The Man Who Built a Suit to Fight Bears Showed Us How We Should Live
Troy Hurtubise, the man behind 'Project Grizzly,' has died. We should all live as he did—chasing our dreams and taking on bears.
Photo via the National Film Board of Canada.
This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
The video starts simply, with a truck racing through a field.
Soon though, you start noticing odd details—primarily the front of the truck having a sheet of plywood with foam on it. Your brain barely gets to register that oddity before a man in a bulky gray suit enters the frame. But the truck doesn't slow down and just fucking smokes the guy, who goes flying backward.
And when I say he goes flying, I mean he goes FLYING.
That was Troy Hurtubise—someone we can all learn something from.
Hurtubise was a man who spent his life trying to perfect a “grizzly-proof suit” and he was willing to put himself through hell to accomplish his goal. His journey toward that invention (and others) came to an end this weekend when the 56-year-old died in Northern Ontario after his truck collided with a transport truck, in a suspected suicide.
His wife, in an exclusive interview with the Hamilton Spectator, said that she hopes he's not suffering anymore and that he finds “the peace he couldn't find in life.” However, he did provide joy and inspiration for others in his life.
"So many people out there have dreams but are too afraid to chase after them,” Lori Hurtubise told the Spectator. “But not Troy. He did what others were too afraid to do. He followed his dreams."
His journey toward realizing his dreams began with an encounter with a grizzly, as they often do. He was walking in the BC woods when he came upon the bear he dubbed “the old man.” That “old man” attacked him, but he survived and the encounter changed Hurtubise deeply. So, he did as we all would and set out to build a grizzly-proof suit to learn more about the animals.
The son of a tinkerer and anthropologist, Hurtubise—like his father—had a skill of creating things out of whatever he could find. He scrounged scrap yards, dumps, whatever to get the gear for the Robocop-like suit he called the "Ursus Mark VI." The suit was made out of metal, air bags, material of his own creation and a heaping supply of duct tape. To test it out, the Hamilton native devised DIY tests. These included throwing himself off the niagara escarpment, having three-ton trucks drive into him at 50 kilometers an hour [30 miles an hour] 18 times in a row, walking through a giant pallet fire, and having a group of bikers take a bunch of baseball bats to his suit. Most of the tests were captured on film.
In the name of learning more about the creatures, he, out of the suit, would conduct what he called “close quarter bear research,” which, at times, amounted to creeping through dumps to watch the animals eat. In one of his attempts to encounter a grizzly in the Albertan Rockies, Hurtubise flew his suit in by helicopter. He never did get his encounter with a grizzly though.
Hurtubise’s Quixotic search for an encounter with a grizzly, which spanned the late 80s to the mid-90s, was chronicled in the extraordinary documentary Project Grizzly. He carried on afterward inventing other things like a fire-proof paste and several “ray-guns”—his latest kick was attempting to catch dark matter in a box—but his zenith came with Project Grizzly. You can watch the full doc, courtesy of the National Film Board, here.
“The biggest fear I have, since I can remember in my teens, and the one that causes me the most turmoil in my life is monotony—being bored, being average,” he said in the film. “I’ve got to have something that gives me the edge and when I run out of the edge I’m in big trouble.”
The documentary, which quickly gained cult status, earned him a little bit of recognition. He garnered a parody on The Simpsons (Homer built a Grizzly-proof suit to ward off a wayward bear in their 15 season). He also appeared on Ripley’s Believe It or Not in 2000 where he tried out a new version of the suit by getting, I shit you not, smoked in the chest by a suspended roadster and promptly pushed through a brick wall.
Project Grizzly was a favorite of Quentin Tarantino and it’s success meant that, for a time, Hurtubise was invited on all the big talk shows and got a chance to pal it up with famous folks. But, like Hurtubise proved when he threw himself down the cliff, what goes up must go down. The recent years haven’t been that kind to the once well-known man. In a recent and lengthy National Post profile, (which you really should read) Hubertise called himself the “biggest failure you’ve ever looked at.”
“Every single one of my innovations, every single one of my writings, I gave it my best shot, fell, stood up, and said fuck you let’s go again,” he told the paper just months before his death. “And still not one of them has ever found a market.”
According to the Post’s profile, while he was none too pleased about his portrayal in the film, he still was happy that he had his moment in the sun and it seems he was always chasing that recognition. However, Hurtubise was a volatile man and whenever he got the success he so sought, he handled it poorly. He was too proud to work normal jobs and that pride brought him to bankruptcy—something that forced him to hock his bear-suit for cash. In the profile, he spoke of putting himself in the way of a moving train so it would all be over—he didn’t refer to killing himself as suicide, preferring the term “crossing over.”
While we do not know if Hurtubise intentionally drove his car into that gas tanker, we have—with Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain in mind—been having a frank conversation about suicide this month. And while it’s an important conversation to have, it’s equally as important to remember people like Bourdain and Hurtubise for how they lived.
Troy Hurtubise was a dreamer and while his dreams were a little unconventional, he followed them nevertheless. If you can take anything away from the videos of the man getting clobbered in the head with baseball bats or smashed by a speeding truck it’s this:
Follow Hurtubise’s example, build your bear-proof suit—whatever it may be.
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- National Film Board
- troy hurtubise
- project grizzly
- ripleys believe it or not