Wednesday, October 3, 2018

A Polar Bear in Banff by Victoria Chatham




Some people don’t enjoy research others, like me, thoroughly enjoy it. I love delving around in old records or talking to people who are more familiar with a subject than I am and, like a prospector mining for gold, always hoping for that one nugget that will make my story shine.

Brides of Banff Springs is set in 1935, so fairly recent history. This made it a bit easier for me as I was able to talk to people whose parents had settled in Banff and told me stories of their childhoods. One gentleman told me how he and his friends had more or less made the Banff Springs Hotel their playground and knew their way around it like the backs of their hands. They nipped in and out of the complex more or less at will and if they were ever caught, he never mentioned it.

I collected a vast amount of material in my research for this book, but I think the biggest surprise was finding that Banff once had a small zoo. It opened in 1907 in what is now Central Park, beside the Bow River. The enclosures were well designed and most had water running through them helping to keep them clean. Amongst the exhibits were monkeys, raccoons, wolves, coyotes, lynx, cougar and bears and turkey vultures in the aviary. But the biggest surprise for me was that Banff Zoo had a polar bear called Buddy.

From the records of the
Canadian Museum of History

 As tourism expanded, visitors to the area were just as likely to spot coyotes and wolves along trails and roadsides and watching bears at the town dump became a popular summer pastime. The more wildlife people could see, the less they needed to visit the zoo. It wasn’t only dwindling revenues that saw the end of the zoo, but rumors and concerns of animal cruelty. The zoo closed in 1937 and Buddy and the remaining animals were moved to the Calgary Zoo, which was much bigger.


Had it been necessary, I would have dug deeper to find out what happened to Buddy after he was relocated. But part of doing research is knowing when to quit, knowing when there is enough material to add interest to the story and when there is too much, however interesting, and that’s a fine line that changes with every author.

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