Brier Bear pulled a muscle in his leg Sunday, but was back in action Monday night at Mile One Centre, doing the thing he’s done so well for 37 years — making people happy.
This bear has a soul — 79-year-old Reg Caughie of St. John’s, an entertainer in the guise of a retired banker … and now a Hall of Famer.
On Monday, Curling Canada announced Caughie and longtime Curling Canada chief statistician Brian “Mouse” Cassidy will be inducted into the Canadian Curling Hall of Fame later this week during the 2017 Tim Hortons Brier in St. John’s.
Brier Bear was born in 1981, an idea conceived by Caughie, who at the time was living in Nova Scotia and was a member of the organizing committee for that year’s Brier in Halifax. As is the case so often, the one making the suggestion ended up implementing it.
Caughie became the bear.
“In those days, curling could be boring in the early ends — takeout, takeout, takeout — and Brier Bear was kind of meant to be a distraction,” he said.
He was also originally meant to be a one-off, but the mascot was such a hit that three costumes and a few cases of Febreeze later (he’s available for commercials), Caughie’s still doing it, although this will be the last year.
He has always wanted to retire from the job — no, that’s not right, from his calling — at a Brier in St. John’s, and this year’s event has provided the opportunity.
That’s not to say Brier Bear is going into permanent hibernation. Rumour has it that when Caughie and Cassidy are formally inducted in the Hall later this week, there could be an announcement about someone else taking on the role.
But while there may be a replacement, there will be no replacing the memories for Caughie.
He’s snuggled up to prime ministers and he’s conversed — however mascots do when they meet — with the San Diego Chicken. He’s been — how can we put it? — in sort of a pantomime in flagrante delicto with Gander native and former Alberta lead Don Bartlett when the two got tangled up and the latter ended up on top of the bear. (Kevin Martin, Bartlett’s skip, jokingly suggested a wildlife officer should have been notified).
He’s met all the curling greats and their families, too. Caughie remembers when Martin used to tote his son Karrick — the Alberta lead at this year’s Brier — in a baby carrier.
He’s been hospitalized and he’s been injured before, including once where he got sacked by enthusiastic fans.
“I went to grab a Newfoundland flag to run around with it, I sort of went down and 20 people jumped on top of me, thinking it was part of the act,” said Caughie.
“The good thing was that it led to physio. They were doing beautiful oil massages and that felt pretty good, so I kept going back.”
He never growls, and rarely speaks — “I like to let them figure out the mystique,” he says — and will gladly hand out autographs with his famous hugs.
“And if it’s a lady. I’ll sometimes draw a little heart around it,” he adds with a wink.
And he’s met and brought joy, sometimes a little, oftentimes a whole lot, to children, especially those in hospitals.
And that’s easily been the best part of his furry vocation.
“No question about it. I try to see every child if I can, no matter the number,” he said. “Some have been pretty severe cases … cancer and things like that. I’d go in and I’d try to do my best, to do whatever I can.
“Sometimes afterwards, I’d have parents run down the hall after me, right out the door sometimes, saying ‘Brier Bear, I can’t thank you enough for coming. My child hasn’t moved in four hours and when you came, it made him get right out of bed.
“It’s those sorts of things …”
And the voice trails off a bit and you know it was in those moments, that Reg Caughie was glad for the mask of Brier Bear, to hide the damp cheeks that surrounded the smile that goes with having done something … and done it well.