What really happened to Grizzly Bear 64?

She was big, she was beautiful, and she was one of Banff’s most famous locals. Grizzly bear #64 was a fixture on the Banff landscape for the past decade, particularly on the west edge of the Town of Banff early in the spring, on the Sunshine Road later in the spring, and on the Bow Valley Parkway in the summer each year.

And then, last fall, she disappeared, leaving an unsolved mystery, and three two year-old cubs, behind.

Grizzly Bear 64 with her cubs in June 2011 in Banff National Park

Last week the Calgary Herald published an article, “Grizzly No. 64 leaves a legacy in Banff National Park,” that failed to address what likely really happened to bear 64. The first paragraph states, “One of Banff National Park’s most researched grizzly bears hasn’t been spotted since last fall, leading wildlife specialists to suggest she either died of natural causes or was killed by another bear.” It also conveniently avoids stating the obvious: that in a national park plagued by train and vehicle collisions that kill far more adult grizzlies than mother nature does, it’s much more likely that beloved Grizzly Bear 64 was hit by a car or train and struggled off into the bush to die unseen.

So why wouldn’t Parks Canada wildlife ‘specialists‘ even mention that it’s a possibility that she died from unnatural causes, particularly given that one grizzly has already died in Banff this year on the Icefields Parkway and another was hit by a train this spring?

64 with cubs in 2008 along the Bow Valley Parkway. Did she die of natural or unnatural causes? We’ll never know.

The answer, unfortunately, lies in an underhanded new media policy for Parks Canada coming straight out of Ottawa, reported on recently by the Rocky Mountain Outlook: “New Parks policy limits information.” The new policy basically does what it says, it limits information, meaning that we (the media or the public) no longer have instant or direct access to important wildlife mortality news. Everything will now be filtered through Ottawa, so the days of local Banff wildlife managers giving up-to-the-minute updates on bear and wolf mortalities are now long gone.

The wolf that got hit on the Trans Canada Highway near the Sunshine interchange this spring? Never reported because the media never got wind of it. Photographers with a vested interest in whether the wolf survived or not waited and waited for answers, but never got any from Parks. We got our answer when the pack showed up with one less member. The wolf never did appear again. Editor’s Note: another wolf was reported hit on the TCH near the Sunshine exit on July 15th. There has been a known weakness in the Sunshine exit’s wildlife crossing gate for over five years now, yet Parks has still not fixed it.

What about that grizzly bear that got hit by the train that I referenced above? The CBC article was from July 3rd, reporting on a grizzly that got hit on May 11th, almost two months prior to the article. That grizzly has never been mentioned since by Parks Canada in various grizzly news, particularly any reports referencing how many bears have been killed in the mountain parks this year.

Which brings us back full circle to the story of what really happened to Grizzly Bear 64. Do you we choose to believe Parks Canada and assume she was killed by another bear or died of natural causes? Or do we start looking at all news coming out of the Banff Parks office with a grain of salt and wondering if indeed something else could have happened. A real pessimist might even wonder if she got killed on the highway or by a train and the information has been withheld because of the shit storm that it would stir up in the media (Parks already got a taste of that back in 2008 when the most famous wild wolf in Canada was struck down on the Trans-Canada Highway). Why stir the pot when Parks is already fighting a rash of negative publicity centered around their recent decisions in favour of expanding development in our most cherished national parks (the Mount Norquay summer expansion, the Brewster skywalk, and the Maligne Lake hotel proposal)?

Is the truth about Grizzly Bear 64’s disappearance sitting on a desk in Ottawa?

The truth is out there somewhere, but with Parks Canada’s new policy limiting our access to information, we will likely never know what really happened to Grizzly Bear 64. Maybe she really did wander off and die alone and we can continue to hold on to our romantic notions that Banff’s most beloved bear survived for 25 years in the shadow of the country’s busiest national park resort town and passed away peacefully on a hillside.  Or, maybe, the truth is sitting on a Parks desk in Ottawa, never to be revealed.

At the very least, Parks Canada wildlife specialists should not be sugar-coating their statements to the media…it is far more likely that Grizzly Bear 64 died of unnatural causes in this national park than of natural causes.

To paraphrase fellow photographer Hendrik Boesch as this new age of information screening is upon us, we can expect to continue paying our annual fees to our publicly-funded national parks, just don’t expect to actually know what’s going on in them.

[Note: Grizzly Bear 64 has not been seen since last fall.  It is still possible that she’s alive and avoiding humans, but it seems extremely unlikely given her territory and disposition.]

17 Comments on “What really happened to Grizzly Bear 64?

Carol j Davenport
August 14, 2014 at 5:51 pm

Who pay's for this park? Does public taxes pay for it.

August 14, 2014 at 5:51 pm

Yes, Carol, public taxes pay for it.

Mac McMillen
August 14, 2014 at 7:47 pm

What has happened to Canada? I used to have a lot of admiration for your country, but it seems like it's going downhill (tar sands, development in national parks, etc). Sad turn of events, in my opinion.

USA (we're going downhill too…)

August 14, 2014 at 7:47 pm

I couldn't agree more, Mac.

Gerry Bates
August 14, 2014 at 8:00 pm

Thank you for asking these important questions on your blog and on facebook, John! I will keep following your posts.

August 14, 2014 at 8:01 pm

Thanks Gerry, hopefully we start getting some answers soon.

Chuck Kling
August 14, 2014 at 9:35 pm

Hey John !

We are returning to the parks…..K-country, Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Kootenay….in mid-September……for the ELEVENTH time since our first trip in 1988.

I try to do a decent job of photographing mammals, landscapes and birds, as we move along.

Over the years…I have been privileged to have photo'd Delinda…at Muleshoe, in 2007, later both gray collared female and a black pup on the BVP….as well as various Grizz and Blacks, here and there .
…. in complete safety and careful distances, with my 300mm VR.

Sickening to see the micro management coming out of Ottawa….how the Parks gang are being squeezed and nickel and dimed ! Can't even take care of all the fencing breaks properly and in a timely manner

We pay for yearly park passes, each time….and now….darn it…….I can't even stop at one of my fav. lookouts………without forking over bucks to Brewster….damn shame….when I've already paid for our passes !

…… and the idiocy of bugging Grizzlies in their summer range on Norquay

One day soon …they will put up high fencing on the mountain, to protect the visiting hordes , from bear contact !

….and …what will be at Maligne Lake

….how very different things are..since 1988….aside from the shrinking glaciers

Best, and happy shooting !


August 14, 2014 at 9:36 pm

I watch what is happening in Canada from here in New Zealand. I have visited the area around Banff many times. It is irresistible!! I also catch up with the news and all I can say about what is happening is that it can be laid at the door of your Prime Minister, who seems determined to make ad hoc changes to many of the things that were good about, what was a truly democratic country. It seems to be trending more and more towards the opposite end of the political scale. Not informing the public is one of many anti-democratic actions. The environment and resident animals will all suffer because of what comes out of Ottowa. Mr McMillen has got a few things nailed. It is very sad to see this happening. Only the Canadian people can put it right. Good luck!! I suspect you are going to need it.

August 14, 2014 at 9:37 pm

Thanks Chuck, and you're right on all counts. Micro management has no place in our parks. And Lorna, agreed again, we're going to need all the luck we can muster to make this right again. Thanks for the input.

August 15, 2014 at 3:27 am

Yet another thank you to the Harper Government's total disregard for what's really important. Not sure that a change of government would reverse any of this (history suggests not) but it would help prevent it from getting worse. Let's remember that on election day, folks.

Chris Conway
August 15, 2014 at 3:27 am

We are watching the tragic death of the Canadian national parks system, at least as it was meant to be.

August 22, 2014 at 11:34 pm

great Story, John, I can't believe, that the straight facts of the death of these animals is now being hidden from the public, you would think that this information should be placed front and center
in view for all the public to see and tell the real truth of what's happening to help educate the public
on the plight of Banff's bears and other wildlife, are they hiding these facts to avoid bad press
so not to loose tourist dollars?.
I think Banff need a better educational program and bigger fines for people speeding in the national parks and more photo radar and a larger police presence on the highway.
Hiding the facts of the deaths of these precious animals, isn't going to stop the press from finding out the facts when so many experienced photographers and others are out there digging up the real truth
and sharing it with the Public, Good for you john, keep up the good fight , you make a real difference

September 4, 2014 at 2:30 am

After reading your blog John, I wonder how Parks Canada came to have this ability to withhold information regarding our wildlife in the Banff Parks areas and who gave them permission to do so? We have spent years enjoying viewing these magnificent animals (from a safe distance for them) but over the last few years we are hearing more about the deaths of these animals and how the parks were trying to find ways to better protect them – now our government is stepping in to dictate how the news about these animals will be related to the public leaving out most of the truth. John, we thank you for all the work you have, and are doing to keep us apprised of what is happening and it is time tor Ottawa to step away and leave things as they were. Our wildlife are not only beautiful creatures, but also provide what they always have throughout time and no one has the right to change that. Perhaps a petition should be sent out to tell Ottawa to get out of our ways of caring for our animals and leaving the news of happenings to us. I have always enjoyed reading your blogs John and trust somehow we can make this happen again. Meanwhile, keep up the good work as what you do and have done has made a real difference. Maureen

lily cedar
October 29, 2014 at 3:45 am

I was looking for photographers in Banff and came across your site and blog. I'm glad I did. The photos are beautiful but it's obvious how much you love and care about the Parks and the wildlife that lives there.

January 16, 2015 at 7:03 pm

Good points in your article, but I believe # 64 probably died the way they said. She spent 25 years in the parks without being struck, maybe she was actually smart enough and old enough to avoid such things.

January 18, 2015 at 11:41 pm

I was blessed with spending an amazing 1/2 hour observing Bear #64 and the triplets during the summer of 2012-looking at the photos reminds me of that wondrous time. I will remember her and her cubs as long as my memory lasts.
Thanks for the info- hope the park service figures out that transparency will win more supporters than hiding the truth. Good journeys!

July 31, 2015 at 11:36 pm

I am almost afraid to ask…how are #64's cubs doing?

San Antonio, Texas


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