This exhibition features Kermode (Spirit) Bears, Black Bears and Grizzly Bears of the Great Bear Rainforest on Canada’s west coast. In September, 2012, I visited this protected area with a small group led by professional photographer Mike Beedell and guided by Captain Tom Ellison of the Ocean Light II. We observed the bears fishing undisturbed by our presence, including Grizzly cubs exploring their world under mum’s watchful eye.

I’m often asked how close we were to the bears and if we felt threatened. We were at times very close (a few metres), but not threatened or threatening. The Spirit and Black Bears (same species, different colour) were observed on Gribbel Island from platforms on a small river. The Grizzlies were photographed in Mussel Inlet from a Zodiac piloted by Captain Tom. The Bears knew we were there but paid us little attention as they focused on the many salmon and trout that had recently arrived in the rivers. One exception was after Ma Grizzly and her cub were disturbed by a newly arrived group that had not been trained in bear etiquette by Captain Tom – we quickly left.

The Great Bear Rainforest (GBR) has long been protected by First Nations. In 2006 British Columbia announced a protection package for the GBR that included rainforest protection, improved logging practices, involvement of First Nations in decision making, and financing for economic diversification. In 2007 Canada provided $30m, adding to previous pledges by British Columbia and private donors to bring total funding for the reserve to $120 million.

The Great Bear Rainforest is now at risk from the proposed Northern Gateway Pipelines project, which would have crude oil tankers regularly passing through its narrow ocean channels. An environmental review panel stated in 2013 that ”…the environmental, societal and economic burdens of a large oil spill, while unlikely and not permanent, would be significant” but went on to conclude that “Canada and Canadians would be better off with the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project than without it”. The Government of Canada of the day supported the Panel’s report but the project was opposed by coastal First Nations and a majority of British Columbians. A new Government elected in 2015 revoked federal approval for this project.

All proceeds to the artist from the sale of these images have been donated to Pacific Wild to support conservation of the Great Bear Rainforest.