Travel Blog

25 Jun

Lounging with Locals: Sylvia Dolson of Get Bear Smart

In Whistler there are few people as passionate about anything as Sylvia Dolson is passionate about bears. And that’s really saying something because this town is absolutely chock-full of passionate people.

An Ontario transplant, Sylvia and her husband Steve moved to Whistler 15 years ago after spending a couple years travelling across North America in a motorhome. Together they left London, Ont., looking for adventure and a new place to live eventually landing here, “our Shangri-La” says Dolson. A city girl with a sense of adventure and drawn to the wilderness and everything wild, her name actually means “maiden of the forest.” As it seems, life in Whistler was meant to be.

Sylvia Dolson - Bear Smart Whistler

A naturalist, wildlife photographer, and writer, Sylvia has been involved with Whistler’s Get Bear Smart Society since 1996 and now sits as its’ Executive Director. In that that time she has become a leading expert on living with bears in residential communities, was instrumental in establishing Whistler as British Columbia’s model Bear Smart Community, co-chairs the Whistler Bear Working Group, and is involved in a number of bear advocacy, management, and conservancy groups.

Not only that, she’s also written a bunch of books including her very recently released, Joy of Bears. We caught up with Sylvia to ask her a few questions about the book, the inspiration behind it, and what makes Whistler a model Bear Smart Community.

WIA: Sylvia, thanks for joining us here at WIA where we celebrate everything awesome about Whistler. One of those awesome things are our bears. What do our bears symbolize and tell us about Whistler, why have they become such an icon of Whistler?

SD: Bears represent everything wild. Spending time in the company of bears or in bear country allows us to feel at peace and at one with nature. What fascinates me most about bears is that they have the power and tools (claws and jaws) to cause us great harm, and yet they can be such gentle and peaceful animals. They choose to coexist with us and tolerate our intrusion into their habitat. My hope for humankind is that we can learn the same.

WIA: You have new book, Joy of Bears, what’s the inspiration behind the book?

SD: I wanted to share with others the joy and peace bears have brought to my life. My hope was that through captivating photos and powerful words, others could in some small way feel that same connection and be inspired to help.

Joy of Bears Book

WIA: That’s Jeanie on the cover, right? What’s her story and what can Whistlerites learn from her?

SD: Yes, that is our beautiful Jeanie and her cub, Jeanette. Jeanie was a resident of Whistler Mountain for about 20 years. She become the icon for the resort, as local residents and school children followed her story. She was an extraordinary black bear who left a paw-print on the souls of all who encountered her. The cover photo was taken in 2011, the same year that she was killed by Conservation Officers. She had entered an open door at one restaurant and accessed waste at several others. Jeanette was sent to a care and release facility for the winter and then released in the spring of 2012 into the wilds of the Elaho.  Jeanie taught us a great deal over the 15 years that I knew her.

In her willingness to accept the presence of humans, she allowed Whistlerites and international visitors a glimpse into her world. Being very tolerant of observers, she also became the star of the bear viewing tours. Thanks to Jeanie, we now have a richer understanding of bears, their strengths and weaknesses, their individuality and the depth of mother-love. She showed us that bears have unique emotions, quirks and personalities, and that perhaps we are more similar to bears than we imagined. Jeanie brought joy to all who were privileged to spend time in her company. She will be truly missed.

WIA: The book looks beautiful. Where can people pick up the book locally?

SD: Armchair Books, IGA,  and Home Hardware among other locations. For those living outside of the area, it is available online at Amazon and Chapters/Indigo.

WIA: You’ve been a voice and advocate for bears for a long time, what are you working on now as you further the fight to educate people on the safe co-existence of humans and bears?

SD: As a result of Jeanie’s death, Get Bear Smart has created a bear smart restaurant program to train staff and management on how to prevent negative encounters with bears at work. We will again be planting mountain ash trees this spring and fall on Blackcomb Mountain as part of our habitat replacement program. We are also working on some new signage for the Village Map Kiosks and pedestrian garbage bins. Those are just a small sampling of the numerous projects on the go.

WIA: Alright, that wraps it, thanks a lot Sylvia. And thanks for advocating for our bears!

For more information on bear smart practices, to learn more about bears, or to purchase Joy of Bears, please visit

Lounging with Locals celebrates and profiles Whistler locals who are doing awesome, being awesome, and sharing awesome here in Whistler. If you know someone who should be profiled here, please email us here.

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