words :: Feet Banks // photos :: Kevin Yeung.
I meet Jonathan “Bear” Yeung for après at Basalt, a popular Whistler spot with old-school local flavour, tasty food, and good music with no words playing at exactly the right volume. The staff here know him well, but when Bear walks in the first thing he says is, “We probably should have planned this for the Bearfoot Bistro… you know ‘cause of our names.”
Bear Yeung is 11 years old, and just like that he wins my heart. Which, it turns out, is something he is highly adept at. Bear has two main interests in life right now: skiing extremely fast, and doing everything he can to help people in need—especially other kids.
“Why not help kids who are going through hard times?” Bear asks. “Those kids at the hospital, they are really brave. They are braver than anyone and if I can help them, I want to.”
Bear is referring to the toy-and-tablet drive he organized in December for kids at BC Children’s Hospital. For the second year in a row, he and friend Landon Brown spent the autumn canvassing for sick kids. In 2020, the duo raised upwards of $60,000 in donations and gifts, including more than 1,000 new toys and 159 tablets and iPads.
The tablets and iPads are especially important during these pandemic years, explains Rita Thodos, head of BC Children’s Hospital Foundation. “When you are in a hospital, you’re often isolated from the outside world,” she says, “and with visitor number restrictions, it can be increasingly difficult. So tablets help kids stay connected to their families and friends. It’s been incredible working with Bear, he’s very motivating and inspiring to us all.”
“He’s always been that way,” says father Kevin Yeung. “His passions are being in the mountains and doing things for others. He’s a kid who helps kids.”
Bear and his buddy Quinn Lester-Coe were just seven years old when they began fundraising to hire a home tutor for a pair of young girls who had to miss school in order to care for their mother while she battled a brain tumour. He also fundraised to buy a new car for a family whose children were injured in a car crash on Highway 99, raised money to buy hockey jerseys for kids in Lions Gate Hospital, and organized a ‘snack-drive’ to ensure essential health care workers would have healthy snacks available as they worked overtime during the early months of the 2020 COVID pandemic.
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Now enrolled in his second year with the Whistler Mountain Ski Club, Bear fills his off-season months making calls, sending emails, and even sometimes getting excused from parts of his school day in order to take an important Zoom meeting with a corporate CEO from the East Coast. He’s on a first-name basis with the heads of Allwest Insurance, LEGO Canada, and Canadian Tire (who all partner with him on the toy drives), and he has official letters of commendation from all levels of government, including the prime minister of Canada.
But, sitting and chatting over a chorizo pasta, Bear seems much more excited about the end goal—helping kids—than the recognition he receives, although his parents show obvious pride in his drive and tenacity. “Landon and Bear get nine rejections for every dollar or toy they are able to collect,” Kevin explains, “but they keep trying. He sends dozens of emails every week.”
“It’s about never giving up or quitting,” Bear adds. “Just keep pushing, speaking my mind, and it always works out… nothing will happen until you do something.”
Once the snow falls however, what Bear mostly wants to do is ski—as fast as possible. He was voted “most improved” after his inaugural season with the Whistler Mountain Ski Club, and this season, Coach Jack Evans says things are progressing well.
“He listens and reacts,” Evans says. “It’s impressive how quickly he can take on feedback and execute on it. He’s also really attentive to the team’s well-being, always the first to help if someone falls or drops a glove. And he definitely has no fear of speed.”
“I used to play hockey,” Bear explains, “so I understand ice.”
Pumped to ski on any day in any conditions (“-25 degrees means fewer people on the runs!”), Bear says his goal this year is to podium in each of the four races he has on the calendar. In the meantime, he’ll be enjoying après much like any other 11-year-old ripper—ice cream cones from The Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory or the giant cookies at Moguls. Or, if I’m lucky, the Bearfoot Bistro.
Follow Bear on Instagram @bearsvancouver