Bill Ayotte, the Churchill hero who saved the life of Erin Greene from a polar bear attack in 2013 received the Star of Courage last week.
Ayotte, 71, accepted the Star of Courage in a ceremony in recognition of acts of bravery and heroism from Canadians across the country. The Star of Courage, the country’s second-highest medal for bravery, recognizes people for “acts of conspicuous courage in circumstances of great peril.”
36 other Canadians who were receiving the Medal of Bravery for heroismn on that day, including saving someone from drowning, rescuing a woman being stabbed or pulling people from burning buildings. Johnston spent a few extra moments speaking to Ayotte after awarding him the medal and shared some laughs. “This is quite an honor, that’s for sure,” said Ayotte.
Ayotte along with his wife, Kathleen Bouvier, have resided in Churchill, Man., all their lives never had a close encounter with a polar bear before November 1, 2013. That all changed early that morning at 5 a.m. When Ayotte went outside on his porch after hearing screams, he focused on a polar bear with Ms. Greene in her mouth being flung around violently.
“The bear had a woman in his mouth and was shaking her around,” Ayotte said.
Realizing it would be too late unless he acted quickly, Ayotte grabbed a shovel and slammed it into the bears eye area.
“I thought, ‘If I’m going to save her, I have to do it now,'” he said. “So I ran over towards her and the bear and I wound up as hard as I could.”
The bear dropped the 30 year – old Greene and she fled into Ayotte’s home. Ayotte tried to flee inside as well but the caught him within seconds.
“He grabbed my leg and hauled me back and started wailing on me,” said Ayotte.
Ayotte’s neighbor, Didier Foubert-Allen, fired a shotgun at the bear though the bear seemed not to notice. It wasn’t until Foubert-Allen jumped in his truck, drove right up to the bear and began honking and flashing his lights that the bear finally seemed spooked and released Ayotte and ran down the street. The bear was later killed by conservation officers.
Ayotte was seriously hurt with wounds to his head, stomach and legs and back. The bear had torn off most of his right ear.
“I remember being cold,” he said. “Really, really cold. I thought I was going to die. I said to the people, get me off the ground, get me on my feet so I can die like a man.” He was taken to the hospital and later medivacced to Winnipeg along with Greene.
Ayotte was also awarded Manitoba’s Order of the Buffalo Hunt this past fall.
Greene keeps in touch with the couple though she has left Churchill . She sent Ayotte a little angel figurine as a gift and joined the couple for a reunion dinner on a visit back to Churchill. She had dinner with them on a return visit.