1983 Polar Battle Bear

GI Joe should have had an impossible battle becoming my favourite toy, given my devotion to the Rebellion from 3-5 years old. But Hasbro killed it in marketing every aspect of the revitalized, reintroduced GI Joe line. For me, more than anything, I loved Joe because I could draw direct lines between the toys and my day-to-day experience. The Canadian version of Snow Job wasn’t born in Vermont, but instead in Yellowknife, the Capital city of the Northwest Territories, the territory where I was living when I discovered GI Joe. But it wasn’t just the word “Yellowknife” on Snow Job’s file card that connected me to the toy line. I was also attached through a vehicle from that amazing run of series II toys in 1983, the Polar Battle Bear.

My family had moved to the NWT in 1979, first in Yellowknife for a year, then Frobisher Bay for two, and Fort Smith for eight. Snowmobiles were as plentiful as automobiles growing up. Everyone I knew had one, although we did not. We knew every model of snowmobile from the top of the line to the bottom. (I would have done anything to even own some crappy Citation!) My dad was less outdoorsy than other dads – which doesn’t matter to me – but it does explain why we didn’t own a snowmobile. Regardless, snowmobiles were a big part of my northern existence, whether it was envying the other kids who had access to one, or on my two feet, trekking around town, exploring the bush and following trails left by snowmobiles, the harder packed snow easier to traverse, making wearing snowshoes less vital in the winter.

I remember walking home from a friend’s one night after playing road hockey, having one of the older kids stop and offer a ride home on his sled. I struggled to catch my breath because the air was so cold and that machine flew. I turned my head just to breathe, and worried that I might pass out. But that was my life in a nutshell, catching a snippet of the world I wasn’t completely a part of, even though life in northern Canada was the only existence I could remember.

Although I got countless hours on my best friend, Donny’s, Polaris Indy 500 a few years later, at six years old the Polar Battle Bear was the only snowmobile I had unfettered access to. So, yeah, I felt connected to Joe in a way I couldn’t connect to Star Wars. Although a huge chunk of Empire Strikes Back was set in a winter environ, there weren’t a lot of AT-ATs roaming through Fort Smith when I was growing up.

Interestingly, my first snowmobile wasn’t a toy I acquired in the winter, in the north.

In 1983, we spent our summer vacation in the Maritimes. The Polar Battle Bear was something I picked up at the Woolco in the Mayflower Mall, in Sydney, Nova Scotia. I don’t remember any particulars, unfortunately, such as the moment I saw that gorgeous Hector Garrido box art depicting the Polar Battle Bear’s guns blazing, a crazy-eyed Snow Job at the wheel, a far-more insane, bare-chested Gung-Ho holding onto the railbars in the back, along with Flash, whose red pads stuck out in any battlefield and especially in the snow. In my mind, I associate that purchase with my grandmother, since we were visiting her, and with Short-Fuze, who she bought for me that same summer. I can’t imagine we made too many trips to the mall, given it was an hour away. However, I do remember playing with the Polar Battle Bear that summer, on the kitchen floor at my grandmother’s, fiddling around with the front two cannons. To this day, I’m still not entirely sure I’ve ever set them right… Short-Fuze was there, and I remember that, but I don’t remember any of the 1983 Joes. (Maybe they were all sold out when I bought the Battle Bear…) I also remember owning GI Joe #15, one of the earliest Joe comics I owned.

The memories I associate with the Polar Battle Bear and Short-Fuze were some of my earliest, happiest, most pure memories as a child playing with GI Joes.

Honestly, 1983 has to be my favourite year for GI Joe. If any three things drew me into being a lifelong Joe fan, it was the intensity of Airborne’s eyes on his card art, reading “Yellowknife” on Snow Job’s Canadian cardback, and playing with Polar Battle Bear on the floor in my Grandma’s house, back in the summer of 1983.

In the more recent past, the Polar Battle Bear was one of the first vehicles I acquired when I started collecting as an adult, arriving just behind a few of the original 1982 vehicles and the Headquarters Command Centre. I even acquired a beautiful, never assembled, boxed Polar Battle Bear through a lucky bid on eBay in 2014. Outside of carded Airborne and carded Snow Job, it probably has the most sentimental value of any collectible I own. Whenever I open it up I jump into a friggin’ time machine, and I’m so glad to have it.

My grandmother passed in 2006. Her house had been sold by then to a distant relative, and still stands to day. I’ve made a point of driving by it every time I’ve visited Cape Breton since then.

A few notes on the Polar Battle Bear’s box:

  • I appreciate the subtle irony of Snow Job being from Yellowknife and driving a snowmobile, given that Yellowknife once claimed the distinction of being the only provincial or territorial Capital where driving a snowmobile within city limits was legal
  • I also appreciate some of the distinctions in the prototype displayed on the box art, including black steering handles (vs grey), fully looped railbars (vs. open handles), a white bar for pivoting the cannons (vs. grey), a hood scoop element on the black piece over the engine canopy (vs. smooth), and simpler, pointier versions of the laser cannons

2 replies on “1983 Polar Battle Bear”

Your posts are a lot of fun to read!

The Polar Battle Bear is one of the best small vehicles in the Joe line, the size of it is perfect, I’ve never ridden a snowmobile, but it looks to be to scale, but more importantly it’s the right size to be fun to play with, without using two hands!

Good catches on all those differences from the prototype and the production. The prototype steering wheel looks a lot better.

Thanks. Your posts are great too, and your photos make mine look like they were drawn and coloured by second graders!

It was the little touches with the Battle Bear. I especially like that there are handles for passengers to hold onto, unlike on something like the Devilfish where your two buddies would bail as soon as you hit the gas.

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