Killbear Provincial Park is located on Georgian Bay near the town of Parry Sound in Ontario. Rock ridges, sandy beaches, pines and crystal clear water attract thousands of people from Toronto and nearby towns, especially in the summer. Camping is a five-star experience at Killbear, with the option of a bear wandering around your tent at night.
The park’s name itself promises the presence of bears. The words “bear” and “kill” combined suggest that dramatic events have happened, and evoke caution. Did a bear kill somebody, or did somebody kill a bear? Good question, so obey safety rules in the campground and keep your food, soap or toothpaste outside your tent, locked in your car.
Black bears are common in the Ontario wilderness. On top of bears, if you are lucky enough, you can also spot the Eastern Massassauga rattlesnake, the Northern water snake (please brake for snakes), deer and racoons.
Most campers at Killbear hope to see a bear. They usually wish to see it from a safe distance, although not too far away, so they can take a good picture of it with their cameras. But not everybody is lucky. Despite that, there are many bear stories circulating. Campers are desperate, and if they don’t spot a bear after a few visits to the park, they just make up an interesting story. Humble but excitement-seeking people say, “An animal was scratching on my tent at night. It was a bear for sure. I could smell and hear it. I was very scared.” Others don’t hesitate to elaborate: they say, “I got out of my tent and a bear was standing in front of me.” These unconfirmed reports make other people feel like they have had bad luck not spotting a bear themselves. The storytellers, on the other hand, are happy because a story gives them a certain advantage: the feeling of being two steps ahead of their fellow wildlife watchers-campers-competitors.
Maybe you remember a scandal with lotto wins which were claimed by too many lotto vendors themselves. A university professor made a calculation and indicated that the pattern of wins was statistically impossible. Government then introduced little machines where people could check their winning numbers without asking the vendors. The same scenario applies to “bear viewing.” It is statistically impossible that so many campers spot a bear when visiting the park. There isn’t a bear behind each pine tree at Killbear. This was probably the case many years ago, when the first Europeans came to the country, but certainly not today.
Even campground personnel support the myth of too many bears wandering around the campsites, to attract adventure seekers. A permanent sign at reception saying, “Bear in the campground” spices up your stay little bit. (I assume the sign is permanent, as I saw it every time I visited Killbear.) It also helps the staff by encouraging visitors to keep the sites clean.
Interestingly enough, when I was leaving Killbear one day, a mother bear with three cubs crossed in front of me; however, thanks to the fake bear stories, nobody will believe me!
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