Kings Of The North

The Search For The Last Of The Ice Bears

The Yukon is synonymous with many things—vast wilderness, majestic mountains, traditional peoples, ravens, caribou, salmon …
But perhaps the most iconic of them all is the grizzly bear. More precisely, the ice bears.

These enduring creatures roam the icy shores of rivers, in places like Kluane and Klukshu, and stay out in search of returning coho, chum and sockeye salmon, long after other bears have sought their dens as they hibernate for the long Yukon winter.
So it’s not surprising that a small team of Yukon filmmakers jumped at the opportunity to make a short film called Kings Of The North about these tenacious bears, the food they seek and the menagerie of other animals surviving in a delicate world affected by climate change and the continued effect on the salmon’s habitat.

Photographer Peter Mather, videographer Peter Zenkl and sound engineer Matthew Lien came together over the past two years to turn what began as a photography project for Mather into a major passion project for the trio. Mather said he and Zenkl were using camera traps, to capture images of the elusive ice bears, when the idea of documenting them with video sprang to life.
“We kind of accidentally made a film about grizzly bears that fish for salmon in winter,” Mather said. He added that they applied for funding to be able to transition over to documenting the work on video.

Then things started to get traction.
“Before we knew it, all these other people wanted to get involved with the film.”That’s when Mather reached out to Lien, who helped with the sound design, colour grading and writing, to name a few.
Mather says, in reality, it’s a team that is simply three filmmakers who collaborated to bring this story to life.

As for the story itself, Mather said it’s a two-pronged approach.
“We wanted to do two things. We wanted to make a film about a photographer on a mission and (secondly) we wanted to use that as a way to kind of tell natural history and important environmental stories about the Yukon.”
Mather said what happens to the bears and the salmon they eat also affects the wolves, eagles and also the First Nations people living in the area.

Having an opportunity to document these bears is something Mather has wanted to do since he was a youngster, an emerging photographer, and hearing stories about the famous ice bears.
He recalled one about an older bear, in the village of Klukshu, who was respectfully named “The Mayor” by locals who said the older bear would often drive off younger bears from the site. Mather said it made for a good relationship between the bear and the Champagne and Aishihik First Nation (CAFN) using the river, as it reduced the chances of human-bear contact.
Zenkl, who has been photographing and filming northern lifestyles in the Yukon for the last several years, for magazines and social media in Europe, said the opportunity to work with Mather was an amazing one. He said it was definitely hard work (he also happened to become a new father during this time), and those two major changes in his life have helped define who he is, he said.

“It’s so intense and it’s so beautiful, powerful and emotional and to finally have something that is close to being finished and [have something] to show for it.
Lien echoed those sentiments and said the trio worked well together and “worked by consensus.”

Lien has a history of working on past projects with the National Film Board (NFB) and with Whitehorsian Mike Rudyk who is an Indigenous filmmaker and CBC video journalist, he said, so jumping on-board with the ice bears film was no problem because it meant something to everyone.

“I do projects like this. I don’t do projects that don’t have a heart.” Lien added that working with Mather and Zenkl and their attitude, with the material they captured and their work ethic, was inspiring.

“It’s an honour to be able to partake in the shaping of it.”

The film will premiere at the Yukon Arts Centre on April 6 at 7:15 p.m. and will show again in Haines Junction at the St. Elias Convention Centre, April 14.

Mather said that, in addition to Kings Of the North, there will be a 10-minute movie called A Place For Fishing, by the Grizzly Bear Foundation, about CAFN Elder Chuck Hume, followed by a talk by Phil Timpany, a Yukon filmmaker and bear guide who is considered one of the most-knowledgeable bear experts around. Timpany can often be found frequenting Bear Cave Mountain in Yukon’s Ni’iinlii Njik (Fishing Branch) Territorial Park and Habitat Protection Area.

Around 35 guests had the opportunity to screen the film at Winterlong Brewery on March 27, with the local brewer launching a special Session IPA aptly named Ice Bear. Mather said proceeds from the new brew will go to the Pacific Salmon Foundation (
Winterlong co-owner Meghan Marjanovic said the trio was looking for a sponsor and she said yes and thought about how they could make a beer to compliment the film.
“They were on-board with that,” she said, adding, “Whenever we make a new beer, we, like, try and do something different [or] creative and try something new out.”
One of the film’s other sponsors, Victoria Gold Corp., also partnered with Mather to create a limited-edition book also titled Kings Of the North, he said.
For more information and other showtimes and locations, visit

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