Last November, 69-year-old Bill Ayotte became a hero when he saved a young woman from a polar bear attack in Churchill, Man., the polar bear capital of the world.
A year later, his courageous, death-defying actions have been awarded with the Order of the Buffalo Hunt, one of the province’s highest honours.
On that fateful day, Ayotte, who is retired, heard frantic screaming outside his house early in the morning on November 1. With just a shovel in-hand, he rushed out and discovered a polar bear mauling Erin Greene, a woman from Montreal who was attacked while walking home from a Halloween party.
Ayotte acted swiftly and calmly. He began whacking the bear with the shovel, distracting it long enough for Greene to run away. But the bear overpowered Ayotte, knocking him to the ground.
“It was dragging him around,” Mitch Paddock, a neighbour of Ayotte’s, told The Globe and Mail. “It was pouncing on him. That’s what polar bears do. They take both their paws and they kind of smash.”
Paddock grabbed his gun—a shotgun loaded with firecracker shells designed to scare wildlife away—and raced out in sock feet to help Ayotte. While Paddock shot at the bear, another neighbour jumped into his pick-up truck and drove towards the animal while honking the horn. Eventually the bear ran off.
Both Ayotte and Greene, the woman he saved, suffered multiple lacerations, but they both survived. Following the attack, Manitoba Conservation officials fatally shot two bears.
Ayotte’s brave actions have earned him induction into the Order of the Buffalo Hunt, an honour bestowed by the province to individuals who demonstrate outstanding skills in leadership, service and community commitment.
“The people of Churchill have learned to live with and respect polar bears, but when he saw a young woman being attacked by a bear, Bill Ayotte reacted without hesitation and those actions saved her life,” Conservation Minister Gord Mackintosh said in a release.
“He risked his own life to save a neighbour and that courage should be recognized and rewarded.”