Bear art honours Get Bear Smart 

An astonishing hand-carved altar in remembrance of a bear called Slip arrives from Germany

click to flip through (2) PHOTO BY CATHRYN ATKINSON - Moving Tribute Sylvia Dolson of Get Bear Smart with the bear altar in honour of black bear Slip, sent to her by German supporter Bernhard Seuss.
  • PHOTO by Cathryn atkinson
  • Moving Tribute Sylvia Dolson of Get Bear Smart with the bear altar in honour of black bear Slip, sent to her by German supporter Bernhard Seuss.

It's early morning at Loka Yoga in Creekside.

As the "ohms and shantis" from 10 people merge together in a meditative mantra with music, and are offered up to the heavens, four candles flicker in response on a small, wooden altar in front.

At the altar's centre, the carving of an inquisitive black bear stands waiting, as if listening.

Over the years, Sylvia Dolson of the Get Bear Smart Society has been moved by the support the black bears of Whistler have received from both residents and visitors.

Every now and then, she has received tokens from those who admire the bears and those trying to protect them.

Then, a week ago, the stunningly carved wooden altar arrived, made and sent by a German fan, Bernhard Seuss.

It was created in memory of a bear called Slip, who died in 2008.

"This German fellow read my book, A Whistler Bear Story (co-written with author Katherine Fawcett in 2010), and made this carving and it even looks like Slip," Dolson says before the class.

"He emailed me and said he wanted to send me something, but he didn't say what."

A much-loved ursine clown around Whistler, Slip was several years old and part of a gang of young bears known for playing rough and getting into trouble thanks to his attraction to garbage. Because of this, he was tagged with a yellow clip and at one point was radio collared — which led to his name.

"Slip was part of what we called the Fitz Creek Gang. He was part of a research project in 2003, and every time they put a radio collar on him, it would slip off, and the name stuck," Dolson recalls.

What got Slip in the end wasn't a confrontation with Whistler visitors or homeowners. Instead, he had been relocated to the Soo Valley and later shot by a hunter, who sent in his tags to the Conservation Officer Service to identify him.

In a chapter titled "Loveable Oaf," Slip was commemorated in A Whistler Bear Story.

"The book is about many bears that are all icons; I knew the bears personally, so I knew their stories," said Dolson. "Slip was the son of Marissa, who is also featured in the book. A lot of their stories are interrelated as family or neighbours would be," Dolson says.

"He was a mischievous fellow. He would come into town, and hang around on Whistler Blackcomb. After he was moved he never came back to town. We hope he'd moved on with his life, but then he was shot."

While Seuss did not respond to a request for an interview prior to publication, he had written a letter to Dolson, which he sent with the altar.

In it he wrote: "It is much easier to create a sculpture than to write a letter in English... so I let the sculpture (speak) for me. The story moved my heart very strong, and I will never understand why human(s) kill bears and all the other animals, 'Just for fun.'"

He requested that Dolson light the four candles on the altar whenever a hunter or poacher kills a bear, so that "the bear's soul can go into the light."

Bears come into conflict with humans frequently enough in the region, often leading to the animal being accidently killed or needing to be put down. So far this year, a handful of bears have been killed.

So with that in mind, Dolson brought the altar to her morning class at Loka Yoga. There it was lit in honour of Slip, and set beneath photos already set up to honour Whistler's bears.

"We always light candles for the souls of all the bears. Maybe when we're thinking of Slip, we can think of others because there are so many," says Tina Pashumati, owner of Loka Yoga.

"This is so special, and fortuitous. We are lighting and singing mantras. There are mantras that we use to send souls up. We always try to share information about the bears with the class.

"Sylvia has done such good with bears and this is seriously special."

Dolson called the arrival of the carving "interesting timing," since after decades in Whistler, she is planning to move to the Sunshine Coast.

For more information on Whistler Bear Smart, visit


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