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World’s Top Polar Bear Guide, Dear Friend to Nature and People, Dies at 51

by George Williams 
Tribute Video by BUILD Films Inc.

Andy MacPherson. Polar Bear Guide. Churchill WIld. Pat Maloney photo.

Andy MacPherson. Pat Maloney photo.

Andrew “Andy” Charles MacPherson, who was widely acknowledged as the world’s top polar bear guide, and a major force behind the evolution of polar bear safaris and walking tours at Churchill Wild over the past 15 years, passed away suddenly and peacefully at the age of 51 in his home in Ucluelet, B.C. on January 30, 2022.

“He was sitting in a chair wrapped in a blanket with his feet in front of our little electric fireplace,” said Andy’s partner Jody Steeves, her voice heavy with emotion. “I thought he was just reading the news. I walked down the stairs and said, ‘Look at the beautiful sunrise, have you seen the hummingbird yet?’ And he was just …”

Gone.

Regarded by his peers as the most knowledgeable and experienced polar bear guide in the world, Andy was heavily involved in the development of Churchill Wild’s industry-leading safety program for walking with polar bears. He was among the first people ever to witness polar bears hunting beluga whales during the summer, and was one of the lucky few to observe true romance among polar bears, but his wilderness experiences were not just limited to the great white bears.

Andy’s guiding adventures included viewing grizzlies, black bears, whales and wolves on Canada’s West coast, stalking muskox in the Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary, paddling with manatees and looking for jaguars in Belize, leading photo-ops for penguins in the Antarctic, exploring for narwhals in the high Arctic, dancing with caribou and howling with wolves on the tundra, and finally, walking with polar bears on the Hudson Bay coast — where he trained numerous guides to do the same — and fell in love.

Andy had a rare intuition for understanding and communicating with all living things. He understood how everything in nature was connected, from the tiniest tundra flower to the largest land predator on the planet, to family, friends and guided guests.

“While Andy loved wildlife and the great outdoors, it was his ability to connect with people that made him even more special,” said his online memorial.

Andy’s passing leaves a huge hole in the lives of many people, including all of us at Churchill Wild. He is survived by his love Jody, his parents Al and Sherron, his sister Dawn and brother-in-law Wade, his niece Sarah and nephew Stefan, as well as many aunts, uncles and cousins, life-long friends, new friends and colleagues too many to name or count.

“He will be sadly missed by so many,” said Churchill Wild owners Mike and Jeanne Reimer.

Andy Macpherson talking to a polar bear at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge. Jad Davenport photo.

Andy talking to a polar bear at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge. Jad Davenport photo.

Growing Up Andy

Andy was born and raised in Victoria B.C., the youngest of two children, with older sister Dawn. His parents Al and Sherron encouraged his innate talent for understanding nature, animals and people from an early age.

“We were really close both as a family and as an extended family,” said Dawn. “We spent a lot of time together in the outdoors, camping, hiking and fishing. Andy was super close with his grandparents, both of his grandfathers in particular. There were so many people and places that contributed to who he was, but it started with the family camping trips and extended family gatherings. Our mom and dad are pretty amazing people.”

Andy’s sixth sense for the natural world was passed on to him by his father, and they were remarkably similar to each other – quiet and humble with a great sense of humor and a love for the outdoors. Andy also showed a knack for storytelling and getting along with people from an early age.

“He was always a confident kid,” said Dawn. “Our mom often tells the story about him wandering off when he was seven years old, while we were on a ferry to Vancouver. We found him enchanting a group of people with stories about wolves.”

Andy graduated from Claremont Secondary School in Victoria and went on to earn a diploma in Environmental Technology from Camosun College. He completed every course he could find related to safety and wilderness guiding and was continually building on what he’d learned while growing up.

“We were always looking for wildlife on our camping trips, and dad would share his knowledge,” said Dawn. “Andy just took those early teachings to a new level. He and my dad took a kayaking course together when he was in his teens, and they did some amazing trips on the West coast. They even spent a month camping near the Sea of Cortez, living out of Andy’s Volkswagen van.”

Andy’s guiding career began with kayaking trips on the northern tip of Vancouver Island, where he first met Derek Kyostia. The pair would go on to work together on numerous adventures as guides for grizzlies, black bears and other wildlife, and years later it would be Andy who trained Derek to walk with polar bears at Churchill Wild.

Early Days at Churchill Wild

Early days at Seal River Heritage Lodge. Andy MacPherson. Gaylord Dunkley photo.

Andy MacPherson. Early days at Seal River. Gaynor Dunkley photo.

Andy started working for Churchill Wild in 2007 on a recommendation of their chief photographer and head guide at the time, Dennis Fast, who had met Andy on a photography trip to the Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary. Andy was leading canoe trips for “Tundra Tom” Faess and Canadian Wilderness Adventures alongside future Churchill Wild guide Terry Elliott. They had a base camp at Whitefish Lake and would go out daily in search of wolves, muskox, and grizzly bears.

“Dennis came back to our place at Seal River and was just raving about Andy,” said Churchill Wild co-owner Mike Reimer. “He connected with us and the rest is history. Andy was eager to try anything and to expand his knowledge. He was always enthusiastic and the guests loved him. He had a wealth of knowledge and he was very well read. Andy never stopped learning or expanding his horizons, especially when it came to polar bears.”

“Andy asked me to put in a good word for him at Churchill Wild,” said Fast. “But I had already done so. We hit it off instantly and ended up working together many times. He was a natural with the bears, a polar bear whisperer. It was really quite amazing. He had an infectious smile, people immediately related to him. And of course he had a tremendous knowledge of the biology of bears and everything else related to them.”

Reimer and Fast had already been walking with polar bears for 15 years by the time Andy came to work for Churchill Wild, but it didn’t take long for their new guide to figure things out.

“He would have been a little cautious at first,” said Riemer. “But he certainly embraced it quickly. He could see that this was the best way to see polar bears and he basically took it and ran with it. He continued to develop and expand on our programs. He pulled away a little bit from my methods and at the same time he brought a real touch of class and professionalism to the operation. Terry (Elliott) arrived the next year on a recommendation from Andy and he was another natural. They were both just fabulous and worked so well together. Andy was responsible for our guiding program from then on.”

Terry had originally hired Andy to work with him as a guide in the Northwest Territories, and they had bonded quickly.

“Oh, this is going to be hard,” said Elliott, who still couldn’t believe his longtime guiding partner was gone. “I don’t know if I was his best friend, but we were really close, like brothers. When I hired him, he was a protégé. When we worked together later at Churchill Wild, he was my peer, a mentor. He had a thirst for knowledge and he just grew right into the job. I learned so much from him…”

Andy MacPherson and Terry Elliott. Churchill Wild polar bear guides. Joanne Weeks photo.

Andy MacPherson (right) and Terry Elliot at Seal River Heritage Lodge. Joanne Weeks photo.

Andy loved sharing polar bear experiences with people, and he had a knack for making them feel comfortable on the ground with polar bears.

“That was one of his best skills, sharing the animals with the people,” said Elliott. “That’s kind of what we’re in it for. We get to see the bears, but we get to share the experience with guests. People cry tears of joy all the time, it’s emotional. These are life-changing experiences for guests and Andy knew it. He loved that part of the job.”

Sharing ground-level polar bear experiences with guests required an intimate understanding of bear behavior, but also the ability to inspire confidence in the people observing the bear. Like all wild animals, polar bears can sense fear and emotion in each other, and in people.

“When Andy was working with a group and a bear, you would rarely see the bear get agitated,” said Ian Thorleifson, who spent decades doing polar bear research in Churchill and also worked as a guide with Andy during his early years at Churchill Wild. “Andy could very quickly assess the emotional state of a bear and decide whether it was approachable. Was it nervous? Was it comfortable? How was it carrying itself?

“You need certain gifts to be a polar bear guide, and Andy had them. The ability to read, understand and communicate with animals is something that you can learn to a certain extent, but if you don’t have those gifts right from childhood, you’re never going to develop them to his level. It’s something that’s innate. And you simply cannot have an undercurrent of fear, it destroys your confidence and the animals sense it immediately. Not every person can do it.

“Polar bears have to read each other all the time. It’s a life and death thing. It’s a serious deal. So they get exceptionally good at reading you and the people around you. When you’re doing a bear approach with a group, everybody has to trust you and behave the way you tell them to. Andy caught on to that quickly.

“He was a marvelous communicator. He was never judgemental. He was disarming while at the same time inspiring you and building your confidence. He would correct you if you did something that you shouldn’t do, but it was always understood that it was not discipline. It was for the good of you and the group and the bear.”

Over the years on the tundra, certain bears became known to Andy and Terry. Each had their own personality and would be approached or left alone accordingly. Some, like Bob, Warrior Pete and The Three Amigos had certain recognizable behaviours.

“Bob was a bear who had been a friend of ours for a long time,” said Elliott. “Andy and I watched him grow up. Bob was a rockstar. At one point he was probably the most photographed bear in the Arctic. He even had more photographers than Scarbrow at Dymond Lake. You could recognize him by his two little crossed teeth on his lower jaw, and by his behaviour.

“And that was the thing about the bears we knew. You could tell whether a bear had been around before. You could tell if they were stressed, and you could tell if they were mean. We approached each bear as an individual, depending on their behaviour and body language.

“Sometimes you had to be part of the scenery walking in single file and other times you had to spread out as a larger group. Andy knew that a polar bear was too smart to try and take on a group of 12 people, and that polar bears never take any unnecessary risks. There were times when we had 15 polar bears around us. They’re behind you, in front of you, moving all around. Sometimes you had to be aggressive and stand your ground, and Andy knew when to do what.”

Both Mike and Jeanne Reimer echoed Elliott’s sentiments.

Amnd MacPherson. Conversation with a polar bear at Seal River. Paula Curtin photo.

Meeting in the long grass. Seal River Heritage Lodge. Paula Curtin photo.

A Guide, a Teacher, and a Person You Could Count On

“You could count on Andy,” said Mike. “And he was sort of known as the Babe Ruth of polar bear encounters. He had a good arm and a stellar aim when it came to pitching a rock just to get a bear to pay attention and move along. At the same time he knew just how and when to talk to the bears. He had a real knack for reading bear behavior and understanding it.

“Bears are very subtle in their nuances and in the way they project their messages to you. You can never be complacent around polar bears, but Andy was the master of reading them, whether it be facial expressions or body language and posture, he knew exactly what to do, how to react, and how to manage the encounter. Sometimes it was just to avoid a bear because it was cranky and other times it was a bear we didn’t need to get close to. Andy knew the difference.

“You’re on the ground with the world’s largest carnivore. So not only do you have to be cool under pressure, but you also have to be able to handle a firearm if necessary. That takes a certain kind of person, and that’s just one of the reasons Andy will be so sorely missed.”

“In the early years when, new guides would come on, it took a long time for me to be comfortable with anyone who wasn’t Mike (Reimer),” said Jeanne. “Because everybody’s safety out there depended on that person, and it all comes down to the business owners in the end. But Andy was absolutely and completely dependable and trustworthy in that sense. It wasn’t long before I was comfortable with him, and that says a lot, because I was pretty nervous about walking with the bears in the early days. You always felt safe with Andy.”

Jeanne also recalled one of her funnier moments with Andy during his early years at Churchill Wild.

“Andy was always helpful, always wanted to be part of the team. When we were having appetizers in the lounge, he would offer to come in and clear dishes. But he would wear these tattered, battle-weary gloves with the fingers cut out of them, and he would come and help serve with those. I gave him the evil eye one day and he knew he couldn’t wear them anymore in the dining room. We had a standing joke about that forever.”

“Another thing about Andy was how humble and understated he was,” said Mike. “He was confident in his abilities and his contribution, but he was happy to bring on new guides and train them, and he would push for that. He always wanted to develop more and better guides in an effort to offer better programs, and he was never threatened by that.

“He was always about what was best for the guests and the company. We do get a few guides that like to spend a lot of time looking in the mirror, and Andy wasn’t one of them. He never got full of himself. He was always about providing the best experience for the guests and he made sure he encouraged the new guides to do that.”

“Andy taught so many guides,” said Elliott. “It’s going to be tough for anyone to fill those boots again. It was an honour to know him. We were like brothers. There were lots of people who thought we were like an old married couple because we’d squabble. We had to live together for months at a time and work together all day and all night, but we never had a fight. He was like family.”

“Andy was the best polar bear guide in the world,” said Reimer. “I cannot think of anybody that was better, because nobody had the kind of on-the-ground experience that he had. And he was there early in the process. It took a lot of development to get it to the point where it was a one-of-a-kind program and Andy helped us put it altogether.

“Andy and Terry were/are without a doubt the best polar bear guides on the planet, by quite a wide margin. You do get some great guides over the years, but these guys are in a class of their own. They developed our polar bear safaris based on decades of experience walking with polar bears. They’re the Gold Standard of polar bear guiding.”

Not only did Andy teach numerous guides, he also helped Churchill Wild develop the best-in-class safety protocols for walking with polar bears. The three-guide system is the first of its kind in the world and ensures there is at least 30 years of bear guiding experience or more on the ground with the guests and the polar bears at all times. Two of the guides manage the interactions with the bears and the third guide works with guests to provide a safe and often exhilarating experience.

The three-guide system arose partially from Andy’s adventures with long-time guiding friend Derek Kyostia, who first met both Andy and Terry in 2005 at Knight Inlet Lodge. Andy would go on to work with Derek all over the world.

“For a long time, no matter where I went for guiding or field work, it seemed like Andy would show up,” said Kyostia. “We worked together on grizzly tours, on a bird research project in Baja, we travelled Argentina and Chile together, we worked on a ship together in South Georgia.”

And it was Andy who finally convinced Kyostia to walk with polar bears at Churchill Wild.

Churchill Wild polar bear guides Andy MacPherson (left) and Derek Kyostia.

Andy MacPherson (left) and Derek Kyostia. Rimma Aronov photo.

“He kept saying I had to try it, being on the tundra with the polar bears” said Kyostia. “And I thought, ‘You guys are crazy.’ But I wanted a taste of something else, so I went. Everything Andy had described to me was true. Seeing is believing, and there he was talking to polar bears. It was amazing to watch him work his magic.

“My most memorable occasion with Andy came in my second year guiding at Churchill Wild. We had a close encounter with a bear and Andy’s ability to keep his cool allowed us to all walk away with a better understanding of each other and the bear.

“I had so much respect for him. He was the humblest individual I’d ever met. And given what he pioneered and the respect that he had within that industry, and amongst his friends and family, he was just so unassuming. Unless you asked him about something specific, he never talked about himself.”

Unbeknownst to most, Andy was also a diligent note taker.

“We’d be decompressing from the day, maybe having a glass of wine, and I’d look over at Andy and he would be scribbling all these notes,” said Kyostia. “I asked him what he was doing and he said, ‘Every day I guide I have notes.’ He was a meticulous note keeper. Jody estimates he has over 30 volumes. That’s a wealth of invaluable knowledge that will be immortalized forever.

“I learned so much from him. He taught me about observation, which was all in his notes, and about the virtue of patience. As a guide you always wanted to deliver a world-class experience for the guests, and people often demanded instant gratification, but Andy would always stop and observe the bear and explain first. He wanted to know the mindset of the bear.

“He made us think. We don’t know what this bear was doing 30 minutes ago. Was it in a confrontation with another bear? Was it sparring? Was it hungry? Was it looking for a seal? You had to take all these things into consideration and think like a bear. When I went on to be a lead guide, I could always hear Andy’s voice in my head telling me to think, observe and be patient.”

Kyostia was on his way to a job that Andy had secured for him when we talked to him. He would be driving a boat for a film crew on the West coast. He’d switched places with Andy, so his friend could spend more time with Jody before heading to the Den Emergence Quest at Churchill Wild.

“I will always love that guy,” said Kyostia.

Andy MacPherson. Smokie roast at Nanuk. Hudson Bay coast.

Smokie roast! Andy entertaining guests at Nanuk. Robert Postma photo.

Legendary Presentations and a Talent for Entertaining Guests

Andy’s notes bolstered his memories of polar bear encounters and life in the Arctic, and he used them in his presentations, which were always excellent, but sometimes a tad long after a full day out on the tundra with the bears. That led to a humorous secret code between Mike (Reimer) and Andy.

“Andy was famous for his long presentations,” said Reimer. “They were mostly about bears. I mean, he was a bear expert. He knew everything about bears and the natural history surrounding them, and a lot of other things too. Andy was a natural teacher, and he just loved getting questions and answering them. But anytime he got questions, that would extend his presentation.

“So I’d wander through once in a while just to see how things were going. He and I had had a signal. I’d start holding up fingers for how many people were asleep. After long days out with the polar bears, people were tired. He knew if there were six or seven fingers up, he’d better wrap it up. His presentations were always full of fascinating insights and information, but that was a standing joke between us.

“The other thing, with both Andy and Terry, is that they would leave the lodge on a tour, and if there wasn’t a lot of wildlife around, they could make anything interesting for the guests. From the slightest, smallest flower to tiny bugs. They’d leave on a tour, they’d be gone for three hours, and they hadn’t even made it to the airstrip yet or seen a bear yet.

“They’d have guests taking shots of microscopic Arctic flowers and loving it. They just had a knack for bringing the flora and fauna of the tundra to life. They could razzle-dazzle people with the little things and really make it enjoyable for the guests during times when there might not be a polar bear around. That’s talent.

“Andy was a very well-rounded entertainer when it came to the outdoors. When he took people out for the beluga whale swims, that was obviously a highlight of the tour. And we’d often get comments from guests who were nervous, who would have a tough time getting in the water, on how patient Andy was, how comfortable he made them feel. For many guests, that made the trip for them.”

Learning Nanuk

In 2009, Churchill Wild purchased Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge, a former goose hunting camp. Both the lodge and the new polar bear safaris would require extensive renovations to make them what they are today.

“It was a new place for me and a new place for Andy,” said Nolan Booth, Churchill Wild Director of Operations. “It was a totally different landscape compared to Seal River and Dymond Lake, at the heart of three different ecosystems. Andy and I had to go out everyday with veteran Nanuk guide Albert “Butch” Saunders and learn the new trails, and then we had to teach the guides. It was like that for 2-3 years.

“It was a different mindset for some of the guides, who had previously guided goose hunts and were used to shooing bears away. Now the bears wanted to come and see us and we didn’t need to chase them away. We just had to wait and the bears would just walk by us and leave on their own. We would approach them, in a respectful way. It was a crazy fun to watch Andy lead guides and groups there in the early days. The game had changed. We developed it from scratch over a new terrain and Andy led the whole thing.”

Andy MacPherson and polar bear at Nanuk. Nolan Booth photo.

Andy MacPherson monitoring the body language and behaviour of polar bear at Nanuk. Nolan Booth photo.

“Andy could connect with people at any level,” said Doreen Booth, Sales and Guest Relations Manager at Churchill Wild. “He was a lot of fun and the guests loved him. We’re really going to miss walking those beaches with him at Nanuk.”

“I think one of the things I really admired about Andy was his amazing passion for talking about anything wildlife or Northern related,” said Bella Waterton, who worked with Andy as a manager at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge. “He knew so much and he was so willing to share. It didn’t matter how many times guests had asked him the same question over and over and over. He was always happy to take the time and to answer their questions. You could tell how much he loved his job and how passionate he was about the north.”

“And he always wanted to get the staff out into the field and show them everything,” said Nolan. “That was a big deal. It was hard to do. There were always people around and things to do, so it was hard to get motivated to do it. Andy understood how important it was to get the staff out to experience nature and the bears, and he always made sure they had a fun time.”

Nolan and Andy worked together on numerous trips in spring, summer, fall and winter at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge, including hosting the ice researchers from the University of Manitoba.

“Those were long days,” said Nolan. “Because you weren’t doing any tours. You’re taking a bunch of scientists out from before sunrise to after sunset and taking care of them. And there’s nothing else to do. No entertainment, no nothing. So one night Andy would do a presentation and the next night a researcher would do a presentation. We called it science class and it was fun. We learned something new every night, about each other or about an Arctic organism.”

Andy also enjoyed fly-fishing at Nanuk, something that would carry over into his personal life.

“He decided he was going to get into fly-fishing and the next season he showed up with a fly rod,” said Nolan. “I helped him learn how to cast and he spent hours practicing to the point that he was good at it. Then he caught his first fish and said it was way easier than he thought it would be. It was just one of those fun things we got to do together when there was down time, and he loved it.”

Renaissance Man

“Andy was a real renaissance man,” said National Geographic Photographer Jad Davenport, Director of Wolf Programs at Churchill Wild. “He was the classic naturalist. He wasn’t a specialist in that he just knew about polar bears. He was an outdoors person, but you could talk to him about film, about literature, about all kinds of things.”

Davenport shared a tent with Andy at Tundra Camp on the Arctic Safari and learned first-hand how good a storyteller Andy was.

“He had all kinds of interesting stories,” said Davenport. “He told me about being stranded on an ice floe that broke off in Admiral Inlet near Arctic Bay, Nunavut, and having the camp break up under his feet. And he was very generous about sharing his knowledge. He would have guests reaching down, touching the tundra, and making the connection between the permafrost and polar bears.

“And that’s what I loved about Andy. He had such deep experiences in the Arctic. He was a throwback to the guys that would sail the Northwest Passage. He was an Arctic explorer. In an age when they say exploration is over, he was out there doing it. Hiking the tundra with him was a lot of fun. I think he really enjoyed being out there on the barren lands at Tundra Camp, because it was quite different from Nanuk.

“Andy didn’t just want facts and figures, he wanted to understand how things worked. I don’t know what his academic background was, but he must have had the equivalent of a PhD in everything from mammals to oceanography to history. It wasn’t just about bears for him.

 Andy MacPherson with lemming. Jad Davenport photo.

All creatures great and small. Andy and his lemming. Jad Davenport photo.

“One day we were looking for a mother and cub, and all of a sudden, he leaps off his snow machine and dives into a snow drift face first. He emerges with a big smile and a lemming in his hand. He was so excited. He’s got all these guests that were looking for the mother and cub fascinated with this lemming. It’s just sitting in the palm of his hand. He brushed off the snow and just sat there with this lemming, explaining to everyone how lemmings are a keystone species.

“One of the coolest things about Andy was that he was not a big guy, but he faced off against the largest land predator on the planet, did it gently, and won. I remember one November we had five polar bears in front of us out on the ice and a big male was approaching too close. Andy managed it all without even taking out a cracker shell. He did it with his voice and by understanding the bear’s behavior and moderating that.

“When he finishes, the bear walks away, and everyone is in awe. We’ve just had a beautiful encounter with a huge polar bear and people are floored. They looked at Andy like he was John Wayne, like he was 10-feet tall with Stetson on. I don’t think I ever saw him get rattled.

“Andy was the number one polar bear guide in the world, for sure. He probably had more hours in front of a polar bear than anyone else on the planet. He pioneered so much of how you interact with bears, not out of fear, but with respect. And he got along with people the same way. He was one of those rare souls who could get along with people as well as he got along with polar bears.”

Falling in Love

Andy met the love of his life at Seal River Heritage Lodge in 2016. Jody Steeves was doing carpentry work at the lodge when she caught Andy’s eye, and a wrap-up party at the end of the construction job led to an introduction that would turn into a full-blown romance a year later.

Jody ended up flying out soon after she met Andy, but contacted him about guiding opportunities in the off season. She started taking every guiding-related course she could take, including a first aid course in B.C. with Andy, and they started dating shortly afterwards. Jody was determined to become a polar bear guide, but it didn’t appear that was going to work out for her, so she took a job guiding for grizzly bears while continuing to take courses. A 2018 phone call from Shari Wright, Director of Logistics and HR at Churchill Wild, changed everything.

Jody returned to work at Churchill Wild as a guide and the romance was on.

“Andy was just so different from anyone else I’ve ever met,” said Jody. “He kind of held me like in an open hand, and he didn’t ever want to change me. He supported me in whatever I wanted to do. And I loved working with him.

Andy MacPherson and Jody Steeves. Chase Teron photo.

Andy and Jody. Chase Teron photo.

“He had so much experience, it was natural to want to learn from him and follow him. He knew the bears and the landscape so well. He could spot a bear from miles away and know where it was going. And we’d take the guests to where the polar bear was going to be, before it got there.

“There were so many people he mentored. He really wanted to teach people. And he got along famously with guests. I don’t think he knew how amazing he was at what he did. He really thought that anybody could learn how to do what he did, and that he could teach them how to do it.”

Jody agreed that “Bob” was Andy’s favourite polar bear over the years, but said he also became attached to ‘The Three Amigos” and witnessed the camaraderie and friendship that occurred between that trio of bears year after year. The couple had numerous encounters with polar bears large and small at the Churchill Wild lodges, but one of Andy’s stories that stood out was about a romance between polar bears.

“Andy saw courting behaviour while working on Baffin Island,” said Jody. “He said it was so different from what the research said it would be. It was very affectionate and adorable and the couple followed each other and stayed together for two weeks. The male was corralling the female to get her away from other bears. And she was laying with him and cuddling with him.”

The romance between Andy and Jody lasted much longer than two weeks, but the affectionate courting behaviour was there from the beginning.

“We went on a kayaking trip where he took me to all these places that he went with his dad or guided on,” said Jody. “He showed me the biggest trees I had ever seen, huge cedars. We spent a lot of time camping on Vancouver Island, walking on beaches, canoeing and kayaking, picking mushrooms. We explored rivers and tried to figure out how to get down to them. We learned fly-fishing together and went fishing. I don’t even think we ever caught anything. We were simply happy to be out there with each other.

“To me, that was the real Andy, not the Andy I would see at work, not the polar bear whisperer. It was just us, driving down logging roads exploring Vancouver Island in his grandpa’s pickup truck.

“We were just starting to renovate the home in Ucluelet a little bit and make plans. We were going to build a little house in the back on the water, so that we could keep renting it out and have a place of our own. I’m just in shock. It hurts a lot.”

I got you babe! Andy holds the line while Jody takes a dip during Floe Edge. Shel Zolkewich photo.

Forever memories. “I got you, Babe.” Love on the floe edge. Andy holds the line while Jody takes a dip. Shel Zolkewich photo.

Forever Memories

Andy created lasting memories not only with family, friends, co-workers and guests, but also with all the wild creatures he met over the course of his lifetime. He made his family immensely proud, and helped them fashion their own special set of memories with their son, brother and uncle, and his beloved polar bears.

“Andy arranged for our parents to visit him at both Seal River and Nanuk,” said Dawn. “And I was able to visit him at Nanuk. His niece, my daughter Sarah, had the privilege of working as a server/housekeeper for one season with him at Seal River. These are memories we all cherish! We are so grateful to Churchill Wild for that. So thankful for all the memories.”

Andy was not just a world-class polar bear guide, he was a world-class person. Tears, memories and photos flooded into an Andy MacPherson Memorial Page set up on Facebook, from family, friends, co-workers and guests from around the world.

“We struggle for words to describe the loss, the hole in our lives, brought on by your tragic departure from us,” wrote Churchill Wild co-owners Mike and Jeanne Reimer. “Andy, your family and loved ones, fellow guides and staff, and so many guests you guided on your expeditions will forever miss your kind and generous heart.

“You came to us 15 years ago full of inspiration and attitude, already a career wilderness guide, eager to embrace Mike’s crazy idea of walking with polar bears. Since then, as the de facto “Polar Bear Whisperer” of Churchill Wild, you shared your love of the great white bears with thousand of appreciative guests from around the world. You were one of a kind, who touched all who were blessed to know you.

“With no chance to give you a proper send-off we are left with saying a completely inadequate goodbye to one of life’s great souls, a man among men, whose all too brief visit with us was a complete gift.

“God bless.”

Andy and Terry waving goodbye at Seal River. Jayne Shepherd photo.

Andy and Terry waving goodbye at Seal River Heritage Lodge. We’re really going to miss you Andy. Jayne Shepherd photo.


In lieu of flowers please consider a donation in Andy’s name to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, the Rugged Coast Research Society, or another charity/foundation of your choice that benefits wildlife and/or our environment. And the next time you are on a beach, or on a wilderness adventure . . .  please take a bag with you and honour Andy by picking up litter as you wander.

Join the discussion 15 Comments

  • Allison says:

    Lovely tribute to a lovely man. Will be greatly missed by many.

  • Sherron and Al MacPherson says:

    Thank You Churchill Wild
    For this lovely tribute…
    We Love you Andy💕
    Mom and Dad

  • The Manitoba Lodges and Outfitters Association want to give you our condolences on your loss of Andy. He sounds like an amazing person and will be missed by all of you, his family and I am sure the Polar Bears he interacted with.
    MLOA Board of Directors and Staff

  • Steven Clevidence says:

    Kay and I are truly saddened after learning of Andy’s passing. We got to know Andy while at Nanuk and throughly enjoyed his knowledge and kindness. We were so looking forward to spending time with him again on our next adventure with Churchill Wild.
    Our hearts go out to all those that knew him best, especially Jody.
    Steve & Kay Clevidence

  • Lynn Ronan says:

    So sorry to hear of this and condolences to everyone Andy touched. He made my Nanuk visit extra special, I’m happy to have met him.

  • Joe Campana says:

    My God! What a tragedy! Have never been to Churchill Wild! Could not stop reading the above tribute to Andy MacPherson.
    Do not know what more to say!! Best wishes to all.

  • Frosty and Sam Frostman says:

    Sam and I had our usual morning routine, checking out the bird feeders, munching down some breakfast, sharing notes about our plans for the day…. and then I turned on my computer and read the sad news. We only knew the man for a week. How could the vacuum feel so large? Andy was more than an exceptional naturalist and guide. He was an instant companion and friend. We, too, are sad because there are so many others who will never benefit from Andy’s inspiration and love of life. And how special the relationship must have been with Jody. It speaks volumes of the special kind of person Jody is to be the one soul on the planet to capture Andy’s heart. Jody, when the grief subsides, our hope is that you find renewed strength to carry on, as he would have wanted, and continue to bring adventuresome travelers close to the earth. We will all miss Andy. Who will miss him the most? Ask the bears.

  • Norbert Rosing says:

    Always heartbreaking to hear news like this. Living a life with friends, the outdoors and of course the polar bears is always a rich life. Not too many people can say that.

    RIP Andy.

  • Julia Lams says:

    Sad to hear he’s gone! Have many fond memories of Andy during my stay at the lodge. Observing him with the bears I felt there was an amazing bond between them. Once having lunch away from the rest I was watching a bear. He came pretty close so I decided to walk to the group and alerted Andy. His knowledge of the environment etc. was awesome.

    In the article there was no mention of the beluga whales, floating with them was another highlight for me thanks to his talk about the gentleness of them in the boat, Although my dry suit was really very wet, I felt so privileged to be with them floating. Loved how they nudged me and communicated with me. I see their pictures on one of my walls every day and say hi!

    Thanks Andy

  • Frances & Peter Money says:

    We have wonderful memories of learning from Andy. We first met him on the Thelon (and will never forget a muskox he introduced us to at close quarters). When we arrived at Seal River in 2008 it was a very delightful surprise to be greeted by Andy when we docked. He was such an important part of our special times with bears, belugas and so much more. We are happy to know that Andy found Jody, his special person, although so terribly sorry for her and Andy’s loving family who will all be intensely missing him. Our thoughts are with them, the Reimers, and all of Andy’s many friends.

  • Barbara Euler says:

    Andy was such an important part of a wonderful experience at Seal River last October – what a loss! And Jody made the following stay at Nanuk so memorable – my heart goes out to her with the hope that she will continue his legacy.

  • Dianne Waddingham says:

    This was such sad, sad news when we read about Andy’s sudden passing. Thank you for this wonderful tribute to Andy. We were fortunate to visit Dymond Lake Lodge (Oct 2015) with Andy being one of our guides. Andy really was the Polar Bear Whisperer and made the experience searching for Polar Bears something neither Brendan or I will ever forget. Our deepest condolences to his partner, family and of course the crew at Churchill Wild. I think those bears will also miss him!

  • Elizabeth and Ken Ricketts says:

    Thanks everyone for such a beautiful tribute to Andy. We met Andy at Seal River Heritage Lodge in July 2016. He really was the Polar Bear Whisperer. Sincere condolences to his partner, family and the Churchill Wild Family. Andy introduced us to swimming with the gentle beluga whales. He will be sadly missed.

  • Annabelle Jones says:

    I am so sad to hear this news. I had the most wonderful time, being guided by Andy in 2018, with Polar Bears and Belugas. I even held out some small hope that we might meet again when I visit Canada again next year to see the Narwhals. He was the same age as me – still young – but had so much more life and fun in him and was ever cheerful, helpful and enthusiastic. RIP lovely chap.

  • Graziella and Guy TIBURZIO says:

    Thanks for this beautiful tribute to Andy. My husband and I have the best memories of our first watching of polar bears, just the two of us with Andy at Nanuk lodge with Churchill wild. It was just amazing and breathcutting!!! Andy was an exceptional man and guide, teaching us how to approach polar bears. We also had a great picnic with the group, the last group in the fall.
    Our deepest condolences to Andy’s partner, family, friends and the Churchill Wild team.

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