Haida Gwaii-based author and illustrator Judy Hilgemann has released a brand new children’s book retelling the real life events of two grizzly bears who adventured from the local Great Bear Rainforest to the shores of Alert Bay in the autumn of 2016.
“The Great Grizzlies Go Home” is the tale of brother and sister, three year old, bear cubs swimming journey across the waters and their experiences in the small town of Port McNeill. The book chronicles what happened to them during their week in the community and then their safe relocation back to the mainland.
Hilgemann, said it was the first time that grizzlies had been documented in the area and people were afraid. They basically went into lock-down, on the island which is only about 4 miles wide she said, as the bears noses took them through out the village from meal to meal.
The book which took almost two years to be written, illustrated, and then finally published by Harbour Publishing was the idea of Higlemann’s husband, James, who was one of the Department of Conservation officers who assisted with the relocation of the bears back to the Great Bear Rainforest.
“When he came home from that week, he was just delighted. He was so relieved that they actually managed to trap and relocate the bears rather than have to destroy them, because that would have been so tragic. It happens all to often.”
Hilgemann visited the sites of the story a week later to take photos to record the locations for reference for her artwork. Each watercolour took various times to complete. She did three sample illustrations to start with in the search for a publisher. Then she worked a total of five to six more months full-time to get them all finished for the final publication.
The book tells the story through pictures, which are bright watercolour on board illustrations, said Hilgemann. She used board instead of paper as it adds texture and depth to the artwork. As a local artist who currently lives in Haida Gwaii, she has lived and worked in Terrace and Prince Rupert at different periods since the 90s.
Book signings were planned in locations such as Prince Rupert and Terrace, however with the recent coronavirus regulations have had to be postponed until a time yet to be decided.
Hilgeman said she was ‘super thrilled’ with the book and believes it is a beautiful story because of the happy outcome for the bears.
“This is the first big deal, trade fiction book that I have been involved with. It’s super exciting. I have wanted to illustrate children’s books all my life. It’s a life long goal and dream.”
The hope for Higlemann in penning the book was that the story would bring some attention to the grizzly bears.
“I think I wanted for people to realize how huge of a range those bears lead and how precious the north west cost is with the Great Bear Rainforest. The large untouched, unlogged, watersheds all up the north coast are so precious and important to those great big predators,” Hilgemann said.
“In B.C. we are so lucky to have the wilderness and I think we have to be careful to ensure it stays wilderness.”
Hilgeman also does commissioned portraits and artwork for other writers. In 1995 she completed the artwork for “The Seasonal Rounds Poster Series” campaign for School District 52, and illustrated the official book of the 2011 All Native Basketball Tournament, “B is for Basketball.”
K-J Millar | Journalist
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