Chad’s Bear — featured in newspaper front-page cartoon series

by Bruce Cherney (part 2)

A figure commonly featured by George Shields in his Winnipeg Tribune series of Chad’s Bear cartoons that ran in 1906 was Colin H. Campbell, who was the attorney-general in the Premier Rodmond Roblin provincial government.

Among the other local figures appearing on the newspaper’s front page cartoons with the bear were local civic politician A.J. Andrews and Dr. George Bryce, an educator and historian, who was instrumental in founding the Manitoba Historical and Scientific Society (today’s Manitoba Historical Society).

Bryce’s History of Winnipeg articles appeared in the pages of the Tribune’s bitter rival — the Manitoba Free Press. The historian, who was also the minister at Knox Presbyterian Church, regularly contributed additional articles in the Free Press on matters dealing with local, provincial, federal and even international politics. Obviously, Bryce’s opinions — whether his interpretation of local history or politics — were not looked upon favourably by the Tribune management. In fact, some Manitobans took exception to Bryce’s interpretation of the Riel-led 1869-70 resistence in the province, and sent letters to newspapers expressing their displeasure. Hanged in 1885 for treason in Regina, Louis Riel remained a controversial figure within the province he brought into the Canadian Confederation.

In some cartoons, Shields showed Chad’s Bear, who was named after Homer “Chad” Chadwick, the popular owner of the Deer Lodge Hotel, as a dedicated fan of Bryce’s historical articles. The intent was to amuse Tribune readers by poking fun at Bryce and its daily newspaper rival.

In one 1906 cartoon, Chad’s Bear is shown emerging from his hibernation and discovering that the Free Press had ceased publication of Bryce’s historical series. The Blow — It Almost Killed Chad’s Bear read the cartoon’s headline, while the bear tearfully commented: “What! They’ve stopped Bryce’s Winnipeg History and I just dotted on lookin’ at the pictures; tell Chad I ain’t comin’ out again till spring.”

In another Shields cartoon, Bryce is shown interviewing the bear for his “next great work, The Life and Times of Chad’s Bear.”

In some of the cartoons by Shields, Chad’s Bear is shown as a candidate for Winnipeg’s elected board of control, which was to be established in 1907 (elections for the board were held in December 1906) to deal with all financial matters and generally manage the affairs of the city. The board was abolished by a referendum in December 1918.

The newspaper and cartoonist obviously regarded the board as a bad idea.

On its front page under the heading Tribune Triumphs, the newspaper also regularly featured brief comments with Chad’s Bear as the central figure. In one such opinion piece, the newspaper sarcastically made the comment: “It’s a cinch for J.H. Ashdown to answer the conundrum: ‘What’s the difference between Tom Sharpe and Chad’s Bear?’

“‘Why, Chad’s Bear,’ says the Mayor-elect, ‘crawled into his hole BEFORE (newspaper’s emphasis) the election, and Tom Sharpe crawled in AFTER!’”

Ashdown defeated Sharpe, the incumbent, in the December 1906 election for mayor. Apparently, the newspaper’s city desk editor was not a fan of Sharpe’s term as Winnipeg mayor, but he was endorsed by the rival Free Press as having “an excellent record.”

The life of the famous bear, “which amused thousands at Deer Lodge for years,” came to an end on April 9, 1907, through a tussle gone bad — at least for the bear.

The Manitoba Free Press reported a day later that a violent struggle had occurred between Chad’s Bear and a number of men “who tried to prevent his doing the other animals at the Deer Lodge zoo serious injury.”

Chad’s Bear had been observed trying to get into the pens to attack an old buffalo bull and a moose.

“The monstrous beast broke loose ... and started to wander about the ruins of the burned hotel. He was first noticed at large by members of the Hallett family across the road from the lodge.”

At this stage, some local residents initiated a plan to recapture the bear involving the deployment of a rope.

“He was lassoed after some difficulty, but objected very strenuously to this treatment, and attacked his captors, but they hurriedly turned the rope around a tree. This he loosened by walking around the tree, and as often as the rope was thus secured, the animal followed the same procedure.”

The bear was finally tied to the tree, but it struggled so vigorously that the rope tightened around his neck and Chad’s Bear strangled himself to death.

“It is remarkable that within a few weeks of the destruction of the hotel the bear should have passed away, and his loss will be as greatly felt by the hundreds of younger habitues of Deer Lodge, as that of the hotel itself by their elders.”

A satirical editorial in the May 1, 1907, Tribune, claimed that men of all classes were in mourning following the demise of the bear, as were artists “to whom Chad’s Bear had so many times sat, stood and laid for his portrait.” Presumably, one of the artists was Shields, who later became the political cartoonists for the Toronto Telegram for 62 years.

(Next week: part 3)