Bill Kloepfer is a big, bluff man approaching the size of a telephone booth. He owns the Forbes marina at Whitefish Falls, and knows every rock in the Bay of Islands. The bay has some of the most magnificent scenery in Ontario.
I looked him up because I wanted to know the best place to climb the La Cloche Mountains, so I could look down on the entire bay.
The La Cloche Mountains are rounded hills of white quartz. They stretch, in a fishhook shape, about 100 kilometres along the north shore of Lake Huron, to the north of Manitoulin Island. Whitefish Falls is mid way down the range, south of Espanola.
« I know just the spot, » Bill said. « There’s a trail, because people hunt bears there. »
« Oh' » I said.
« Yeah. Lots of bears. Ten days ago a guy was in there setting bait. As soon as he hung up the bait, a bear came out of the bush and grabbed it. Happened three times, really fast. It wasn’t ’till the third time that he got up the tree to his shooting platform and bagged the bear. Yessir, » he added. « Lots of bears up there. »
« Hmm, » I said, disappointed that the hunter hadn’t fallen out the tree and broken an ankle. « By the way, what kind of bait did he use? »
« Fried chicken and sardines. They love it. ‘Specially the sardines. »
I paused. Just before I left, my partner had slipped several cans of sardines into my pack. And when I visited my daughter, on the way to Whitefish Falls, she stuck in another couple of cans. « Very nutritious, » she said.
Bill noticed the pause. His eyes twinkled.
« By the way, » I said, « I wouldn’t call baiting bears hunting. Seems more like trapping to me. »
Bill just grinned. « Yeah, I figured you’d think that, » he said. I got into the canoe, and by nightfall had paddled westward 15 kilometres to the spot he had suggested. He was right. The view from the top of the mountain was spectacular. I could see the entire bay, all of Manitoulin Island, and 50 kilometres eastward, to where the range entered Killarney Provincial Park.
Now, I love sardines. By the third day I couldn’t resist any longer. « I’ll be careful, » I thought. They were delicious. But then there was all the oil they were packed in. On bread it would be really good, I thought.
I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to pour the oil out of a sardine can. It’s tricky, because there’s a strip of metal around the inside of the rim. Before I knew it, I’d spilled the oil was all over my jeans. « Oh, great, » I thought. « Now I’m one big piece of walking bait. »
So, for the next day, using the fiercest voice I could command, I shouted about every fifteen minutes: « Ho bears. I’m here. I’m king. Stay away. »
« Oh Lord, » I thought, « please be kind. Don’t let there be anyone around here to see this fool of a man, stinking of sardines, shouting at bears. »
Thankfully, no one appeared, and no bears came out of the forest. « Ah, but the bears were there, » Ainslie Willock told me later, back in Toronto. « You just couldn’t see them. They’d be behind trees. » She’s director of Canadians for Bears, and coordinates urban black bear management workshops for the Humane Society of the United States. Her next workshop is in Sudbury on Oct. 23. You can sign up for it at email@example.com.
Black bears would much sooner flee than fight, she said. According to the leading U.S. expert on bears, they’re timid because they evolved as prey animals that climbed trees to escape sabre-toothed tigers, dire wolves, American lions, and giant short-faced bears. His web site is www.bear.org.
If you appear fearsome, Willock added, making yourself look bigger, banging things, black bears will stay away.
« Or, » I thought, « they’ll sit behind a tree laughing at a fool, and saying to themselves, ‘Does he really think we want to eat his tatty old jeans?’ »