Early on Sunday 5 August 2018, Brian Ladoon died at the age of 65 in Churchill, Manitoba — and so far, the media have said nothing. Brian dedicated his life to the preservation of the Canadian Eskimo Dog — which often attracted polar bears to his property — but he was also an accomplished artist.
As a lover of Arctic dogs, I remember hearing of Brian’s work decades ago but only that “someone” was working hard to save the breed. I never dreamed I’d come to know so much more about his work through my research on polar bear ecology and evolution.
I never met the man. But he has clearly been an icon of Churchill for decades and because of that, the place will not be the same without him. He is on the right in the photo below, for the TV series “Polar Bear Town” that ran in 2015 (some episodes below).
UPDATE 9 May 2019: A reader asked what happened to Brian’s dogs and because I wondered myself, I asked around. Kelsey Eliasson responded:
“Penny his ex-partner is taking care of them with a small team of helpers… they are trying to formalize a board/non-profit for long-term needs”
“Churchill Loses a Legend“ (Steve Selden, Churchill Polar Bears, 5 August 2018):
“Whether you liked or disliked Brian Ladoon, the man was a legend and all around character in the sub – Arctic village of Churchill, Manitoba. His viking persona evoked a movie star aura whenever he was spotted around town or out at mile five where he kept his rare Eskimo sled dogs. Brian passed away yesterday in Churchill. [4 Aug] He will be missed by so many!”
Photographer Norbert Rosing, on Facebook (6 August, translated from Norwegian):
“Brian Ladon, (65) died of a short, severe illness in the past. He loved his Canadian Eskimo dogs that he was growing since the 1970 s. He saved this dog from extinction. He also loved the outdoor life in his home, Churchill, Manitoba on the coast of Hudson Bay. Brian was famous by the pictures and numerous films that were photographed and filmed by national and international film at his dog place over polar bears. I also owe Brian from the 1990 s and 2000 s my best polar bear pictures. We became good friends. I’ll never forget him. May he always feel the Nordic Wind and the auroras above his grave.”
Couple of Rosing’s photos taken at Ladoon’s dog yard in 2008 are below:
Churchill polar bear guide Kelsey Eliasson, on Facebook (5 August 9:54 am)
“RIP Brian Ladoon. He spent more time on the Churchill coast and with polar bears than anyone I know… maybe more time with bears than anyone in the world probably. He had a lot of knowledge – that made more and more sense over the years…”
Later, Kelsey added (Tuesday 7 August, 7:55pm):
“I gave up on Polar Bear Alley a while back I guess… but this is a very good example of why… Manitoba Conservation ‘Polar Bear Alert’ cancelled the polar bear jail open house in Churchill out of respect to Aaron Gibbons, the polar bear fatality in Arviat. I absolutely respect that. But Brian Ladoon dies on Sunday and they ‘inspect’ his dogyard and take a head count on Monday, a statutory holiday. Like the dogs started starving a day after he died. I wish I didn’t expect it… but I did. Manitoba wants that land back and when they get it, it will go to the zoo or PBI or whoever is the highest paying sponsor. This is how Churchill has been and always will be treated by Manitoba. Just a resource. Its a real tragedy.”
Brian was vilified by some: he struggled to raise the money to feed all the dogs he kept and to keep them safe from the polar bears that descended on the area every fall. There is no doubt that the dogs were an attractant for bears, as dogs are everywhere in the Arctic.
However, two years ago, it was revealed that he had (as many suspected) been feeding local polar bears to keep them from harming his dogs (caught out only when a bear killed one of his dogs after a night he had not fed the bears).
And while that’s a big no-no for wildlife, until 2016, he seemed to have managed for decades without a major incident. As Kelsey Eliasson commented on his facebook post:
“If Ladoon were an Inuit elder living in the high arctic, he would have been praised for doing exactly the same things the same way as he did in Churchill… probably given the Order of Canada… that’s a fact.”
What will become of the dogs is still not known.