Monday, November 03, 2008

Oh Canada

I’m just back from a fabulous two-week trip to Canada–which ended with some spectacular wildlife viewing at an isolated lodge above Churchill, the polar bear capital of the world.

But my adventure started in Calgary in the midst of an Alberta chinook which delivered sixty-five degree weather in October. That was the perfect temperature for a tour of the city with members of Calgary Romance Writers and then a Friday book signing with some of the chapter authors.

On Saturday, I got down to brass tacks, presenting two in-depth workshops: TENSION–KEEPING THEM ON THE EDGE OF THEIR SEATS and THE MARRIAGE OF PLOT AND CHARACTER. After that, Harlequin Intrigue editor Allison Lyons gave a rundown of some Harlequin lines, answered questions and took appointments with chapter members. While members pitched their book ideas, the rest of us gathered in the bar to relax after a long day of focusing on the writing craft.

Throughout the weekend, the warm and welcoming members of CaRWA were wonderful hosts. Everyone was great, but I particularly want to mention president Tawny Stokes (who writes as Vivi Anna), treasurer Astrid Theilgaard, program chairman, Moira Stelmack, and Vicki Chatham, who drove me and Norman to the book signing. You can see many of the pictures that CaRWA took during the event at .

After the working weekend, Norman and I drove to Banff. CaRWA members had recommended that we stay at the historic Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, which is built like a stone fortress. It’s situated to take maximum advantage of a breathtaking view down a mountain valley, as you can see from this picture.

We drove around the area
to the Columbia icefields and Lake Louise

and took the Banff gondola ride to a high mountain peak, where the wind chill was eight degrees. That night we warmed up over a pot of cheese fondue in the hotel’s cozy wine bar.

Then it was on to the most exciting part of the trip–at remote Seal River Lodge, where we spent four days having a unique wildlife adventure with hosts Mike and Jeanne Reimer and a cast of obliging polar bears. These great white beasts are so innocent looking. But you have to keep remembering that they’d eat you for lunch if they got the chance.

With eight of them hanging out in the vicinity, ready to pop out of the bushes or around the corner of the storage building, we weren’t allowed to go outside (except in the chain link fenced yard) unless we were accompanied by naturalists Terry Elliott and Andy MacPherson, who always carried shotguns. The hungry–or maybe just curious--critters pressed against the fence and peered in the windows of the lodge at all hours of the day (being careful to avoid the nail-studded sheets of plywood on the ground). At night, big plywood shutters and an armed guard kept us cocooned.

It was supposed to be a three-day stay, but the only way to reach the lodge (except when Hudson Bay is frozen) is by small plane or helicopter. The morning we were scheduled to leave, the wind was too fierce for us to fly out. Our only option was to hunker down for an extra day. That was no hardship because it gave us more time to dodge the polar bears who gathered around the lodge, no doubt drawn by the tempting cooking aromas. And yes, we loved those extra helpings of the chef and baker’s tasty treats.

The weather was cold for visitors from Maryland. (In the 30's some of the time and as low as eight with the wind chill.) So we had to bundle up when we went outside–where we saw two big male bears fighting to the point of drawing blood. Long walks on the tundra were part of the daily program, and one afternoon when we went out, a bear followed us down the gravel road. Two more circled around to cut us off at the pass. Luckily they ran away when the naturalists threw stones at them.

If the rocks fail, the guys carry pepper spray, noisemakers and the shotguns I mentioned. On another afternoon, Norman got some great shots of two big males fighting

and this wonderful shot of an unskilled furry mechanic making an unscheduled inspection of a plane.

As you can imagine, all those bear encounters made for an exciting few days. Now I’m wondering how I can set a suspense novel at a remote tundra lodge.



Vivi Anna said...

Rebecca! What wonderful pictures. It sounds you guys had an amazing trip.

We loved hosting you and Norman. It was a great experience and we greatly appreciate all the wisdom you gave us.

Wildheart said...


Thank you for sharing your pictures with us! I can't wait until my 8-year-old daughter gets home from school so I can show her your polar bear pictures. She is heartbroken that the polar bears are losing their living space due to global warming and has "taken up their cause." I think I have a little environmentalist on my hands!

What an awesome opportunity, to stay right by the polar bears. I'd be a little scared, too, though, that one of those big guys would suddenly get a hanker for some human. I'm glad to hear that mainly, they were more curious than threatening. It would be a thrill to actually stand by one on the other side of the fence. I bet that must be a highlight for Norman.

When you pen your book about an adventure with polar bears, let us know. It will surely be an interesting read!

Toni Anderson said...

Glad you enjoyed what Manitoba has to offer :) Looks like you had nice warm weather *vbg*

Cait London said...

That looks great!

I did a presentation for them years ago, but drove myself up from Missouri, crossed the border, where they took my mace and said I could buy "bear spray" in Canada. We had a lovely bison dinner, very, very nice, and then the museum in Calgary, beautiful. They have a dinosaur dig not far from there, but I drove on back home to Missouri as deadlines, you know.

Anonymous said...

What super photos. And a life-time experience for you.

Carla said...

Hi Rebecca (and Norman)! Thanks for sharing your photographs. Banff (and area) is my favorite spot in the world, but it does sound like your Polar Bear excersion was an amazing trip. I can't imagine going for walks with all those bears...very brave!

CJ Carmichael (Carla)