Garett Kolsun was walking home early Saturday morning in the Hudson Bay community of Churchill — known as the polar bear capital of the world — after celebrating the end of the work week with friends. He said he caught something out of the corner of his eye while he walked down the Manitoba town's main drag.
"I turned and looked, and it was a polar bear charging towards me," Kolsun, 40, said in an interview Monday. "I started running from it, looking for some place to go and get away from this bear."
Businesses in the town of about 1,000 were all closed, so Kolsun had nowhere to hide.
"I stopped and I turned around to face the bear," he said. "It was already there, right on top of me. I started shouting, yelling, screaming, waving my arms, running backwards to keep my eye on the bear."
Kolsun said he ended up trapped on the porch of a bakery with the bear he believes was still young because of its size. It pinned him against the door and swiped at him with his paw. The bruin, which stood about 1 1/2 metres tall, also sank his teeth into Kolsun's hip, although Kolsun says that, at the time, he didn't even realize the bear had punctured his skin.
"The bear's nose was inches away from me. I didn't know where else to go. I was just (thinking), 'what can I do to get away from this bear?' That's all I kept thinking about. I didn't want to be a stat."
Kolsun fished into his pocket and pulled out his cellphone. He turned the power on and turned the screen toward the bear.
"I was hoping anything I would do would give me an opportunity to get away from it," he explained. "I was trying anything at that point. I was screaming, yelling, waving my arms, trying everything and it just kept chasing me and chasing me. I was just hoping for the best and, luckily, it worked."
The lit screen startled the bear briefly and it took a step back, Kolsun said. It hit a flower pot on the porch and looked away for an instant.
"When it turned its head, I just turned and ran as fast as I could."
Story continues below slideshow.
"The bear had stopped chasing me some place along the way there."
Kolsun took a cab to the health centre where staff cleaned his wounds, bandaged them and gave him a tetanus shot. He was released several hours later.
Monday morning, he was back on the job as a Canadian Border Services guard.
"I was definitely very lucky," Kolsun said. "He could have hurt me worse."
The bear was captured later on Saturday and taken to the provincial polar bear jail, a transformed military warehouse with 28 holding cells for stray bears, in Churchill. Conservation Manitoba says the animal is being assessed.
Violent encounters with polar bears are rare, but some have resulted in injury or death.
In July, a polar bear attacked lawyer Matt Dyer from Maine as he slept in a tent in Torngat Mountains National Park in northern Labrador. He was with a group of hikers who had no armed guard but used a flare to scare the bear into dropping him. Dyer is recovering from neck and jaw injuries.
In 2004, a researcher east of Churchill was knocked to the ground by a polar bear and treated for minor injuries in hospital. The last fatal attack in Churchill was in 1983, when a resident who scavenged packages of ground beef from a burned-out hotel ran into a bear.
Every Halloween, several conservation officers take to the sky in a helicopter to see if there are any bears around. Emergency vehicles are set up around the town's perimeter with their lights flashing to deter curious creatures from checking out young trick-or-treaters.
Kolsun said he has a newfound respect for the bears, which can reach 450 kilograms and run as fast as 40 kilometres an hour.
"Don't walk alone after dark, make sure you catch a ride or drive or go in a cab," he said. "Unfortunately, I learned the hard way."
— By Chinta Puxley in Winnipeg
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version misspelled Kolsun's last name.