Grizzly attack victim's daughter thinks twice after encounter with bear No. 148

Léa McCroy, 17, stands in front of a Canmore mural in memory of her mom, Isabelle Dubé, who was killed in a grizzly bear attack in June 2005. 

Léa McCroy, 17, stands in front of a Canmore mural in memory of her mom, Isabelle Dubé, who was killed in a grizzly bear attack in June 2005. 

"What are the chances that this is going to happen to me, too?"

CANMORE — Léa McCroy, the daughter of a bear attack victim, was out for a run at the Canmore Nordic Centre earlier this summer when she heard a crashing sound in the woods.

"I thought ... what the heck is that?," McCroy said in an interview with Canmore Commons. "It was a two-second thing where I was like, ‘Shit, there’s something there and then, all of a sudden, I see part of this grizzly bear, just standing there huffing and puffing.”

It’s believed it was No. 148, a female grizzly from Banff National Park that was later relocated to the Kakwa Wildland Provincial Park after several close calls with people in the Canmore area — including the one with McCroy on July 23.

They looked at each other for a second, giving McCroy a chance to appreciate the "beautiful creature." The 17-year old Canmore resident then panicked and ran, scrambling down a cliff to get away from the bear.

“I was just so scared,” she recalled. “I thought that was going to be it: ‘What are the chances that this is going to happen to me, too? I’m not dying today. I’m not dying today.’"

Her fear is warranted — McCroy’s mom, Isabelle Dubé, died in a grizzly bear attack more than a decade ago. She was out jogging with two friends near Silvertip Resort’s golf course in Canmore on June 5, 2005, when they came across a problem bear. Dubé climbed a tree and her friends ran for help, but she didn’t survive.

McCroy, who turns 18 in October, was only five-years old when her mom died.

Since then, she has learned all the rules about recreating in bear country: don’t go out on your own, carry bear spray, watch for signs and back away slowly if you happen to encounter a bear.

She admits she didn’t follow any of them on that fateful day.

“I left my bear spray in the car because I was right by the (Nordic Centre) stadium and I thought there was no need for bear spray,” she said. “There was a ‘Bear in the Area’ sign, and I thought, ‘OK, whatever.’

“I wasn’t planning to (go) that far so I thought, ‘OK, whatever,’ which is kind of stupid of me.”

McCroy knows that telling her story could bring criticism, because she watched an 18-year old friend go through it in August when she and her dog were attacked by a black bear after inadvertently entering a closed area.

She decided to tell people about the encounter, though, because she hopes it will help others think twice before they make the same mistakes.

“I did all the wrong things,” said McCroy, who believes she acted on instinct rather than on what she's learned about backing away slowly and using bear spray.

Since the incident, which was one of several close calls involving No. 148, she has thought about the relocation of the grizzly. 

"I want to protect the bears, I don't want people to hurt them, I don't want them to die because of humans," she said, adding she hopes the six-and-a-half year old grizzly is still alive. "There's obviously territorial bears up there.

"I hope she can stand her ground and live her life."

An official with the provincial government said the female grizzly bear, which is no longer identified by her number, is still safe in northern Alberta.

“She’s alive and well," said Brett Boukall, a senior wildlife biologist with Alberta Environment and Parks in Cochrane. "She's settled in close to the area where she was dropped off."

Based on her GPS collar data in recent weeks, the 200-pound bear has moved around but stayed within 20 kilometres of where she was dropped off — potentially a function of good food or fewer disturbances in the area.

In contrast, he said she was moving a similar distance within days in the Bow Valley.

Back in Canmore, McCroy hopes the community can have a broader discussion about wildlife and how to live alongside bears — an idea others have raised with both the town and the province. 

She has also thought about her own safety, being more careful to run with a buddy, carry bear spray and avoid the areas where bears have been spotted.

“I know a lot about bears, I know a lot about bear safety," said McCroy, who hopes to keep telling her story by either working or volunteering for parks this year, and perhaps even making a short film or documentary now that she’s graduated high school.

"I am probably the best person, in some ways, to teach people about bear safety,” she said.

McCroy said she wants to make her mom proud — something she's thought about a lot since her encounter with the well-known grizzly bear.

"Normally I'm not scared," she said, noting she has always felt a strong connection to bears. "The grizzly bear is my spirit animal and I have one tattooed on my rib cage."

“I was just vulnerable and scared.”

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