“Mosquitoes,” they all warned. “You are going to Fort McMurray, you had better go prepared,” they said. At my office going away party, one of my clients gifted me a can of “Ben’s Wilderness Formula Insect Repellent,” wrapped delicately in brown paper. I could tell by the orange and black spray can that it was way better than the average “Deep Woods Off” and I was grateful.
Having been a wet and cool spring in Calgary, I hadn’t been able to leave the house without experiencing a major mosquito attack. I am talking about the huge and hearty variety. The “You can run but can’t hide” type that you can’t escape. And you always wind up with a bite on the instep of your foot where the strap of your flop rubs, causing the “scratch until you bleed” effect, sleepless nights and unlimited crazy frustration. I wondered, if they were this bad in Calgary, what could they possibly be like in Fort McMurray?
On my first outing to the walking path near our condo complex, I was armed. The path runs along the Clearwater River and must be swarming with the dreaded, blood-sucking pests. I pocketed my extreme bug spray and was ready for the fight. So imagine my pleasant surprise when only one or two of the species, small and delicate, landed lightly on my arm to die instantly by a small smack. What was the big deal?
It seems Fort McMurray had a much larger problem this summer. Bears. Now, I am a city girl who has seen a few bears from the safety of a car with tightly wound windows while driving through a national park. The rules were, do not get out the car and do not feed the bears. Just look.
The first I heard of the bear issue was from my husband who was told about five bears near his job site. Apparently, one of the locals ran and jumped into the back of a dump truck to escape a bear that was in hot pursuit. The next I heard the bears had been shot. I don’t know whether this is true or not but it makes a good story.
A few days after I heard about the bears at the north end of downtown, my husband and I decided to find a walking path on the south side of downtown and do a little exploring around the area. Right at the beginning of the path was a bear warning sign and that was enough to keep us on the sidewalks of the residential area nearby.
By mid-week there were signs on MacDonald Island at the recreation centre where I had been spending time. The situation made for a little extra excitement in my life as I was still getting accustomed to my new surroundings but apparently, there were bears everywhere and I was finding myself becoming a bit nervous to venture any distance on my own.
One afternoon, I heard a screeching sound just outside of our condo. I was sure a bear was mauling someone and I rushed to the window. Turns out it was just a little girl enjoying herself at the playground. Then one evening, I heard gunshots. “They must be shooting a bear out there,” I call to my husband. “No, honey,” he responding gesturing towards the view from our deck, “there is a fireworks display going on.” Phew. I was on edge.
This had been going on for a month and I hadn’t encountered a single bear. That is until yesterday. The police had pulled into the condo parking lot like they tend to do on a regular basis. When I looked out, I thought, “Oh. The police are here again.” I noticed a black figure rummaging around the garbage bin beside the squad car. Already desensitized by downtown living, I went back to reading my book, when Princess, who was visiting, shouted, “Look! There’s a bear in the bin at the edge of the parking lot!”
Now this was a little too close to home. Where was it I saw that sign, “We Now Have Bears Bells in Stock?” Time to trade in my Ben’s Wilderness Formula Insect Spray for Frontiersman Bear Spray!