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Orphaned cubs live like brothers on Grouse Mountain

New children’s book tells the story of Grinder and Coola
Grouse grizzlies
Rae Schidlo has written a new children’s book, The Grizzlies of Grouse Mountain, The True Adventures of Coola and Grinder, with Shelley Hrdlitschka and illustrator Linda Sharp.

The Grizzlies of Grouse Mountain: The True Adventures of Coola and Grinder, written by Shelley Hrdlitschka and Rae Schidlo. Illustrated by Linda Sharp.  Published by Heritage House Publishing. $19.95. Book launch Sunday, 11 a.m. at the Grouse Mountain grizzly habitat.

Mondays are more bearable for Rae Schidlo.

These days the retired North Van teacher starts the week off visiting with a couple of hulking friends on a mountaintop plateau. Schidlo is a volunteer at Grouse Mountain’s endangered wildlife refuge, home of 18-year-old grizzlies Grinder and Coola.

Like children or students, Schidlo can’t pick a favourite, but she does throw an affectionate jab Grinder’s way.

“Grinder is the oink,” says Schidlo, with a warm smile that matches the mid-May weather.  

Having spent more than 100 Mondays over five years helping out at their habitat, Schidlo knows these grizzlies like the back of her hand.

Physically speaking, Grinder is fairer while Coola’s coat is a darker brown. Coola’s also got 50 kilos on his den mate.

Personality wise, Grinder can be cheeky, often invading Coola’s space while he’s napping to instigate a play fight. Coola, meanwhile, is more easygoing and lets Grinder’s antics roll off his hump.

“Grinder is like the pesky younger brother even though he’s the same age,” says Schidlo.

Bobbing for whole watermelons in the pond or volleying rocks is something both bears seemingly agree is fun.

As a volunteer, Schidlo interacts with tourists from around the world – many of whom have never seen a grizzly in real life – while feeding them facts about Grinder and Coola.

“How did they get here?” “What do they eat?” These are some questions regularly fielded by Schidlo, who won’t quit teaching as long as she’s breathing.

“My heart almost bursts,” says Schidlo, of the fulfilment the role brings – fresh mountain air aside. 

Learning fun and interesting facts about Grouse’s grizzlies naturally inspired Schidlo, an Edgemont Village resident, to write about the beloved bears.

Her story of Grinder and Coola was only meant to be a gift for Schidlo’s godchildren, until one of the moms insisted it needed to be shared far and wide.

Schidlo soon learned she wasn’t the only one with a combined love of these grizzlies and writing. Shelley Hrdlitschka, a Deep Cove resident and award-winning author, had also penned a story about Grinder and Coola, after a volunteer stint at the wildlife refuge.

Clutching their manuscripts, the teacher and the author met for the first time over coffee at Parkgate Village. Over three sessions, Schidlo and Hrdlitschka melded their individual bear tales into one children’s book, both filling in the gaps from their different years spent with the grizzlies.

“We just complemented each other. Shelley is an accomplished writer,” says Schidlo of Hrdlitschka, whose novel Sister Wife was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award.

How Grinder and Coola arrived on the West Coast is a tale of perseverance, on the part of the orphaned cubs, and a willingness to help them survive.

In 2001, some forestry workers near Invermere found a dehydrated and weak grizzly cub stumbling alone on a logging road. The bear was placed in one of the worker’s knapsacks and driven in a truck toward to the closest vet.

Fluid was injected under the cub’s skin to help replenish his water levels, and he was also fed milk. This little bear – later named Grinder, after Grouse’s famous hiking trail – weighed only 4.5 kilograms.

Around the same time, more than 1,000 kilometres away, a four-month-old grizzly cub lagged behind his mother while she crossed a highway near Bella Coola. Tragically, the mother bear was struck and killed by a truck, instantly orphaning her three cubs.

One cub was crushed by a falling tree and the other ran off into the woods. The third cub, aptly named Coola, was luckily rescued by conservation officers.

After receiving word of the separate orphaned cubs, veterinarian Dr. Ken MacQuisten, in an effort to save the bears, pitched the idea to Grouse to help create a wildlife refuge that mimics their natural habitat.

In the summer of 2001, tiny Grinder and Coola rode in the Grouse Skyride to reach their new home at the top of the mountain.

The Grizzlies of Grouse Mountain: The True Adventures of Coola and Grinder chronicles their early lives through to present day, complemented by rich illustrations of Grinder and Coola rollicking in the refuge.

To bring the bears to life on the pages, Schidlo turned to her friend Linda Sharp, a Grand Boulevard area resident and illustrator.

Sharp observed the bears live, sketched, and took a lot of reference photos. She also worked with supplied photos of Grinder and Coola as cubs.

Her first challenge was to understand the bears’ structure.

“They are massively strong with that huge hump of muscle on the back,” says Sharp. “Then I studied how flexible their faces are – their eyes are beautiful and even their noses are very expressive.”

The illustration process , as Sharp explains, starts with roughing out the composition with collage, then painting with watercolour, acrylic but mainly gouache (like opaque watercolour).

“I like the way gouache paint renders fur,” says Sharp, who has been an illustrator “since the dawn of time.”

Schidlo says the book’s art is unbelievably eye-catching and captures the bears’ personalities beautifully.

“Grinder’s nose is always to the side, like he’s always smelling something,” says Schidlo, ever attuned to the grizzlies’ movements.

It’s around 11 a.m. and Grinder and Coola are relaxing amongst the tall coniferous trees but also within easy scampering distance of their feeding area. Refuge workers toss some apples into the pond. The grizzlies mobilize.

Dog kibble is part of the bears’ diet, but salmon is their favourite food. Rangers also hide heads of romaine lettuce in the habitat. 

One fully illustrated spread in the book encourages kids to find different foods Grinder and Coola eat – grapes, carrots, and even a pumpkin – hidden in the forest.

The authors will be back at the grizzly habitat on Sunday at 11 a.m. to celebrate the book’s launch in the most fitting place possible. Schidlo and Hrdlitschka will share what inspired the bears’ biography and be available to sign copies of the purchased book.

As part of the authors’ public awareness goal, a portion of revenue from the book will be donated to the Grizzly Bear Foundation, a Vancouver non-profit dedicated to the preservation of wilderness habitat for grizzly bears.

The Grizzlies of Grouse Mountain: The True Adventures of Coola and Grinder is currently available in the resort’s gift shops and down in Edgemont Village at Kidsbooks, as well as online through Indigo and Amazon.