It is that time of year when there is one thing that is on outdoorsy people's minds and that is camping and hiking. Favourite places like Kananaskis Country have had numerous trails and locations close this year due to bear sightings.

Elizabeth Hepburn decided to go camping with her friend and her two young kids at Tunnel Mountain Village in Banff last weekend when the unexpected happened, her five-year-old daughter came face to face with a black bear. 

They were packing up to leave the sight on the Sunday morning and Hepburn thought that she would play a game with her two kids. Her daughter ended up scraping her knee and broke some skin open on her hand, so Hepburn went to the bathroom to clean her up. Her son who had just turned seven decided to go back to the table for a snack, then once Hepburn was done cleaning her daughter up, they left the bathroom only to be greeted by a black bear. 

"Violet (her daughter) stopped dead in her tracks and I came around the corner and she was face to face with this bear. Like if she reached out her hand far enough, she would have been able to touch the bear on its nose and as soon as I came around that corner, he looked up at me. I slowly scooped up my daughter and I started yelling bear."

Hepburn said that all she could see was campers scattering everywhere and she ended up locking her and her daughter in the bathroom. 

"I knew my son had run past the bear, but I had no idea if he made it to safety or what had happened. I could only hope and pray that my friend had got him into her vehicle which she did."

The park warden showed up to the campground within minutes and had a lot of tranquilizing guns. Five other conservation officers also showed up to the site to look for the bear. 

"As soon as I got in the bathroom, I dialed 911 and they sent these guys out immediately. They responded pretty quickly." 

Hepburn has been to Tunnel Mountain Village quite a few times over the years but has never experienced anything remotely close to this before.

"I always tell myself that I will be prepared, and I always carry the bear bell and I got the bear whistle and everything. You never think it will happen to you until it happens."

Talking about bear safety and what to do in the event of a bear sighting is one of the main factors of how Violet at only five years old, knew what she had to do to protect herself. 

"They know to never run away from a bear, but you never know what to do in that situation and I am so lucky that my little girl knew to just freeze and not run away."

This experience has really affected Hepburn and her kids. Camping will never be the same for them after this experience. 

"Anytime I'm tenting in the mountains now, I will always make sure no matter where I go, even if I'm just going to go pee or whatever, I'm going to have bear spray and a whistle with me at all times and I will never let my kids wander alone and away from me."

Violet is having a harder time dealing with the experience of being face to face with the bear. 

"She's slowly pushing past it, like she didn't want to go to daycare yesterday and she woke up from her nap and she wanted to come home and she never wants to come home because she loves daycare. She's slept with me the last couple nights since we've been back as well."

Hepburn wants to have her story out there, so it will educate and protect people and their children when they are traveling to bear country. 

"You could think you're as prepared as you could ever be, but you're not until you're in that single moment and your child is right in front of you and you instantly go into flight or fight mode."

The public is reminded that in order to avoid a surprise encounter with a bear, one should:

  • Make plenty of noise and travel in groups.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Look and listen for bears and their signs.
  • Keep your pet on a leash.
  • Carry bear spray. Make sure it’s easily accessible and know how to use bear spray.

All bear sightings should be reported immediately to 403-591-7755.

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