I heard that there was a fellow who sold “bear sticks” at Kakabeka Farmers’ Market and I found a number for him.
Jim Morris, it turns out, lives in Thunder Bay, and he agreed to meet me at his workshop in Current River. I turned up just before 7:00 p.m. on Sunday and he was already there and open for business.
He had dozens of the hiking sticks made from green diamond willow and birch as well as wooden dowels. I selected two diamond willows; he let me try them in his backyard.
It also turns out he knew me. In 1969-70, I taught a year at Lakeview High. It was the year he took a sabbatical to study for a master’s degree in education but he recalled meeting me.
I’ve known very few men with photographic memories, and the late E.C. Everett was one of them. Elvin was a Nipigon resident and entrepreneur. In the ‘20s and ‘30s, he used to hop on Canadian National Railways trains with huge, overstuffed suitcases and get off at various whistlestops between Nipigon and Longlac. He sold everything, from ladies’ undergarments to hunting knives.
After he stopped at the Hudson Bay Company’s post in Longlac, in the ‘70s he could recall the date of the treaty day he made the sale to the chief of a complete suit and threw in a fedora. He could recall the time of day and if the weather was sunny or cloudy. He had a phenomenal recall. And he could show you the picture postcard which he made to prove it.
Anyway, after fifty some years, Jim Morris recalled meeting me. I’ve changed somewhat in half a century. But he remembered me.
He told me about the history and manufacture of his bear sticks. He still goes into the bush and cuts willow and birch sticks. Peels them, leaves them from 48 to 50 inches long. Cuts about 9 inches from the stout end and drills holes in each piece. Inserts an 8- to 10-inch headless ardox spike into the business end.
I asked him how often he’s met a bear on the trail. He said twice. And each time the bear ran off before he needed to defend himself.
Jim now has a doctorate in education. Dr. Jim Morris has loads of experience in teaching and other pursuits. He still makes bear sticks, sells them by mail order, and speaks up proudly about them given the least excuse.
He calls The Bear Stick (it’s capitalized in his advertising) the stick with an attitude.
May his attitude last forever.