The story of Ottawa’s snow bears and the artist behind them

Maggie Glossop with two of her snowy creations. Photo by Pamela Boyle.

By Charlie Senack 

If you have walked along the Kichi Sibi Winter Trail on warmer winter days in recent years, chances are you have seen snow bears. 

No, not real bears—the cute, snowy creatures have been carefully and passionately built along the Ottawa River pathway by Westboro resident Maggie Glossop, who has a deep passion for winter. 

The semi-retired artist says she doesn’t want to be spending the winter months building sandcastles on the beach in Florida. Instead, she wants to be out in the elements spreading joy for people who are dealing with a difficult time. 

“When COVID hit, I found myself with not much to do besides feeding the birds, so I found myself outside building more and more bears, and last year, they exploded in popularity and people started noticing them,” Maggie told Kitchissippi Times. 

A Kitchissippi snow bear. Photo courtesy of Maggie Glossop.

The bears first started popping up along the Kichi Sibi Winter Trail (formerly known as the SJAM Winter Trail) about four or five years ago. Maggie says the idea first came from her brother Peter Edmison, one of the trail’s groomers. 

“He had suggested one day while I was out working with him that it would be fun to build snowmen or something at the head of the trail to welcome people,” she said. I thought that would be a great thing to do. I recently had made a snow dog with my grandkids and they were delighted until a day or two later they saw that other dogs had peed all over it. So, we decided if we were to build something, we’d have to build it high, out of the range of dogs in the neighbourhood, so we decided to put bears in the trees.”

Peter doesn’t take credit for the idea, and prefers to talk about how talented of an artist his sister Maggie is. 

He proudly mentioned a big felt art installation Maggie was commissioned to do for the Dovercourt Recreation Centre about 10 years ago. The large panels depicted how the four seasons change along the Ottawa River. Just last year, after a decade of wear and tear, the local artist reworked the old panels into 24 separate art pieces, which now hang high above the basketball nets in the new addition to Dovercourt.

A Kitchissippi snow bear. Photo courtesy of Maggie Glossop.

“She is quite an acclaimed artist aside from the bears,” Peter said. “She’s done a wonderful job with the bears and she’s so low key about it. People talk to her and she doesn’t mention that she’s the one who’s done it. It’s turned into what is now quite a famous experience for people to go and see the bears.”

Maggie was born and raised in the west end of Ottawa and graduated from Laurentian High School. She left the city to attend Trent University in Peterborough, and then moved to the United Kingdom where her husband was finishing his doctorate. The couple then moved back to Ottawa where they had family and settled in Westboro. 

They moved to their first house on Roosevelt Avenue in the mid 1970s, but, as their family grew, they had to move a few blocks away. Recently, Maggie downsized and resides in a Westboro condo along the Ottawa River, which she says comes “with the best view in the city.” It overlooks the Kichi Sibi Winter Trail where her art creations are being enjoyed by people across Ottawa. 

Maggie and her family were instrumental in efforts to make Churchill an alternative school, a place her children then attended, and later where her son worked as a teacher. The longtime Westboro resident also founded studio tours in the community. 

“This is the best place in the world to live,” she said. “I’d like to think I was able to make an impact on the community.” 

Now Maggie is looking to make an impact in a different way. The snow bears are just the beginning of some exciting ideas she has up her sleeve, but for now, those plans remain a secret.

A Kitchissippi snow bear. Photo courtesy of Maggie Glossop.

Despite Ottawa’s record snowfalls, including one in January which blanketed the city in 48 cm of snow, Maggie says the bone-chilling cold has meant her creations are on pause for now. 

“I’ve been out enjoying the snow and I’ve been piling it up, but I can’t build new bears yet because the snow we do have is very dry and fluffy,” she said. “It’s not conducive for building bears; it does not pack. You need warmer weather for the snow to get sticky. But there are piles out there just waiting.”

Last year, Maggie built about 20 bears, and she was able to build about six or eight this New Year’s Eve. She hopes the weather will start to warm up again soon so snow bears—and possibly other animals—can greet visitors again on the very popular winter trail. 

“You can’t fly a kite without wind—you can’t build bears without the right snow,” says Maggie. 

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