Tips to Minimize Bear Activity Near Your Cottage

by Elizabeth Quinn

  • Don't leave food, garbage, compost, bird feeders around the cottage.
  • Put bear "unwelcome mats" -- plywood with protruding 3/4-inch nails beneath thresholds and windows.
  • Install motion lights, sprinklers and/or sirens.
  • Keep an air horn or whistle handy to scare off bears.
  • Use bear spray, a hose or Super Soaker filled with water and a touch of vinegar to scare away a bear. Never chase the bear.
  • String empty cans filled with pebbles 3 feet off the ground to startle bears.
  • Leave the television or radio on -- bears try to avoid people. Consider doing this when you leave for the year. The cost of electricity compared to the cost of repairs justifies the expense.
  • Close the curtains, hang beach towels over windows, or drape the fridge with a coloured sheet so the bears can't see or recognize the refrigerator.
  • Saturate or paint window sills and doorways with Pine-Sol or ammonia -- but never squirt it in bears' eyes, because it can blind them.
  • Leave a wind chime hanging in a location likely to catch prevailing west and autumn north winds.
  • Install electric fencing.
  • Consider getting a dog, or install barking-dog devices to deter bears.

Non-emergency encounters: Call the Bear Wise reporting line: 1-866-514-2327 (April 1-November 30)

If a bear is:

  • roaming around, checking garbage cans
  • breaking into a shed where garbage or food is stored
  • in a tree
  • pulling down a bird feeder or knocking over a barbecue
  • moving through a backyard or field but is not lingering

Ontario Bear Wise: Bear Encounters


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Comment by Hansen / Tapert, Peter & Marie on May 5, 2016 at 10:14am

I truly hope we stop the practice of putting "unwelcome mats" out to deter bears.  I agree with Ron Botan on this issue"Bear boards are cruel and intended to cause pain. Considering the fact that animals are conditioned by our actions as well as we by theirs, I suggest that we think about possible long range effects on bear behaviour if they keep stepping on nails around our cottages and begin to correlate humans with pain." Then we create a more dire problem.

We come to this beautiful natural wild place and then work to tame it.  Plant lawns, put out bear boards, and plant non-native species.  I think we should be stewards of this place.  We can't live here as though we are in the suburbs or we will be in the suburbs with some nice water around us.

Comment by Laurie Masters on September 13, 2015 at 11:47am

I'm on the east tip of Hiawatha, island 748.   Apparently my garbage bin isn't as bear resistant as I thought, as a bear got into it at 1 am Friday Sept 11th, 2015.  My dogs tracked the scent in the morning and my guess is it either came through the bush and swam off  (or vice versa) or may have gone down to the water and backtracked back through the bush.  It would have crossed through the rope with lots of flag tape that marks the electric pet fence I installed for my dogs so it didn't care about that sign of habitation, or the extensive dog smells.   It was interesting that the dogs reacted to the bear smell with a mix of respect and trepidation, whereas with a mink, squirrel or mouse the smell means game on.  I don't let the dogs out after dark and they wear bear bells whenever they are outside.   That's so I can hear where they are and I hope it helps deter any bears etc.  from approaching.

In June 2015 my neighbours, the Portengas, had a bear trip the trail camera they mounted between their cabin and mine.   There was no evidence that it came near our place our theirs and there hasn't been any evidence of further bear activity until the incident I described above.

In the summer of 2014,  when I didn't have the dogs here, in mid-afternoon I watched a bear saunter two feet from my bay window and around the outbuildings without showing any interest in the BBQ or the garbage bins.   It's not the same bear this year.

Comment by Elizabeth Quinn on September 13, 2015 at 7:56am

continued from below...

  • there have been no further assaults on the bear bin. Bear bins should always be located outside and away from buildings were people locate and secured near/at the waterfront, for example. For info and videos on bear bins see .

  • electric fencing is available at Napa Auto Parts 15530 Highway 6, Manitowaning, (705) 859-2525 on the left side of Highway 6. The brand is Gallagher fencing. A man there named Les is the expert and will install very reasonably. Nothing is in stock. Can be delivered to Napa in Little Current for pick up.

Elizabeth Quinn

Comment by Lyn Starke on September 13, 2015 at 7:32am
Bear update continued
WHILE IN THE BAY: In 2011, the MNRF advised that the occupied cottages that had been entered appeared to be unoccupied. When you leave your cottage for a picnic, dinner out, grocery shopping and at night when you go to bed...close doors and all accessible, vulnerable windows. Leave some lights on and a radio on so your buildings appear occupied.
1. Remove soaps, detergents, shampoos, toothpaste, mouthwash and all food, spices
and anything with an odour. Bears are attracted to the odours and don’t know ‘til they bite the soap, for example, that it’s not food. Your minty toothpaste and lemon fresh dish soap can attract them inside your cottage.
2. Remove ALL food. J&G Marina will distribute opened and unopened food to needy families on the reserve. Remember that it’s cheaper and less time consuming and a lot more convenient to buy more supplies for your next trip that it is to clean up and repair and pay for the damage from a break in. EVERY break-in has involved food and other attractants.
3. Consider leaving a radio on after you leave for home; cheaper than replacing a window, etc.
1. If you have hydro and plan to leave it on until your next visit, flip the stove fuse off. A bear turned on all stove knobs at one place and started a fire on the top of the stove when the cleanup crew put the hydro on to see better. Good that the hydro was off when the bear left flammable stuff on top of the stove. Dishcloths, flour, etc on a live stove can burn down your cottage.
2. Recently, a propane stovetop burner was turned on by a bear and burned for two weeks before it was discovered. Luckily nothing was on or near the burner or a fire could have destroyed the cottage and spread. Disconnect your propane supply or turn the shut off valve in the propane line to the stove OFF.
3. Turn off water at shut off valves and turn off the hot water heater. When a tap is turned on and it can’t refill, the burner will destroy the water heater and perhaps cause a fire. One cottage had water running all night onto the counter and floor when the bear repositioned the faucet over the counter top and turned the water on climbing in/out through the kitchen window.
4. Not all insurance companies cover bear break ins. You might want to check that you have appropriate coverage.
5. You might want to arrange with someone in The Bay now to turn off your propane/stove fuse/hot water heater.

To save bears, follow the MNR’s advice on removing bear attractants and other tips contained on the Bear Wise website at . A fed bear is a dead bear and unless we all do our part, the problem will persist, people, property and bears will be at risk.
Again, the chain is as strong as the weakest link so we all have to get on the bandwagon with this issue.
None of us is immune from bear break ins. An attitude of “It won’t happen to us,” or “We’ll just leave a bit of food,” is a bit like burying our heads in the sand.
Please help and do your part to eliminate this problem.
 a few weeks ago, a bear “attacked” the bear proof garbage bin at the Parish Hall for
about 30 minutes about 30 minutes after everyone left Trivia Night. Food smells must have been high that evening since lots of food was served inside the building. Yet, touch wood, the bear bin kept the bear from entering the Parish Hall. The bear was unsuccessful getting food that evening, learned there was no reward for his efforts, and there have been no
Comment by Lyn Starke on September 13, 2015 at 7:24am
Elizabeth Quinn
We have had some bear break ins over this dry summer with very few berries and shoots for bears to munch on. The incidence has increased last few weeks. The areas affected are the west parts of the bay and Rocky Bottoms, the S Narrows, near the Devil’s Elbow and “Store” Bay, near the church. There may be others I’m not aware of. Almost all cottages had bear attractants left in them. One or more cabins did not but “habituated” bears have now been taught, over the last several years, that McGregor Bay cottagers leave food in their cottages and until several generations of bears have learned there is no reward, they will not stop and will continue to teach their young making this a bigger problem than it would normally be in a cottage community in bear country.
We were the worst hit of any community in Ontario in 2011, and we likely have more habituated bears as a result of being taught by mama bear and cottagers. After 2 MNRF Bear Officers toured each break in site in 2011, they reported, “You do not have a bear problem, you have a cottager problem.”
A few wet summers and bountiful berry supply and only the occasional bear issue has lulled some of us into complacency, along with normal human nature, “It won’t happen to us.”
In 2011, the MNRF warned that as a community we would have to be very strict for several years in eliminating or reducing attractants. They also warned that the chain is as strong as the weakest link and we would have to come together as a community and make a joint effort if we are to improve our situation.
We all need each other’s help with this problem. We affect each other’s safety, finances and vacation time when we fail to reduce or eliminate bear attractants.
When bears break into inhabited cottages they are considered, by the bear experts and MNRF, to be “dangerous”. They also warn that “a fed bear is a dead bear”. Those of us who love the wildlife and do not want to see them harmed, know that human safety supersedes that of the bear’s and what this really means is that to protect the bears, we must protect ourselves and each other by managing our attractants properly. Eliminate or reduce them! Human safety is an issue to be taken seriously and has top priority in our current situation. We cannot eliminate all attractants but we can reduce them and as a result, reduce the frequency of break-ins.
If you feel you are at immediate risk of personal harm, call the OPP at 1-888-310-1122. There may be a lengthy response time so also call the Still Water Emergency number 705-863-2972.
Report bear break-ins or sightings where there have been problems to 1-866-514-2327, the Bear Hotline. As a result of your reports, MNRF learns about the seriousness of our present problem. Also, should a bear need to be dispatched, you can be charged if there is no documentation “on file” of the problem bear.
Comment by Nolan Patricia on September 13, 2015 at 7:03am
We have had two Bear invasions in the last three weeks happened the last week in August where it broke a window and tore the cupboards apart and went into the freezer making a horrible mess that took us 5hours to clean and repair..this was when we were closing on Labour Day weekend....I received a call this week that one of the shutters was off the window and when John Recollet went to put it back on he noticed that the Bear had taken it off and broke the window again as well as emptied the drawers....we had closed for the winter and there is no food in the Camp now we have to go and repair and cleanup a mess again..This is the first time in 45years that we have been under Bear attack they are certainly suffering for the lack of vegetation and berries in the woods.....Pat Nolan -Isle 747
Comment by Lyn Starke on September 13, 2015 at 12:05am
A bear or bears entered several cottages located before and after the ” Rocky Bottoms” area of Southwestern Iroquois Island as well as an area South of the “Devil’s Elbow” in the two weeks before the Labor Day weekend .

Upon discovering the break in our camp we noted two very interesting occurrences.

We found the gas burner on the propane cooking stove ignited and continuously burning for approximately two weeks or less. The stove was purchased and professionally installed this summer and the bear or bears had managed to ignite the gas by pushing in on the knob and turning the knob to the left. Obviously, we have asked the manufacture to consider design changes for remote locations. The current shut off valve for each appliance that is inside the cottage was installed at floor level and requires pulling the appliance away from the wall to reach it. Previously, no one involved in the installation process was concerned about shutting the gas completely off for a few hours or weeks when no one was at home during the summer or fall. Needless to say, now we are taking preventative measures. The gas shut off valve for the stove will be modified so it can be easily closed when the cottage is vacant for a short time.

Also, a pressurized pepper spray can was punctured by the bear or bears during the feeding frenzy. Hopefully, this event will deter additional break-ins.

Keep Calm & Carry On

David & Daria Potts
Miner’s Bay/Iroquois Island

Comment by Lyn Starke on August 30, 2015 at 10:07pm

Email continued from Ron Botan:

Recently bears have bitten into three plastic four litre containers of synthetic snowmobile oil, one outboard motor oil, one chainsaw oil and one of antifreeze on my deck. Those containers don't smell like food and were no where near food. I live here so there is a lot of food in my house,,, which they did not pursue. Curious because human presence in a house isn't a deterrent to them trying to come in, or coming in. The bear came onto my deck twice last March. The second time I heard him or her, opened the door to see the black fur right at my feet,,, as bears do it panicked and ran away a few strides, stopped and stared back at me with what seemed to me to be a very confused look. I have never before seen a bear walking around in March when the Bay was still covered in ice.

  I have also had one bear come into a work site and bite into a brand new unopened can of polyurethane and as with my oil and antifreeze containers the bear dragged it around leaving it on its side to drain empty. Raccoons have been doing the same thing to cans of soda and V8 kept overnight in my boats. Also a full four litre jug of laundry soap, bitten full of holes and left on it's side.
  With bears and raccoons sometimes it's visual rather than smell.

   On the list of things to remove could well be added: all motor oil products in plastic containers, antifreeze, laundry soap & softeners, drier cloths, any tables that fish have been cleaned on, (that is the most attractive to bears of all) and definitely remove the bar-b-cue as it cannot be cleaned well enough to eliminate smells from the expert nose of a bear. It's even harder to remove the deck or rock below the bbq that have had food dripped on them.

  There is an apple tree in the Bay which has had a bear eating under it every autumn for over 20 years, obviously not the same bear.

  To the point of bear boards. CBC did a great piece on changing animal behaviour. As we all have seen here in the Bay over the past decade or two the loons no longer spook and fly away as we pass them in boats. The main point of the news was that deer are becoming aggressive towards people in some areas down south. Areas where there are so many deer that they are coming into yards and gardens to eat on a daily basis. Many people have taken to shooting them with sling shots, pellet and BB guns or throwing rocks at them. The deer get stung and have started looking at people in a new way. Apparently there have been cases where,,, get this, the deer are being being aggressive towards humans.

  Bear boards are cruel and intended to cause pain. Considering the fact that animals are conditioned by our actions as well as we by theirs, I suggest that we think about possible long range effects on bear behaviour if they keep stepping on nails around our cottages and begin to correlate humans with pain.

  Bears also love acorns and fruits as do deer, raccoons, porcupines, squirrels, ravens, crows, geese, mice and on and on.

  On the larger islands in the Bay, McGregor, Iroquois, the Sampsons, Jumbo, etc. bears and deer and even moose live on them.  All animals are preparing for winter now and unfortunately for all of us the problem of bears damaging our properties is significant and not easily addressed.

  As one seasoned Bay person says, "a bear is like an excellent nose attached to a 300 pound stomach".  

  Until we can spread anti bear smells around our properties or sit down and negotiate with bears,  we will have to realize that there is always a risk of bear damage. If we are out fishing, or go to town or go away for the season, food in the house or not, there's a risk.

Ronald Kingsley Botan
Sculptor Painter
McGregor Bay, Ontario
P0P 2H0, Canada

Comment by Lyn Starke on August 30, 2015 at 10:03pm

The following is an email sent to the MBA by Ron Botan in response to "Bear Activity" message from Terry, Emailed August 25th, 2015

   It has useful and interesting information but is confusing about the issue of food smells in cottages related to how much food is actually present.
  I agree that it is wise to remove every bit of food before leaving for the season and I also agree that removing food doesn't remove all food smells.

  Some of us are here for short stays or medium stays or a lot of the year or all of the year. It doesn't seem that bears are more attracted to cottages that have had food in them for longer periods of time. Every cabin offers smells that can entice a bear whether there is food in it at the time or not. Some cabins have had fish cleaned on the dock or deck and cooked inside or on a bar-b-cue since the 1960's. That smell is there. So is the location. As we all know, if you are camping in one spot for even one night bears may come calling.

  I'm very sorry about the recent bear damage at Yost's and Grace's. That kind of news makes us all uncomfortable. Nobody wants there house trashed by bears. I've had a bear in my house twice, luckily with minimal damage to the house. I apologize to the bears for their ends. I've cleaned up after them in other cottages where the damage was extreme. To me they are beautiful majestic creatures struggling to survive and it presents an awful dilemma that they can wreck our houses.

  Removing food is a good idea but as the note says it doesn't remove the smell of food to the nose of a bear.


Comment by Elizabeth Quinn on July 16, 2012 at 10:05pm

Additional tips to Minimize Bear Activity at your Cottage:

Unfortunately 2012 has shaped up to be another dry year with a limited natural food supply for  bears. The MNR expects the bears to be more persistent and determined to get food from our cottages. Anything with an odour attracts them...fruit, gas cans, toothplaste, your shampoo on the dock etc. Diapers are their favourite treat!!

Advice from the MNR on July 16, 2012 ...Burn diapers or bury them on an unhihabited island. refrain from taking food into bedrooms. Tighten up on Bear Wise measures to dissuade bears from considering your cottage as a source of food.

Info from the OPP: They are quite able to respond to bear emergencies in McGregor Bay even at night. Call 911 or 1-888-310-1122, depending on your phone service. 911 will work on cell phones and Rogers Rocket Hub phones but historically not on radiotelephone local 285- numbers, for example. You might want to call your service provider to check out if this has been updated and whether you can access 911. This would be useful info to know in any emergency.

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