Documentary examines Del Villano [1956-59] bear hunt – by Kyle Gennings (Timmins Daily Press – April 22, 2013)

The Daily Press is the city of Timmins broadsheet newspaper.

TIMMINS – Timmins is a community that is built upon stories of heroism, bravery, ingenuity and downright strangeness.

From Sandy McIntyre to Maggie Buffalo, the snippets of Timmins past are wide spread and deeply rooted. But none of the stories transcended the borders of the community and the country quite like the tale of one mayor and his determination to see the Queen’s guard look their best marching in front of Buckingham Palace.

Leo Del Villano served as Mayor of Timmins for many years. Between 1956 and 1959 he gained international fame for having organized the largest bear hunt in Ontario’s history.

“I am looking at an overall perspective on Black Bear hunting and management in Ontario and as I had been going through a number of newspaper articles, I stumbled across Leo Del Villano’s story,” said Michael Commito, a PhD candidate from the Department of History at McMaster University.

Commito has focused his PhD on the history of the Black Bear hunt in Ontario from 1892 to 1999.

“I came across this story of this Timmins Mayor who organized this massive bear hunt to help replace the Queen’s guards bearskin caps,” he said. “I didn’t think much of it, but as my research kept moving forward I continued to find a lot more information on this particular hunt. so I pursued this avenue and was really happy with what resulted.”

Those weeks and months of research culminated in a 10-minute documentary that Commito made for the Network of Canadian History and Environment which profiles Del Villano and his folly.

“This Timmins story fits into a broader, trans-national exchange where communities in Canada were offering up natural resources to Britain to help restore prestige to the British army,” said Commito. “I think it is widely agreed that Del Villano was trying to be patriotic in this moment, organizing a huge bear hunt which lasted from mid May until June, killing 62 bears and producing around 100 bear skin caps.

“At the same time during the 1950s, St. George in British Columbia also did a similar thing where they would hunt every spring to provide bear skins for the British Army,” said Commito. “So when Timmins did this, there was kind of a back and forth battle between the group in St. George and the group in Timmins as to who was the best provider of bear skin.”

This fur-based arms race served to bring much needed regulation to the forefront.

“In 1959, the people of southern Ontario were not really familiar with the formalities of bear hunting,” said Commito. “At this time, the bear was being bountied, so it wasn’t really suspect to rigorous game laws. so I think that by Mayor Del Villano putting this issue on centre stage, attracting international attention he brought considerably more attention to the current status of Black Bears in Ontario, and I think, that initially at least, this was for the better.

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