomes the Greatest (1-2)

22 October 2015: History ‘n’ Hockey: The Ambassador Will See You Now (3-4)

27 October 2015: Preview Professor: Black Bart  (3-6)

3 November 2015: Preview Professor: The Los Angeles Aqueduct (7-7)

5 November 2015: History ‘n’ Hockey: Canada’s Forgotten Prime Minister (9-8)

10 November 2015: Preview Professor: The Royal Rebound (11-9)

17 November 2015: Preview Professor: The Rock (12-12)

19 November 2015: History ‘n’ Hockey: The Balfour Declaration (12-14)

1 December 2015: Preview Professor: Rage Against the Machine (13-17)

3 December 2015: History ‘n’ Hockey: Canada’s Two-Millionth Immigrant (15-18)

8 December 2015: Preview Professor: Pineapple Express (18-20)

17 December 2015: History ‘n’ Hockey: The day the NHL was born (21-22)

22 December 2015: Preview Professor: Gold, Frankincense & Muir (23-23)

29 December 2015: Preview Professor: Money Talks (25-26)

31 December 2015: History ‘n’ Hockey: Happy New Year! (27-27)

14 January 2016: History ‘n’ Hockey: Toronto Calls in the Troops (31-27)

19 January 2016: Preview Professor: The Aviator (34-27)

27 January 2016: History ‘n’ Hockey: Bridge collapse ends the honeymoon (35-28)

2 February 2016: Preview Professor: The Bear Flag (39-28)

9 February 2016: Preview Professor: Hats Off for Wayne (42-29)

11 February 2016: History ‘n’ Hockey: Canada’s bloodiest labour tragedy (43-32)

16 February 2016: Preview Professor: Japanese Internment (45-35)

23 February 2016: Preview Professor: Sactown (48-36)

25 February 2016: History ‘n’ Hockey: ‘Hello out there, we’re on the air…” (49-40)

10 March 2016: History ‘n’ Hockey” Remembering Harriet Tubman (50-43)

15 March 2016: Preview Professor: Marcel Madness (53-43)

22 March 2016: Preview Professor: Earthquake! (55-43)

24 March 2016: History ‘n’ Hockey: Canada adopts the industrious beaver (58-45)

5 April 2016: Preview Professor: City of L.A. (61-48)

7 April 2016: History ‘n’ Hockey: The killing of Thomas D’Arcy McGee (64-49)

Final Overall Predication Record: 65-53

Professor class dismissed banner 620x400

*You can read all twenty-two posts from the 2014-15 season here. I boasted a respectable 54-36 record from those game predictions, which now brings my running total up to 119-89, not too shabby. 

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What Can the Sopranos Teach Us About Bear Management?

In the fifth season premier of the Sopranos, New Jersey’s most beloved crime family has an unusual visitor; a black bear. Rather than focusing on what the animal represents (a proxy for Tony Soprano) we will go through the episode’s scenes that focus on human-bear conflict and apply them to the situation in Ontario. Begging the question, is there anything the Sopranos can teach us about bear management?

We first encounter the ursine intruder when Tony’s son, Anthony Jr. (A.J.), is forced to go outside and bring the shop vacuum in from the pool house. While outside of our field of view, we hear him screaming for his mother, Carmela. She immediately runs outside and sees a large black bear in between herself and A.J. Although panic stricken, she is far more composed than her son, who is crying uncontrollably at this point.


After retrieving a pot and pan from the dishwasher, Carmlea returns and starts making noise to shoo the bear away. Before arriving on scene, A.J. had screamed for her to “get Dad’s gun” but she dismissed this notion, saying “It’s all the way in the dining room.” It’s just as well, her noise making had successfully sent the bear scurrying away. This tactic, along with creating space between yourself and the bear will generally help reduce the risk of escalation.


New Jersey Fish and Game Arrive

In the next scene, New Jersey Fish and Wildlife officers Zmuda and Yorn arrive to assess the situation. Let’s step out of the episode for a second. When this episode first aired, 7 March 2004, New Jersey was dealing with an increase in human-bear conflicts. The Garden State continues to try and mitigate these issues by by increasing hunting opportunities, but this policy has triggered considerable opposition. Meanwhile, in 2004 Ontario, the Bear Wise program was in its infancy, an offshoot recommendation from the 2003 Nuisance Bear Review Committee Report. If Carmela and A.J.’s situation would have unfolded here, it would have been plausible that a Ministry of Natural Resources officer would have made an on-site visit to a land-owner experiencing bear problems. But since 2012, the Bear Wise program has been gutted, chiefly through a considerable reduction of bear technicians and downloading responsibilities to municipal police services.

Back to the Sopranos. Officer Yorn tells Carmela and A.J. that the bear went through their neighbours garbage and that they’re “not going to want to put your trash cans out until as close to pick up time as possible.” This is a pretty basic tenet of Bear Wise but you’d be surprised (or not) how many people don’t follow this simple rule for avoiding human-bear conflicts.

Officer Zmuda says, “Had this been a category two, injury or serious property damage we could set traps, but not this.” Since 2012 the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) no longer traps and relocates black bears. Largely because it is expensive, it puts stress on the animal, and is not always effective. But, scientific studies have shown that trap and relocation may still be useful for younger bears between the ages of 2-3, so there could still be practical application for the MNRF.

Back in New Jersey, having regained his composure, A.J., tells his mother that “you should have busted a cap in his ass with Dad’s rifle” [At this point in the series Carmela and Tony are separated]. Officer Yorn offers him a quick rebuttal, reminding him that “it’s a illegal to discharge firearms within the borough limits, son.” The same rule applies here in Ontario but that hasn’t stopped people, including a recent case in Greater Sudbury, from taking matters into their own hands.

Sensing that Carmela is still uneasy about the situation, Zmuda assures her that “a great percentage of them don’t come back [but] if he does, call us.” Before leaving he asks if they keep bird feed on the property. Carmela remembers that Tony keeps duck food near the pool house. The Soprano patriarch had developed an affinity for waterfowl in the first season and has previously used his duck-food containers to hide cash from his wife. Zmuda explains to Carmela that “it’s probably what attracted the animal, see the corn’s gone damp and aromatic, you’re going to want to tell your husband to put it inside.” Again, this goes back to the rule of attractants. Human-bear conflicts will arise in years when natural foods are in short supply, leading the animals to seek out alternative sources, often in human spaces. The best way to avoid unwanted encounters on your property is to keep these attractants (such as bird feed) to a minimum.

The Bear Returns


The bear has returned and Carmela immediately calls Fish and Wildlife. She reaches an automated answering service and is visibly perturbed, calling it unbelievable. She manages to get a hold of Zmuda, one of the visiting officers, rather quickly and he informs her that they would be able to stop by within the hour. In 2015 Ontario, the exchange between Zmuda and Carmela is implausible as the MNRF would not dispatch officers to her home. It’s debatable that this type of response would be warranted but everyone calculates danger differently and maybe this type of disconnect could be filled by the Ministry through education and public outreach on how to handle these situations.


While Carmela was on the phone Tony arrives at the house is now hearing about the bear situation for the first time, “Why didn’t you call me when this first happened?” Carmela replies that “I called the cops, they called fish and game.”

Once again, this situation in 2004 New Jersey is just as relevant in 2015 Ontario. Call Bear Wise, they tell you to call the police, call the police and they tell you to call Bear Wise. This has led many to question, who are you actually supposed to call? The current situation is far from ideal and local police services should not be diverting resources to respond to wildlife calls. Many people are frustrated with the lack of help that the Ministry is providing so some are simply not reporting issues when they arise. This has recently led Temiskaming-Cochrane MPP, John Vanthof, to launch Northern Bear Report, an online service to give Northerners another outlet to track human-bear conflicts in the hopes of building up an accurate database of encounters in the North. The government’s continued insistence on giving the MNRF a shoe-string budget to operate certainly limits its ability to offer up much support to the public. Even if they are unable to trap and relocate or chemically immobilize these animals, putting resources back into the Ministry to allow officers to educate, reassure, and engage with Ontarians would certainly help restore some faith and confidence in the Bear Wise program.

Meanwhile, back at the Soprano household, Carmela’s response doesn’t assuage Tony’s concerns and he asks her, “what are you trying to prove your independence? This isn’t little house on the f***** prairie, those things are dangerous” Armed with the knowledge that was provided to her by the officers, Carmela tells him that it his duck food that attracted the bear, but Tony casually dismisses this.

Tony Goes Out With the Rangers


During Zmuda and Yorn’s second on-site visit, Tony accompanies them on their survey of the compound. They tell him that the animal still doesn’t meet the parameters for further intervention because it hasn’t threatened anybody. After the officers leave, Tony is still rattled by the situation and suggests that Carmela and AJ check into “a hotel until this thing blows over” but she quickly rebuffs his offer.

Later in the episode, Tony decides to send one of his underlings, Benny Fazio, over to the house to serve as a lookout. He’s instructed to retrieve Tony’s AK-47 from the armoury and stand watch. The nightly vigils alternate between Benny and Little Paulie Germani.

Tony Returns

In the episode’s final scene, Tony returns to the house following a bad session with his therapist, Dr. Jennifer Melfi, and relieves Benny of his duties, taking up the watch himself. Tony heads outside, with automatic rifle in tow, sits in his chair, and lights a cigar.


What Did We Learn?

  • The potential for human-bear conflicts are a reality in northern Ontario (and New Jersey), but you can mitigate these by reducing the attractants in and around your home.
  • From a policy perspective, the Ontario government’s current approach to black bear management is broken. Hamstringing Bear Wise of its resources to educate, engage, and consult with the general public has led to an untenable situation. Poor blueberry crops across the northeast has only exacerbated this issue as hungry bears are pushing further into human areas in search of food.
  • People want a solution but I think that as part of that, they want to know that there’s an adequate support system in place to help guide them and offer assistance. Bear management is a complicated process that requires consultation between the Ministry and provincial and local governments. Maybe it’s time that we have a look at this feedback loop and see how we can address some of these deficiencies.
  • We’ll end on a lighter note. At one point in this episode, Silvio Dante, Tony’s consigliere, tells his underworld colleagues that “if you’re ever chased by a bear, run downhill, for some reason they can’t do that.” This is a myth. Black bears are fast runners and can reach updwards of 50 km/h so never try to outrun a bear in any direction or on any angle.

 * “Two Tonys” first aired on 7 March 2004.

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NHL Previews in Canadian History: Volume I

In October 2014, I started a series called NHL Previews in Canadian History. I drew inspiration from J.R. Lind’s great “Great Game Previews in History” on his site, Conference III. My goal was to write short NHL game previews and predictions but place them in the context of notable anniversaries in Canadian history. The first fourteen were published here on my blog and the remaining eight were featured as a weekly column, “History ‘n’ Hockey,” in the Northern Life.

October 13: Battle of Queenston Heights (0-0)

October 15: Foreign Investment Review Act (4-0)

October 19: The St. Albans Raid (7-1)

October 24: The Bluenose (10-2)

October 30: Battle of Passchendaele (15-2)

November 7: Alexander Mackenzie (19-8)

November 15: Rene Levesque (22-10)

* Only Canadian NHL teams were featured moving forward

December 5: Upper Canada Rebellion 1837 (24-12)

December 11: Statute of Westminster (26-12)

December 19: The NHL’s First Games (27-15)

December 23: Reginald Fessenden (28-17)

January 6: Barbara Hanley (29-20)

January 13: Mel Lastman’s Snow Removal (32-21)

January 21: The Kenora Thistles (36-21)

* The remainder of the entries were published with the Northern Life

February 20: The Avro Arrow (37-21)

February 26: Japanese Internment (39-23)

March 2: The Halibut Treaty (41-26)

March 13: Eileen Vollick (42-26)

March 17: The Maurice Richard Riot (44-27)

March 26: The Vancouver Millionaires (48-28)

March 31: Newfoundland Enters Confederation (50-30)

April 9: Vimy Ridge (50-34)

Final Record: 54-36

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The Historiography in Good Will Hunting

In the film Good Will Hunting, Matt Damon’s character Will Hunting “is a janitor at M.I.T., [that] has a gift for mathematics, but needs help from a psychologist to find direction in his life.” (from the Internet Movie Database) Dr. Sean Maguire (played by Williams) is the psychologist that agrees to treat Hunting, in order to help him fulfill part of his agreement to study mathematics with Professor Gerald Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgård). ** SPOILER ALERT** In the end, Maguire succeeds in helping Will break down his walls and ultimately, start to overcome some of his emotional problems. Williams gave a great performance and won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor as a result.

In addition to re-watching this film as a way to remember Robin Williams, it also prompted me to write a post about the iconic bar scene where the title character defends his friend’s honour and defeats a pretentious grad student.

For me, as an historian, this scene represents the ultimate of two scenarios. First, we have all dreamed about using our powers for good, just kidding, I think we would all just be happy to successfully employ historiography in a barroom setting outside of graduate student pub or a Canadian Historical Association sponsored event. Second, to have your work referenced in an award-winning Hollywood movie. Period. The first scenario is far more likely than the second but if you read on you will see that the historians involved in the debate are not fictitious and therefore, this actually happened to people in our profession!

I’ve embedded the clip below if you haven’t seen it or need a refresher, I thoroughly recommend sitting down and watching the whole movie if you have the chance, it’s great! The clip is also followed by a transcript of the dialogue in case you can’t pick up on the historians names. I imagine that if you’re an American historian (and reading this), some of these names would likely be familiar but I can’t say they struck the same chord with me, at least when I first saw the film.

Debate starts at around 1:55

Clark: No, no, no, no! There’s no problem here. I was just hoping you might give me some insight into the evolution of the market economy in the southern colonies. My contention is that prior to the Revolutionary War, the economic modalities, especially in the southern colonies, could be most aptly described as agrarian pre-capitalist.

Will: Of course that’s your contention. You’re a first-year grad student; you just got finished reading some Marxian historian, Pete Garrison probably. You’re gonna be convinced of that ’till next month when you get to James Lemon. Then you’re going to be talking about how the economies of Virginia and Pennsylvania were entrepreneurial and capitalist way back in 1740. That’s gonna last until next year; you’re gonna be in here regurgitating Gordon Wood, talkin’ about, you know, the pre-revolutionary utopia and the capital-forming effects of military mobilization.

Clark: Well, as a matter of fact, I won’t, because Wood drastically underestimates the impact of social…

Will: “Wood drastically underestimates the impact of social distinctions predicated upon wealth, especially inherited wealth”? You got that from Vickers’ “Work in Essex County,” page 98, right? Yeah, I read that too. Were you gonna plagiarize the whole thing for us? Do you have any thoughts of your own on this matter? Or do you, is that your thing, you come into a bar, read some obscure passage and then pretend – you pawn it off as your own, as your own idea just to impress some girls, embarrass my friend?

Will: See, the sad thing about a guy like you is, in 50 years you’re gonna start doin’ some thinkin’ on your own and you’re going to come up with the fact that there are two certainties in life: one, don’t do that, and two, you dropped 150 grand on a f***in’ education you could have got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library!

Clark: Yeah, but I will have a degree. And you’ll be servin’ my kids fries at a drive-thru on our way to a skiing trip.

Will: That may be, but at least I won’t be unoriginal. But I mean, if you have a problem with that, I mean, we could just step outside – we could figure it out.

Clark: No, man, there’s no problem. It’s cool.

The Historians?

Pete Garrison appears to be a fictional scholar created by the writers. However, if I’m wrong on this please let me know and I’ll happily update this list.

Dr. James T. Lemon was a historical geographer. His doctoral dissertation served as the basis for his award winning book, The Best Poor Man’s Country: A Geographical Study of Early Southeastern Pennsylvania, that Will references. It was awarded the Albert J. Beveridge Award in 1972 (best book in English on the history of the United States, Latin America, or Canada from 1492 to the present) from the American Historical Association (AHA). Lemon was later honoured by the Canadian Association of Geography in 1997 for Scholarly Distinction in Geography.


Dr. Gordon S. Wood, is Alva O. Way University Professor and Professor of History Emeritus at Brown University was the recipient of the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for History for The Radicalism of the American Revolution. Wood received his PhD from Harvard, which is a nice tie since Will is debating a Harvard graduate student in a so-called Harvard bar (This scene was actually filmed at the Upfront Bar and Grill on Front Street East in Toronto, fancy that)


Dr. Daniel Vickers is a Canadian historian that wrote Farmers and Fishermen: Two Centuries of Work in Essex County, Massachusetts, 1630-1850, the book that Hunting references. This was also an award-winning book, in 1995 it won the AHA John H. Dunning Prize (The prize is offered for the best book on any subject pertaining to the history of the United States. Interestingly, Wood also won this same prize in 1970 for his work, The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787) Much to my surprise and pleasure, Vickers is currently teaching in the Department of History at the University of British Columbia.

There you have it, three of the four historians are definitely real (unsure about Garrison) and one is even Canadian! The writers clearly did their homework when they assembled this exchange, bravo! When I have some time in the future I’d love to re-imagine this scene from a Canadian historian’s perspective, maybe the Quebec or Montreal schools of thought on New France or the Staples Thesis. Please feel free to share any ideas or thoughts you may have on making this a reality. Until then, back to work since Hollywood script writers aren’t likely to be quoting nearly completed dissertations.

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No Reason to Think the Spring Bear Hunt Will Be Effective

Today marks the start of Ontario’s first spring bear hunt since 1998. In November 2013, Minister of Natural Resources, David Orazietti, announced the implementation of a spring bear hunt pilot project for resident hunters. The Liberals have largely been marketing this as a public safety measure, as a way to reduce human-bear conflict. Since November, it has been scrutinized on the grounds that additional hunting won’t decrease human-bear conflict (the Ministry itself concluded this in 2003 in the Nuisance Bear Review Committee Report) and more recently, it has also drawn criticism from groups and individuals that it will unnecessarily orphan cubs. However, beyond these arguments, there’s also another reason to doubt the Ministry’s claims. Simply put, there is no historical evidence to suggest that a spring hunt will effective, as it won’t significantly reduce the number of bears in these areas over the next six weeks.


Black bear doing some fishing. Source: Wikipedia

For example,  (if you do not want to hear about hockey skip down to the next paragraph), I’ve become a disciple of advanced statistical analysis in hockey over the last two years, which makes being a Leafs fan even more exasperating. Tyler Bozak, the guy that has been earmarked by the Leafs organization as the #1 centre (playing between Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk) has taken heat over the years for being ineffective, (the Leafs are heavily outshot when Bozak is on the ice) failing to drive play, and also bluntly, that he is not actually a #1 centre and that the Leafs shouldn’t have resigned him to a five year deal worth $21 million last summer. However, earlier this year, despite being limited in games due to injuries, Bozak was racking up points on a point per game basis. Some people started thinking that Bozak had finally turned into the centreman that the Leafs needed, but, the more statistically minded (and rational) people did not jump on the bandwagon. For one, Bozak had never been a point per game player up until this point and at 28 years old there was no reason to think that he suddenly turned into one. Moreover, Bozak was also scoring at an unsustainable shooting percentage (one of the highest in the league) and since Bozak isn’t Sidney Crosby, he was obviously going to regress. Thus, there was no reason for us to think he could sustain these numbers or remain a point per game player.


Tyler Bozak being Tyler Bozak. Source: http://www.canucksarmy.com

Similarly, the Ministry of Natural Resources data for black bear hunting from 1999 to 2012 also does not give us any reason to think that this pilot project will achieve it’s intended aims. Given the fact that we don’t have contemporary spring bear hunt data since the hunt has been cancelled since 1999, we will have to use the MNR’s estimated harvest for resident hunters in the eight wildlife management units (WMU) that the pilot is starting in. Keep in mind that these numbers are not definitive, they are extrapolations from provincial hunter questionnaires (mandatory for non-residents in 1987 and voluntary for residents until 2005) so they are subject to statistical error. But nevertheless, they will demonstrate that the historical harvest rates for these eight WMUs is not significant enough to alter the black bear population to such a way that it would reduce the number of negative human-bear encounters.

WMU 13 (Thunder Bay) Residents harvested 571 bears from 1999 to 2012. In 2012, 92 bears were harvested.

WMU 14 (Thunder Bay) Residents harvested 26 bears from 1999 to 2012. In 2012, 1 bear was harvested.

WMU 29 (Timmins) Residents harvested 716 bears from 1999 to 2012. In 2012, 59 bears were harvested.

WMU 30 (Timmins) Residents harvested 454 bears from 1999 to 2012. In 2012, 69 bears were harvested.

WMU 36 (Sault Ste. Marie) Residents harvested 396 bears from 1999 to 2012. In 2012, 59 bears were harvested.

WMU 39 (Sudbury) Residents harvested 630 bears from 1999 to 2012. In 2012, 53 bears were harvested.

WMU 41 (North Bay) Residents harvested 1,403 bears from 1999 to 2012. In 2012, 121 bears were harvested.

WMU 42 (Sudbury) Residents harvested 1,330 bears from 1999 to 2012. In 2012, 97 bears were harvested.

Source: All figures have been gleaned from data that I have obtained from the Ministry of Natural Resources.

The estimated harvest for all WMUs from 1999 to 2012 works out to 5,526, at an annual average of 691. But, looking specifically at the 2012 figures, only 551 bears were harvested from these units in this particular year. It is also important to remember that these are the numbers from the Fall hunt, which is ten to twelve weeks long in some areas and this pilot season is only six weeks (May 1-June 15). Let’s combine the historical average (691) and the 2012 figure (551) and solve it for an average of 621. Therefore, based on the historical averages and the shorter length of this season, there is no reason to believe that hunters will kill more than 621 bears this spring. Dr. Martyn Obbard, the province’s premier bear specialist, has estimated Ontario’s black bear population to be between 85,000 and 105,000. Based on the low end of this estimate, 621 bears only accounts for 0.73% of the total population and on the higher end of his estimation, a paltry 0.59%. Even if we went with a more generous number for the sake of arguing, let’s say 1,000, which was what another well respected scientist, Dr. Josef Hamr, mentioned earlier today on CBC Radio. That still only gives us an annual harvest rate between 0.9% and 1.2%.

Doesn’t seem like it will be all that effective in reducing the population, and therefore mitigating nuisance bear behaviour, as per the Ministry’s claims. What we need is to get back to education and put the teeth back in Bear Wise.

For more information, please check out Jim Johnston’s op ed that appeared in the Toronto Star this morning. Johnston heads the Bear Wise program in Elliot Lake, where it has been remarkably effective.

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A Guide’s Perspective on the Spring Bear Hunt

Adam Stillar, co-owner of Trout Lake Outfitters near Alban commented on this site yesterday, but rather than have it tucked away in the comments section I feel it warrants some larger coverage. This is an on-the-ground professional that is familiar with the hunt and he offers up some insights into the activity that many might be unfamiliar with. In addition, I think Adam’s final line, “I think if Anti Hunters and Hunters came together wildlife would benefit greatly” is great as I’ve also preached the idea of accommodation in wildlife management discussions. While I disagree with the government’s justification for reintroducing the spring bear hunt this time around (public safety), I do not oppose hunting in general (I hunt upland birds and waterfowl) or black bear hunting in particular (in certain circumstances) so there is clearly much that Adam and I can agree on. I have added my own commentary below his points in bold.

“Mike, great blog you go going here. I tried to post this on the Sudbury Star comments but it was already closed. My name is Adam Stillar and I make my living as a hunting guide so I do have some knowledge that others might not have and I would like to share some of it.

1st- Baiting in the spring keeps the bears in the bush and away from the cities and helps eliminate problems bears which typically occur in the spring before green up as bears are up searching for food. While it is true everyone should try and be as” bear wise” as possible. This spring bear hunt won’t won’t everything but it should help. I know people always talk about relocating bears that are problems but that has been proven not to work. Bear can some how find there way back in very little time( a week or so)

Relocating can still be effective in some instances. In 2009, Lynn J. Landriault , Glen S. Brown , Josef Hamr, and Frank F. Mallory published “Age, Sex and Relocation Distance as Predictors of Return for Relocated Nuisance Black Bears Ursus americanus in Ontario, Canada,” in the journal Wildlife Biology. Their study found that “2- and 3-year-old male bears will not return to within 20 km of the capture area if relocated a minimum of 30 km and 64 km, respectively.” While more work needs to be done but these results suggest that relocation can still be an effective alternative for juvenile bears.

2nd- Hunting over bait is not as easy as people think, bears know that the food source isn’t natural and usually approach the bait site cautiously , circling the site from a distance trying to pick up any unnatural scent, or waiting for the cover of darkness to feed, Bears are very weary, and have very sharp senses, they have roughly 7 times better sense of smell then dogs and about 2000 times better then a human, So its not as easy as “shooting fish in a barrel”.

3rd- Hunting over bait allows hunters time to determine the sex of a bear. While its not always easy to tell the sex, you are also able to “wait” and see if any cubs are with the bear. ( Lots of times the cubs come in first though) It also lets you make a quick clean and human shot on the animal. Using a hanging bait can help to identify gender also.

Martyn Obbard, Ontario’s preeminent bear expert, studied the effectiveness of suspended baits versus traditional ground baits in 2008. He and the other authors found that “the use of suspended baits has the potential to decrease the proportion of female black bears in the harvest in spring and fall hunts.” However, they also added that to truly assess the effectiveness of suspended methods, “hunters must receive training and education that encourages them to use the method appropriately so that bears are given the chance to stand and reveal their ventral surface.” Thus, while some forms of baiting will give hunters a better opportunity to distinguish between male and female bears this has to be done in concert with proper education and guidance, perhaps from a guide or outfitter like Adam.

4th- Hunting bears doesn’t mean your hurting the population of bears, sometimes you actually have a healthier population where hunting exists. This is because mature male bears (boars) will actually kill cubs they can in the spring and often succeed. This is because the mating season runs from the end of may till end of June roughly. A female (sow) with cubs will not go into heat and breed this year. Typically she will breed every second year because of the cubs. But if a boar kills the cubs,she will then go into heat and breed that year, and if a boar kills her cubs the following year she will again breed that year for a second year in a row.Also what can happen is a sow will try and protect her cubs by running off the boar and sometimes is either injured or killed in the action.Now hunters are targeting Mature Boars, and it is a lot easier to harvest a mature boar in the spring then any other time mostly due to the fact that they need to eat but also largely because boars travel so much seeking out mates. If you have a sow with cubs or yearlings you should hunt that stand as Boars will be traveling searching out sows in heat. This way you are able to target boars more effectively. Also bait sites are set up and baited for weeks sometimes months in advance before they are actually hunted( some baits never get hunted) and hunters do use trail cameras a lot and will usually know before hand if a sow with cubs are present. If they don’t have cameras out its not that hard to tell if a sow and cows are frequenting the bait as its easy to tell by looking at the story they left behind, a cubs droppings look like that of a small dog unlike that of a coke can of a mature animal.

Cannibalism can occur but I do not believe it occurs as frequently as many believe. Dr. Lynn Rogers (“The Bearman”) has suggested that “indications are that cannibalism is rare in black bear populations studied to date.” This was noted in the 1978 study, “Effects of Food Supply, Predation, Cannibalism, Parasites, and Other Health Problems on Black Bear Population.” As a result, I’d like to find a more recent study that touches on cannibalism but I think it’s safe to say it is not the most significant factor in cub mortality.

5th- A sows body will naturally abandon her pregnancy if she is typically under 150lbs by the time she is ready to den up for the winter. This is because they have what is called a delayed implantation and her body weight is not enough to sustain herself and her cubs over the long winter. Having baits for bears can actually help bears put on much needed weight. Often times the feed, especially further up north isn’t a lot for a bear to survive on. Often times bears will burn more calories looking for food then they actually can consume. Yes with a bait site you MAY kill one bear ( preferably a mature Boar) but you are actually helping many other bears at the same time. I’ve seen over 10 bears feeding at the same bait site. Also out of 30 bait site I set out only a handful are actually hunted and at most 5-12 bears harvest from the 30 or so baits.

Earlier this week on the CBC radio program Ontario Morning, OFAH biologist Mark Ryckman stated that baiting often acts as “a diversionary feeding program to intercept them between natural food sources in habitats and human sources.” I think the benefits of baiting remain with increasing hunter effectiveness and identifying the sex of the animal. I think one would be hard pressed to argue that baiting or any other form of artificial feeding is necessary or beneficial for bears. It should be noted that Ryckman is not advocating this last point, this is simply my thoughts for anyone that might suggest baiting serves as either a necessary or positive force for black bears.

6th- Every other province in Canada has a spring hunt and have healthy bear populations, how is it that Ontario with the biggest population of black bears has no spring hunt? Just to note that Ontario still had the largest bear population before the spring hunt was cancelled.

This is true, although I believe British Columbia has the largest black bear population in Canada. Also, Prince Edward Island does not have a spring bear hunt but that is because they do not have any black bears, so there is no bear hunt of any kind out east on PEI.

I always hear people say that hunters will orphan cubs by hunting in the spring, but I personally do not think this to be true. Last season the company I worked for in Alberta harvested 59 bears in the spring, while this seems like an awful lot, and not sustainable to the population, they harvest around the same number every spring.Out of the 59 BEARS HARVESTED ONLY 4 WERE SOWS AND NONE HAD CUBS(we also conformed this when cleaning the sows as none were producing milk( they were dry) In the fall we typically harvest between 30-35 % sows. In the spring season it is between 8-11 % sow harvest. In all the bears I seen harvested none were sows that had cubs and none were lactating. I would also like to note that it is Illegal to Harvest a sow with cubs. While there is always a small chance that mistakes will be made it is still illegal. Hunters that break the law are charged much the same way as someone breaking any other law. I Think some people that are anti hunters think that all hunters are blood thirsty beasts. I would like to try and correct this. Hunters are sportsman and hunters respect animals very much. Animal conservation through hunting is very important. Dollars that hunters spend or donate go to all sorts of programs and efforts to conserve wildlife. In my mind its a great way to spend time outdoors with family and friends and sometimes we’re lucky enough be able to harvest some very tasty, healthy table fair. I think if Anti Hunters and Hunters came together wildlife would benefit greatly.”

The biggest takeaway, in my opinion, from Adam’s closing remarks is his mission to correct misconceptions about hunting. I think extreme perspectives on both sides of the arguments limits our understanding and prevents the accommodation of oppositional perspectives. Adam’s knowledge and perspectives are rooted in his experience in the field and I think it is important that he is striving to engage in open dialogue with people that might not necessarily share his perspective, which is something I aim to do as well. As mentioned, I oppose the spring bear hunt right now, not purely out of any ethical concerns but because I do not think it will reduce negative human-bear interactions as the government alleges. Consequently, some hunters and anti-hunters do not share my viewpoint (ethics, sport, ideology etc) but clearly, with an open mind, there is plenty of room for engagement on both sides. While some groups or individuals will never see eye to eye, at least ideologically, I think there is still a way that we can work together to ensure the long-term viability of black bears in Ontario while also promoting a positive human-bear relationship and not impinging upon hunting opportunities in the province.

Adam Stillar, 27 April 2014

** To address the concerns of OFAH biologist, Mark Ryckman, in the comments section below, I have made some changes to the above section that mentions his appearance on CBC’s program Ontario Morning. 23 May 2014.


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