Grin and bear it Ursine exhibition gives lockdown life polar purpose

They’re being called the Bears on Barrington.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/01/2021 (755 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

They’re being called the Bears on Barrington.

A St. Vital woman, sick and tired of having nothing to do during the code-red lockdown, has turned the front yard of her home on Barrington Avenue into a polar bear playground.

Vinora Bennett, a 40-year-old married mother of three, has spent the last 10 days turning piles of snow and ice into more than a dozen amusing and lifelike sculptures of Manitoba’s famous, fearsome and furry northern residents.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Vinora Bennett works on a sculpture in her St. Vital front yard.

“I’ve never done snow sculpting before and I didn’t know if I could do it,” Bennett said with a wide grin as she reattached a charcoal briquette nose that had fallen off one bear amid the unseasonably warm weather.

“I built some snowmen as a kid, but nothing like this. I didn’t realize they would actually turn out to look like bears. This will become an annual thing. It will get better every year. I can see where I can do better. I can make them bigger and more life-sized.”

Her bear-building binge began little more than a week ago because she found herself with way too much time on her hands during the COVID-19 lockdown and the boredom was becoming, well, unbearable.

Her sculptures, which take roughly five or six hours to build, include a bear leaning against a tree with a whimsical smile on its face, while others roam the yard, squabble among themselves, silently roar at passersby, cuddle with their cubs, and squat by a fishing hole. There’s even a baby bear that, with the help of some hidden wires, clings to the trunk of a tree.

The rapidly growing parade of polar bears has quickly become a tourist attraction for passing motorists, much like the glittering Christmas light displays in Linden Woods.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Bennett has turned her Barrington Avenue front yard into a polar bear playground.

“You can’t go out anywhere and you’re stuck at home all the time and bored, so I needed something to do with my time,” Bennett, a seasonal employee with a family-run stucco company, said of her bear-building passion.

“You need something to occupy your mind. A lot of people are getting depressed and you need to find something that brings you joy and brings other people joy. It’s a huge reward when you get compliments when people are driving by.”

Armed with a red plastic bucket, a snow shovel and a carving knife, she decided to battle boredom by building a couple of snowmen, including “Olaf” from Disney’s Frozen franchise, in her backyard.

“The snow wasn’t sticky, but I was determined so I added a little water and it worked really well. Then (after building the snowmen) I thought what am I going to build now.”

Which is when she went online, stumbled across a cute photo of a polar bear and decided to bear down. “I thought, ‘How perfect!’ I’ll build that in the front yard.’”

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Sick of being trapped inside during the lockdown, Bennett sculpted almost a dozen polar bears out of the snow in her yard and they've become a bit of a tourist attraction.

That first sculpture features a mother bear and cub parked in front of a fishing hole cut into the ice. “Those two bears represent me and my oldest daughter,” Bennett said, smiling.

“I didn’t expect anything, but there were so many compliments and the kids loved it. People driving by would let me know how awesome it was. I wasn’t expecting people to enjoy it that much, so I decided to build some more. I’ve been working on it for over a week — just one bear after another. Some days I build two. I just started going and realized people were enjoying it and it gave me a purpose.”

The novice snow sculpter said she’s delighted to inject a bit of joy into the lives of people struggling with the pandemic blues.

“It makes you smile,” she said. “It’s very therapeutic. If we can find a way to make somebody’s day a little bit brighter, especially now, it just makes sense. If I can build something somebody else will enjoy, why wouldn’t I do that?”

When it was pointed out she was building her bears at 59 Barrington Avenue, she laughingly insisted the name of her street is simply a coincidence and didn’t influence her choice of subject.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Bennett has sculpted almost a dozen polar bear snow sculptures, which range in size and formation.

Asked why she focused on polar bears, she laughed and gushed: “They’re so cute! Who doesn’t like polar bears? You can’t go wrong with polar bears. What else would I make? It’s a Manitoba thing. It makes it feel like winter. I’m totally obsessed with polar bears now.”

Her husband and children have chipped in from time to time, but mostly Bennett, dressed in her blaze orange parka and snowpants, is out there for hours sculpting on her own.

“I make a pile and, because it’s not sticky, I fill a pail with cold water and pour it over, pack it down, then throw some more snow on and repeat that until I’ve created the shape I want and can start chiselling away to create the details,” she noted.

“You just have something in mind that you want to do. It doesn’t take that long because a polar bear doesn’t have a lot of details — a round body, legs and a head. It’s as simple as a snowman. Anybody can do it. It just takes time.”

She’s determined to keep going, but there is one little problem. “I’m running out of snow, so I can only do so much,” she said with a sigh.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Bennett says that with planning, creating a snow bear is just as simple as making a snowman.

Bennett’s next-door neighbour, Donamae Hilton, said it warms her heart watching the polar bear menagerie grow every day.

“I love the Bears on Barrington,” Hilton chuckled. “In this COVID time, it’s nice to have something that makes you smile. People are driving by and pulling into my driveway and getting out to run and take a picture of the bears and then everybody leaves smiling.

“People come every day to see what’s new. You have to look for the good right now. For never having done it before, it’s just amazing how she sits there with a mound of snow and she makes them look so lifelike. She’s a great neighbour.”

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Bennett says she’s delighted to inject a bit of joy into the lives of people struggling with the pandemic blues.
Doug Speirs

Doug Speirs

Doug has held almost every job at the newspaper — reporter, city editor, night editor, tour guide, hand model — and his colleagues are confident he’ll eventually find something he is good at.

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