Adventures of Pete the Bear popular with village locals

·4 min read

As the saying goes, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

And that's exactly what Gabby Ward, the summer student at the Burk's Falls, Armour and Ryerson Union Public Library, has done as it tries to function in a COVID-19 world.

With the pandemic still a factor on how some businesses and institutions can operate, Ward was faced with how to engage library patrons, and the public in general, in a COVID environment.

Ward, a resident of Sundridge and a third-year student at the University of Waterloo studying recreational therapy, came up with a couple of ideas, one of which involved reaching into the past.

Over the summer, Ward has taken a stuffed black bear throughout the community, photographing the bruin at various sites and then posting the images on the library's Facebook page.

Some images have the stuffed bear peeking behind flowers, sitting on a rock with water in the background and also 'eating.'

Ward says her postings of the stuffed bear have been a hit this summer with the locals, especially long-time residents.

“The older people have been engaging with our postings and they reminisce about who he was,” Ward said.

The stuffed bear is representative of the village's mascot, known as Pete the Bear.

Historically, Pete was a real bear.

As the story goes, Pete was a one-month-old orphaned cub found by Charlie Purdie in 1948.

Purdie raised the cub, who became a regular attraction at Purdie's Gas Station in Burk's Falls where he would happily accept treats from visitors.

Pete grew to 450 pounds and passed away in 1979 at the age of 31, which is about double the average lifespan of a black bear.

Pete was so popular he became the local mascot and a number of wood carvings exist in the village honouring him, including an eight-foot tall statue outside the Burk's Falls Welcome Centre Barista and Bakery carved by local artist Jake Rhodes.

Ward says young children also have interacted with the stuffed bear.

She is engaging the younger set through the library's TD Summer Reading Club program.

Each week, she gets a well-known member of the community to pre-record reading a book. The recording then goes on the library Facebook page for kids to listen to afterward.

Among the notable readers so far this summer are local Mayor Cathy Still, Land of Lakes Public School teacher Lenn Gray, paramedic Rebecca Dingman and Ontario Provincial Police Const. Melissa Thomas.

The Burk's Falls library also has introduced its own Story Walk Project this summer, something other Almaguin libraries have done as well, where pages of a children's book are laminated or pre-printed on cardboard or corrugated plastic.

The pages are attached to stands or poles and put in the ground several feet apart. Parents can then take their children for a walk and read each of the mounted panels as they come to them.

In the case of Burk's Falls, it received the same book the TD Summer Reading Club gave to the Sundridge library, 'The Thing Lou Couldn't Do,' and the page panels are spread along the Heritage River Walk.

Ward says there has been good reaction from the public about the Story Walk Project, with some patrons making it a point to come into the library to say “they really enjoyed the display.”

Ward says the Story Walk has been popular enough that she hopes it's something the TD Summer Reading Club can repeat next year and in the ensuing years.

She adds depending on the feedback, the library may be able to put up more than one book title over the summer in the future.

Ward also says Story Walk is a double win because it encourages reading and allows people to be outside and get fresh air at the same time.

In an effort to encourage even more reading, Ward says children who read a booklet get a sticker and their name entered in a weekly draw for prizes provided by the TD Summer Reading Club.

Among the prizes are a book and T-shirt. The reading program, with prizes, runs until the end of August.

Pre-COVID, the library also had an in-person crafts program for children.

Ward found a way to continue the craft component online.

“I've been making the crafts, recording what I do, editing the work and then posting it for children to watch,” she said.

Because she goes through each craft step-by-step, it's possible for children to watch the video and make their own craft.

Ward says this is just another way to keep the kids busy and active during the summer.

Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative, The North Bay Nugget

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