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Bear Minimum takes on environmental sustainability in Banff

"Both Banff and Canmore locals have said they absolutely love that we are here, which is so humbling."
The Bear Minimum 2
Julie Bourrillon of The Bear Minimum in Banff. EVAN BUHLER RMO PHOTO

How can you help the environment?

This was the question, The Bear Minimum storeowner Heather Johnson, asked a group of eight to nine year olds from Banff Elementary School on Friday (Oct. 4) morning at the store.

With answers such as boycotting plastics bags and straws, using hand-me-down clothing, sharing videos games and books among friends, or utilizing local libraries – Johnson was ecstatic at the answers and shared some of her own tips to help create a more sustainable world.

This is just one of the many reasons The Bear Minimum received the most votes for an environmental program in the Rocky Mountain Outlook's Best of the Bow's reader's choice awards. 

"It is very awesome with all the hard work that a lot of our volunteers have put in and with all the community support we have been getting, it feels very awesome to be recognized by everyone," Johnson said after learning about the win.

What originally started as two different volunteer projects, Johnson working with the green team through the Grizzly Paw Brewing Company and former business partner Emma Murrell-Orgill, who started the Bear Minimum as a volunteer cleanup group in Banff, the two eventually partnered together to create the zero-waste retail space in the Bison Courtyard in December 2018 when the store was approved for a pop-up shop.

Offering local, sustainable and reduced packaging products for sale, while still advocating activism – the Bear Minimum was part of the Straws Suck Bow Valley campaign and approached Banff council in June calling on local politicians to ban single-use plastic bags – the store also hosts a variety of sustainability-based workshops.

"Beeswax wraps are the biggest thing, it is an incredibly popular workshop," Johnson explained while noting the store completed a set of Pride-themed wraps the night before. "I do love the workshops because it is very much the 'teach someone how to fish' mantra.'"

Beeswax wraps have gained popularity over the past couple of years, as a sustainable, reusable food wrap alternative to plastic wrap with 90 per cent of the proceeds from the workshops donated to the Banff Food Bank, approximately $500 to date.

But it is not the only workshop available. Wool ball workshops, learn how to make your own body scrub and vegan chocolate cooking classes are just some of the other eco-friendly classes the storefront has hosted.

"I have always wanted to get into the sustainability side of things – I did not have the chance to go to college for any of it, so this is a really cool way for me to be part of the movement," Johnson said.

"I also have a nine-year-old, so it's a huge thing for me ... I grew up in Toronto and making sure something like [Banff and Canmore] is completely preserved so that is it always here is a huge thing for me, especially when it comes to wildlife."

For those who have not checked out the retail front yet, locals and visitors will only have a chance until the end of December when its lease ends.

Toying with the idea of keeping a storefront, or going strictly online, Johnson said people will have to stay tuned as they are keeping their options open.

"We are hopeful to keep the storefront going, as it seems so well received by the community," she said. "Both Banff and Canmore locals have said they absolutely love that we are here, which is so humbling."

The Bear Minimum is located on 108-211 Bear St. in Banff. For more information on the workshops hosted visit the The Bear Minimum Facebook page.