Troy Hurtubise and the Ursus Mark VI during a stunt captured in the documentary Project Grizzly. Screenshot from Project Grizzly.
The story is almost too good to be true: In the 1980s, a middle-aged Canadian man decided to spend his entire life savings on building an indestructible suit that he could wear into battle against a wild grizzly bear. For about seven years, Troy Hurtubise designed various prototypes for the bearproof armor and constructed them using materials and appliances found in the scrap metal yard he owned in Ontario.
Early versions of the suit made Hurtubise look like a mashup of a street hockey goalie and a baseball catcher, but over time, the prototypes became more and more sophisticated until Hurtubise started to resemble his lifelong hero, Robocop. Once the final prototype was complete, Hurtubise undertook a series of extremely dangerous trials in order to test and improve the suit’s durability. For example, he was thrown from a cliff, beaten with two-by-fours, and struck by a truck traveling at about 30 mph — 18 times. He even stood in a pit of fire. Hurtubise dubbed his masterpiece “Ursa Mark VI.”
Word of Hurtubise’s crazy endeavor spread, and in time he became a local celebrity. He often appeared on Canadian radio shows to discuss his “grizzly bear research” and also explain why he was so hellbent on squaring off with a grizzly bear — or, rather, one particular grizzly bear, whom Hurtubise referred to as ”The Old Man.” According to Hurtubise, he first encountered his four-legged archnemesis in 1984 while camping in the Canadian wilderness. Apparently Hurtubise and The Old Man got into a physical altercation and the latter walked away from the skirmish victorious. In his radio interviews, Hurtubise vowed that once his suit was fully bearproof he would track down The Old Man and confront the brute face-to-face.
In 1996, a documentary crew from the National Film Board of Canada produced Project Grizzly, a 72-minute documentary about Hurtubise and his quest to build a suit that could withstand The Old Man’s monstrous wrath. The filmmakers followed Hurtubise as he pursued his foe through the Canadian hinterlands wearing his signature red beret and buckskin jacket, wielding a Bowie knife. The release of the documentary catapulted Hurtubise to international fame. His on-camera antics were immortalized in an episode of The Simpsons and even received praise from legendary director Quentin Tarantino, who called the film “Fantastic!” Tragically, Hurtubise was killed in a car accident in 2018.
You can watch the full version of Project Grizzly for free on YouTube.
Matt Fratus is a history staff writer for Coffee or Die. He prides himself on uncovering the most fascinating tales of history by sharing them through any means of engaging storytelling. He writes for his micro-blog @LateNightHistory on Instagram, where he shares the story behind the image. He is also the host of the Late Night History podcast. When not writing about history, Matt enjoys volunteering for One More Wave and rooting for Boston sports teams.
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