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The bear was probably passing through his Lake Cowichan campsite—a well-worn bear trail, he says he was told
John Smith was fast asleep in his tent near Lake Cowichan last week when he awoke to a strange sight: something heavy and soft pushing in against the side of the tent where his six-year-old daughter was asleep on her mat.
“My reaction was just to sort of push back against the tent,” Smith recalled. In the light cast by a nearby RV, he saw the unmistakeable shape.
“Yep, that’s a bear,” he thought, blearily. When the bear was gone, he went back to sleep.
The next morning, he discovered a gash in the side of the tent, right above where his daughter had been sleeping, from what he assumes were the bear’s claws.
“It hit home a bit more, how that could have ended,” he said.
Smith has only been in Canada for three years. He wasn’t sure how rare it is in Canada to be so close as to be able to reach out and touch a bear in the middle of the night.
He reported the encounter to the Lakeview Park campsite’s staff—who, to his surprise, were rather unsurprised.
The campsite has been dealing with an influx of curious bears this summer, park attendant Martin Werner confirmed to Capital Daily. There are currently three, he says, that have been spotted in the campground.
“We’ve had a huge issue with bears,” he said. “There were scratch marks on trees; paw prints on cars and stuff; a couple coolers went missing; a trash can went missing.”
Werner said there have been nine incidents involving bears that he’s aware of over the summer. None of the incidents has resulted in an injury. Black bear attacks are rare, while conservation officers in BC kill about 540 of them every year—according to a Ministry of the Environment document obtained by Glacier Media’s Stefan Labbé—usually due to conflicts with humans.
“The case of him ripping a hole in the tent, this is the first I’ve heard of it,” Werner said. “The bear’s never been aggressive, he just wants garbage. He just wants food. He’s never attacked anybody.”
The park has posted signs, informs guests when they check in, and circulates information slips every day to make sure people are aware of the bears and the steps they should take to mitigate their risks, such as not leaving food out.
But Smith said he didn’t have any food in the tent—nor had his family even had dinner at the campsite—and his new tent had never had food in it. More likely to have attracted the bear, he said, is the location of his particular plot.
The site, plot B, is on the edge of the campground and pressed against the foot of a hill. Smith figures the bear had to squeeze past the tent as it passed through. He says he was told by campsite staff that the bear is known to travel a path through that site as it entered the campground in search of food.
The next day, as he took down his tent, he noted bear claw marks on trees all around his site.
“I just felt a little bit like, ‘Hmm, this is maybe information I’d like to have had before,’” Smith said.
Werner said that, to his knowledge, there is not a known route the bear takes through the campsite. However, conservation officers had laid a bear trap close to that particular site—which Smith considers both as a sign he should have been made aware of the bear’s habits and, itself, a further risk to his kids that he should have been told about.
“My kids and other kids had been playing in the undergrowth,” he said. “What if they had stumbled into the bear trap?”
Smith checked out a day early from his planned three-day trip. But after everything, he says he would probably return.
“Strange as this may sound, I really did like where we were at Lake Cowichan,” he said. “I would love to be in the same area again in the future. I wouldn’t stay in the same site again, that’s for sure, but I wouldn’t rule it out.”