The University of Calgary is mourning the loss of a “beautiful” and “unique” member of their school community is believed to have been killed by a wild animal near Calgary this week.
RCMP found the body of a 59-year-old man near Waiparous Creek on Wednesday after he was reported missing from the Waiparous Village area. Officers believe he was attacked and killed by a bear, however Alberta Fish and Wildlife have not released an official determination.
Neighbours have identified the victim as David Lertzman.
Dr. Lertzman, an assistant professor at the university’s Haskayne School of Business, is being remembered as a friend to all, and a large “presence” in the school that will be greatly missed by faculty members and students alike.
“Professors work their entire careers in hopes of one person will say: ‘You really changed my life,'” Dr. Jim Dewald, dean of the business school, said Wednesday.
“That happened every single class that he had.
“Students would reach out to me, not knowing me, just needing to talk to somebody to say, ‘Wow, this totally transformed me. I’m going to live my entire life different.’ So he was very, very powerful.”
Dewald said Lertzman’s signature course was a week-long wilderness retreat that combined economic and environmental sustainability, leadership and being in the wilderness. He also incorporated teaching about Indigenous ways and lessons from residential school survivors in his instruction.
“We have 100 faculty and we only have one anything close to being like David,” Dewald said.
“He was, you know, very unique, very beautiful, very well-loved and talked and researched in a very specialized area. So it’s a big loss to our school.”
Lertzman dedicated much of his career to creating the university’s Indigenous strategy, and was the school’s well-respected connection to Indigenous elders in Alberta. Dewald said Lertzman took the approach of being a student first, in order to become a better teacher.
“He was so taken by Indigenous ways from a young age, and so he had spent all of his career trying to understand better,” he said.
Dewald said in the school, Lertzman wasn’t the kind of person you could just pass by in the hallway — if you bumped into him, you knew you were about to have a “nice, long conversation,” something he’s appreciated being a part of.
“It’s so sad that he’s gone, but I’m so lucky I knew him,” Dewald said. “And I think we all feel that way — like we sit back and say, ‘Wait a minute, we actually knew him.’ It’s so amazing.”
Dewald said he received countless messages on Wednesday from faculty and students asking how the university will pay tribute to Lertzman’s life. While the news of his tragic death is still fresh and there are no immediate plans for a way to remember him as a school community, it’s something the university is committed to doing.
Cochrane RCMP searched for Lertzman with help from police service dogs and the Calgary Police Service’s HAWCS helicopter.
Cpl. Troy Savinkoff with the Cochrane RCMP detachment said the man was experienced in the wilderness and it’s believed he took proper precautions like carrying bear spray.
“It’s an extremely tragic event,” Savinkoff said.
“In this particular case, this was an individual who was educated and I do believe this person took precautions and even under the circumstances, there are some tragic events.”
Kyle Juneau, an inspector with Fish and Wildlife, said that officers had closed all trails and were determining the next steps to find the bear.
“We have a leader coming that’s going to assist us that has more in-depth training on how to capture,” Juneau explained. “We also don’t want to bring bears in. We have to weigh that option.”
He said Fish and Wildlife would consult with biologists on whether to move or euthanize the animal.
Juneau said despite the fact that Lertzman was prepared and experienced in the wilderness, it all depends on the type of encounter.
“If he was running and the bear couldn’t hear, couldn’t smell depending on how the wind is blowing, it could just be a happenstance and then a fight-flight reflex,” Juneau said.
Waiparous Village is located about 50 kilometres northwest of Calgary off Highway 1A.