What started as a journey into the great outdoors quickly turned into a serious medical emergency for a group of four adventurers who are no strangers to long paddling trips.
The four were attacked by a black bear while sleeping in their tent Monday night on a river bank about 240 kilometres from Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
One of them — Francine Grondin — was bitten on her leg.
“Screaming didn’t work. The bear came at them,” said friend Yves Favreau, describing the ordeal.
Grondin and her husband Roger Gagnon hail from Sherbrooke, Que. The couple have been doing canoe trips for the last 40 years — paddling roughly 20,000 kilometres, Gagnon estimated.
They were joined by their friends Favreau, who is from Montreal, and David Ayotte, a teacher from St. John’s.
“Roger was able to make the bear go away by smashing him with a big birch log,” Favreau said.
But, the fight wasn’t over for the group. The black bear disappeared into the forest, but didn’t stray far from the camp site.
The group built a fire and brought their tents closer to the light. They tried bear bangers — which emit a loud bang to scare the animal away — but had no success.
The only option left was to pack up camp, as quickly and as safely as possible, while trying to maintain distance and keeping an eye on the predator.
“The most frightening part at that point was that our canoes were where we last saw the bear,” Favreau said.
“So at some point we had no option but to hope that the bear was not there anymore, and to walk slowly on the beach, grab the canoes and run.”
A plan to make it south to the St. Lawrence River was scrapped. Instead, they needed to find aid.
With their gear packed up, Grondin on board and the bear out of sight, the group paddled to a second beach roughly two kilometres from their original camp.
They set up tents again to give Grondin a place to relax and used a satellite phone to call for help.
There’s a lesson to be learned
It wasn’t until Tuesday when help came to pull Grondin out of the wilderness.
She was brought to the Labrador Health Centre in Happy Valley-Goose Bay where she was treated.
But for Favreau the attack itself was unusual.
He said he has encountered many bears in his years spent in the Canadian wilderness, but has never experienced anything quite like the attack on Monday night.
“What surely happened, where we camped that particular night, hunters or fishermen or trappers, I’m not sure, have been using that spot. We could see traces still, we could see boats and it was pretty dirty and there was a garbage dump,” he said.
“Bears are not usually dangerous for humans. Humans make bears become dangerous. That’s what happened. We were, in a way, between the bear and the garbage dump, and we think that maybe the tent was seen as a big garbage bag.”
Favreau said the main lesson is to not throw garbage into the wilderness, adding no-trace camping is the most important aspect to any trip.
“If the bear is not used to humans, if there are no traces of humans, you will not have trouble with bears.”