Calling all kids, teachers… and teddy-bear aficionados. I’d like to introduce you to a Manitoba teddy named Boomer.
Boomer (short for Boomerang, “because he always comes back”) is a jaunty toy polar bear with a mission. Belonging to kids at RW Bobby Bend School in Stonewall, Manitoba, this little teddy loves to travel.
He’s been adopted as a project by the Society of American Travel Writers’ (SATW) Canadian chapter. Whenever members of this organization travel, they can choose to ask the kids in Stonewall Manitoba if they can take Boomer along with them.
Meanwhile, the teacher has a map of the world on the classroom wall. Wherever Boomer goes, he mails a postcard back to the children and they mount the card up on the wall, identifying the places he visits.
But that’s not all, not by half.
Boomer wears two important pieces of apparel that are key components of his teaching capabilities.
First, he sports a jaunty-looking red scarf on which “he puts” his collection of pins from the places he’s visited.
Second, he wears a little backpack, in which he puts all the treats he collects during his travels and carries his travel journal and pen.
When he flies back -- via Canada Post’s Priority Post system -- he will be greeted with great enthusiasm by the children, who are eager to read the travel journal and hear about his adventures.
Because I’m a member of SATW, it was my good fortune to meet Boomer in Montreal and Mont Tremblant during the association’s February professional development conference. At that time, Catherine Senecal, the writer who started the initiative, was looking for a volunteer to take Boomer on to his next exotic adventure.
I volunteered with enthusiasm. Eric and I were just about to head to Lafayette, Louisiana, via Toronto. And, because the Pontiac region of Quebec is bearly (oops, barely) known, I thought that it was a great opportunity to introduce the Stonewall kids to our neck of the woods where Boomer (if he was lucky) might even seen a black bear cousin (he’s had to settle for a beech tree scarred with bear paw prints). In addition, because we’re geographically only a stone’s throw from Ottawa, I thought a visit to the nation’s capital would be appropriate. Finally, we were also going on a hiking trip to Hong Kong, of all places…
All of these destinations conspired to make us acceptable guardians for Boomer.
Boomer arrived at our farm on March 6, 2000… we will return him to the schoolchildren this week.
I don’t want to!
I’ll tell you why: everywhere we go, people gravitate to the cute little bear with the winning ways. And people are absolutely intrigued with his special teaching mission.
But how did the travelling bear program start?
I’m asked this constantly and, I still don’t know. In fact, Boomer has been trying to discover his grandparents and lineage, searching the web in vain for information on how the travelling teddy bear project started.
He’s been unsuccessful in this mission… but has met some charming cousins who are also travelling the globe.
The most famous celebrity he has encountered so far is not actually a bear… but a travelling toy chimp who travels with none other than Dr. Jane Goodall. “Mr. H.” as her chimp is known, accompanies the internationally renowned primatologist as she travels the world, visiting children and talking to them about her wildlife projects.
So it seems to Boomer and to me that this world-wide project resembles an urban legend. How the travelling teddy bear program actually started appears shrouded in mystery. Some people tell me they first heard about it in 1969… Others say that they think it was started by stewards and stewardesses on an international air carrier…
What I do know is that Boomer is not alone. He has “spoken” with another bear in the USA called Perry Bear Ellis, who travels with his journalist companion and writes an occasional column for the local newspaper. Other bears pop up in South Africa, Norway, and England.
“They’re everywhere” in fact.
But no-one knows who started the program.
A friend of mine, elementary school teacher Elspeth Butterworth, has had two such bears travelling through her Aylmer school and, in fact, I wrote a column for The Equity about her bear who visited us here at our home in 1994 or so.
So the concept was not new to me… and probably won’t be to you. It is a wonderful way for schoolchildren to learn about culture and the world. If any teacher -- or group like the Guides or Brownies -- is interested in starting a Travelling Bear program here in the Pontiac, I’ll gladly volunteer to assist in whatever way I can.
Meanwhile, Boomer now is preparing for his “flight” home… Travelling via priority post won’t be anything like flying the 747 from Hong Kong to Chicago, though (yes, we’ve got a photo of him doing just that).
Municipality of Pontiac has employed Julie Denis-Menard as a Director of Recreation and Culture since last June. With two BAs (Geography, Leisure Science) and an MA in Sport Administration from Ottawa University, Ms Menard is well qualified to assist the municipality in developing a set of initiatives to promote sport, culture and leisure activities. MoP residents should find a booklet in their mail boxes this week describing heart-healthy courses like archery and kayaking, as well as CPR, floral arrangement, and self-defense courses. Also included is a survey to determine what people want and need in this department. Look for the booklet, participate and help create an increasingly vibrant sense of community here in the MoP. Julie is available at 455-2401 and can be reached also at Municipalite_Pontiac@videotron.ca
**Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer based in Quyon Québec and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org