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It’s been three weeks since schools, playgrounds and care centres closed in Canada to fight off COVID-19, and children are bored. With nothing to do, no friends to see (in person), no places to go, most children are holed up at home, watching the sunny spring days arrive without being able to enjoy them.
Now Canadians, from Newfoundland to British Columbia, have teamed up to give young shut-ins the most Canadian type of distraction from the virus — a bear hunt.
Inspired by the popular children’s book, ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’, by Michael Rosen, people all over the country are putting teddy bears in their windows to encourage children to get out of the house and spot them — whilst practising safe social distancing by remaining in the family car.
“It exploded here,” said Kim Baglole, who organized a hunt in Prince Edward Island. She got the idea after her Newfoundland hometown, Gander, became the first in Canada to do a bear hunt.
“P.E.I embraced it like you wouldn’t believe,” she said. “People take their kids and they go for a drive with their kids through the neighbourhood and spot them.”
Baglole said she frequently receives messages from families excitedly announcing how many bears they spotted in a day: “I counted 541 bears! 340 bears in a couple of hours!”
Lori Poirer-Lapointe, who lives in P.E.I., said the teddy bear hunt transformed her eldest son, who suffers from anxiety and depression, made worse by his inability to celebrate his 14th birthday because of the pandemic.
“Instead, we went bear hunting!” she wrote in a Facebook post. “Let me tell you, he had the time of his LIFE! So today, he dug out his big ‘i love you’ bear and helped me add it to the window for others to enjoy.”
Some people, she said, took it a step further and rummaged through their closets for old animal costumes to wear on their driveways for the amusement of neighbourhood kids.
“Dog costumes, bear costumes, fox costumes,” said Baglole. The ruse was especially successful in cheering up a seven-year-old girl and a 12-year-old boy, both with autism, who had to spend two weeks in isolation with their parents after returning from a visit in Ontario. “They were crying in their room for days,” said Baglole. “This totally changed their perspectives.”
In Branford, Ont., teddy bears, space alien dolls, unicorns and a red Toronto Raptors mascot toy decorate local windows and driveways of homes. Some residents say they make sure to swap the toys every day, and others have taken to hosting “animal tea parties” on their lawns.
“It was so fun hunting for bears this morning on my walk!” wrote Barb Luxton on a Facebook page dedicated to helping people to spot the toys. “Shout out to all those that participated on Church St!”
While Newfoundland and P.E.I. have fully embraced the trend, other provinces are slightly slower to pick it up. But Amanda Holland, who organized the movement in Edmonton and volunteers at a teddy bear shop, said she remains hopeful for Alberta.
“In our community, we haven’t seen a whole lot of responses, streetwise,” she said. But on the Facebook group, people have been posting more. Especially, they’re posting “positive messages”, she added.
“They’re interacting more,” she said. “So it doesn’t necessarily have to be in the community, because you are getting that connection through Facebook.”
Holland’s hope is that once the dust has settled a bit, making it safer to go out, they might be able to organize a teddy bear picnic in the summer, where families can bring their bears and get together — whilst practising safe physical distancing.
Plans for a picnic are already underway in P.E.I., where Baglole and her community have planned to host one virtually, to celebrate Easter. “Families can picnic in their homes and record themselves and we’ll be uploading photos and videos all day long,” she said.
The toys not only cheer up the children, said Baglole, but are also meant to support overworked healthcare and essential workers as they drive to work everyday.
“It’s to let them know we’re all thinking of them. A show of solidarity,” she said.
The movement has also taken off in the U.K., New Zealand, the U.S. and elsewhere. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has confirmed that she, too, joined in on the fun by placing a teddy bear in her window.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020