My dad, Frank Baccari, posing with Jasper the Bear in September 1983. You can't tell but he has a pretty sweet 'stache here.The day after my father passed away, I came across a photograph of him in 1983, then strapping and 21, posing beside Jasper the Bear—a wallet-sized snapshot of a pit stop during his six-week trip cycling home to Toronto after three months of military training in Esquimalt, B.C. My dad vividly shared the tales of his western trek with my two brothers and me when we were growing up. But none were as urgent as the last time, just weeks earlier, when I pressed him for specific details as his body was quickly shutting down from a three-year battle with multiple myeloma. That photo was the first thing I packed for my maiden voyage west in March with Rachele, my best friend since high school. Jasper was the final stop in our west coast adventure, for me a necessary pilgrimage to retrace the cross-country narrative I had mythologized as my father's youth. More specifically, I came here searching for the statue of a cartoon bear. Click here to read on about Ava's journey to see Jasper the Bear... What would otherwise have been game-changing circumstances—a snowstorm and hundred-car pile up near Edmonton on the night of our journey—didn’t faze me. When we were stranded at the West Edmonton Mall, Nate—a concierge from the hotel—offered to drive us to the Greyhound station to catch our bus to Jasper. And when we learned that all buses out were cancelled, we paid a cab driver $550 to take us there. The roller coaster that was my dream— momentarily slipping away then back within my grasp just as quickly—took its toll on me. I fell asleep and awoke to Rachele navigating our driver from her iPhone. But we made it, and I was mere hours away from my elusive bear, who, it turns out, is not the same incarnation my dad posed with almost 30 years ago. A staff member at the Parks Canada information centre enlightened us that Jasper was vandalized in 2004, and replaced with a cast iron equivalent. “And the original?” I probed. Either on The Whistlers mountain or at the museum… he couldn’t remember which. Rachele and I wholeheartedly posed with the adorable Jasper imposter on Patricia Street, before heading to the museum, where a replica of old Jasper—in full birthday attire—is housed.
This is me posing with the new Jasper in March 2013.The final stop on our wild bear chase was, undoubtedly, the Jasper Tramway, where Jasper the Bear may or may not be kept on display in the winter— just enough reason to sally forth anyway. “Let’s go bear hunting,” cheered Ryan, our cab driver, as we threaded up the mountain. The only sign I needed greeted us at the top. Not the sort of cinematic, cloud-parting metaphor, but rather “Please do not climb on Jasper the Bear”. I called out to him; Jasper had become real to me, a tangible link between my father’s past and my unremitting quest to get close to it. And through the glass of what I imagine to be a bustling ticket booth in summer days, I saw it— the bear, my journey coming full circle. There was Jasper, standing just as he had in the photo, how my dad had last seen him. As we drove back down the mountain, I was finally ready to go home, with the knowledge that Jasper rests peacefully, and exactly where to find him next time. This story was originally published Thursday April 4, 2012 in The Fitzhugh .