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91-year-old Canmore woman stops charging black bear with bear spray

"He dropped on his legs and he charged at us. He was running fast, fast fast – they can run.”

CANMORE – A 91-year-old Canmore woman thwarted a potential bear attack when she deployed bear spray as a black bear charged at her on a riverside trail.

Dorle Lomas was walking by herself on the trail by the Bow River between the Engine Bridge and Rundle power station at about 7 p.m. on Friday (Aug. 19) when the bear came running to within three or four metres, only stopping when she used the bear spray.

“He was very close,” said Lomas, who added she was not frightened but remained calm and steady throughout the ordeal.

“The spray got him in the face and then he charged into the woods.”

A mountain biker had alerted Lomas of a bear up ahead on the trail, so she quickly grabbed her bear spray. She always carries the spray on a hip holster so it is easily accessible if needed.

The bear, which was standing on its hind legs pawing at Wild Rose hips, was about 25 metres when she first spotted it.

Lomas, a mother of three and grandmother of two who is a long-time Bow Valley resident following her immigration to Canada from Germany in 1951, stopped in her tracks and remained still.

She told four other girls in the vicinity, who did not have bear spray, to stand close to her.

“I thought when he sees all these people he might just go into the bush and get out of the way,” she said.

“But oh no!  He dropped on his legs and he charged at us. He was running fast, fast, fast – they can run.”

Within seconds, Lomas deployed the bear spray, bringing the bruin to a stop about three or four metres away from her.

If not for the bear spray, she believed she would have been injured by the bear – or worse.

“He would have attacked us, at least a bite,” said Lomas, who indicated she reacted on auto-pilot.

“I would have gone down.”

After the bear ran off into the forest, Lomas’ immediate thoughts went to other people on the trail who could run into the agitated bear.

Instead of going home, she continued on her walk to warn other people about the bear before eventually making it to her son's home on Hospital Hill to regale the evening's adventure.

“I was thinking to tell them not to come this way,” she said. “I met at least way over 20 people that maybe would have gone that way.”

Thankfully, one of Lomas’ sons taught her how to use bear spray a couple of years ago when she lived in Exshaw, an area often frequented by bears throughout spring, summer and fall.

Following Friday evening’s encounter, Lomas is now trying to educate and convince people on the importance of carrying bear spray – and having it in a place that is quick and easy to reach.

She said she tells her friends to carry bear spray on all the trails around Canmore, unless in the downtown shopping area.

“You have to practice this,” she said, demonstrating the seconds it took her to get her bear spray out.

“If the bear would jump out of the bushes, I could have it ready.”

When recreating in bear country, the best strategy to avoid an encounter is to make lots of noise, stay in groups and be alert for signs of bears in the area. Diggings, scat, visible tracks and overturned logs and rocks are all indications that bears are around.

In most cases, bears will do their best to avoid people, but in the rare case of an aggressive confrontation such as last Friday night’s incident with Lomas, Bow Valley WildSmart says bear spray is the best defence.

“It’s the most effective bear deterrent at close range. It’s non-lethal and it gives you time to get out of a dangerous situation,” said Nick de Ruyter, the program director for Bow Valley WildSmart.

“Past experiences and situations have shown it works… it can save lives.”

The active ingredients, which include capsaicin, cause a bear irritation, but do not permanently harm the animal.

“The effects are mainly difficulty breathing, difficulty seeing, they might be coughing and gagging, it could be stinging their eyes,” said de Ruyter.

“Because they’re disoriented, it gives you time to get away.”

Not only does bear spray help deter an advancing bear, de Ruyter said it might save a bear’s life in the long run by teaching it to avoid people.

“Spraying that bear teaches the bear it’s not OK to approach humans and hopefully it teaches that bear to stay away from people because it will most likely help that bear live longer,” he said.

“When bears and people come together, it’s the bear that most often pays the price by getting relocated or destroyed.”

In an ideal world, de Ruyter said everyone in a group should be carrying bear spray – and they should be carrying it year-round.

“Even though bears hibernate in the winter, other wildlife like cougars, wolves, coyotes, and elk are around all year,” he said, noting it is also important to check the expiry date on the spray.

Where people carry bear spray is also key to being successful in scaring off a charging bear. Hip or chest holsters or scat belts are highly recommended.

“Because some of those surprise encounters can happen in under three seconds, do not carry bear spray in your backpack; you will not have enough time to get it out,” said de Ruyter.

“You don’t know what a bear is thinking. It might be a bluff-charge, it might not be, the bear might run into you and knock you over – so you have to have bear spray on your person.”

Bow Valley WildSmart has a video with subtitles in 10 languages showing people how to deploy bear spray. It can be found on the group’s website at

“Just carrying it is one thing, but knowing how to use it is another – practising how to use it is a good thing,” said de Ruyter.

“If people are keen, if there’s enough demand, we can set up bear spray training.”

For Lomas, the approximately $50 investment for bear spray was more than worth it.

“I can’t say I am happy for the whole thing, but it’s good to know I can still walk every day for 50 minutes somewhere,” she said.

A spokesperson for Alberta Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Services say officers received a call with third hand information about the encounter.
"However, officers currently have no information on what the bear’s behaviour was towards the elderly lady that led her to use bear spray," said Katherine Thompson, communications advisor for Alberta Justice and Solicitor General.
"While no firsthand formal report has yet been received by Fish and Wildlife, officers will likely post signs warning of a bear in the area."
If residents encounter a bear or other wildlife that may be a public safety concern, they are advised to report the incident to the 24-hour Report a Poacher line at 1-800-642-3800. 



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