The day a grizzly bear ran down a Siddal street after escaping from Halifax Zoo

IT is undoubtedly one of the more surreal episodes in the history of Halifax.

On Tuesday, June 17, 1913 a quiet Siddal street was suddenly thrown into confusion, panic and not a little terror.

Passers-by scattered in all directions, ducking into available doorways and diving behind walls.

For running up Jubilee Street was none other than a Canadian grizzly bear.

The massive creature had escaped from Halifax Zoo – the sprawling park that opened 100 years ago.

It was unstoppable.

It charged on heading into Elland Wood where it remained on the loose for nearly two hours as zoo staff hunted high and low for it.

It was only caught when it ran into a trap as it headed to the canal bottom.

Halifax Zoo was open for just eight turbulent years.

Given its reputation for animals escaping – the bear was the most dramatic incident of many – or the fact it had a miniature train which was a fire risk to its passengers, it is perhaps not surprising it did not last long.

Yet for a short period it was one of the most magnificent tourist attractions in Yorkshire, a vast arcadia visited by nearly 50,000 people in its first three days of opening.

The Chevinedge park was not only home to more than 1,000 animals, it also featured the region's first roller coaster, ice rink and electric theatre. A house of fun, cafe and bandstand added to its appeal.

David Glover, local historian, said: "It would have been an amazing place, the sheer ambition is really beyond scale.

"Among the animals listed were two African lions, wolves, hyenas, jackals, a zebra, an elephant, a camel, bears, a Nubian goat, and a wallaby.

"Birds were also to be seen. Sea lions lived around a large pond with a fountain at the centre."

The zoo was the brainchild of Alfred McKill, from Leeds. He had initially wanted to set up the park in Roundhay but had been refused permission.

Leeds's loss, however, was Halifax's gain and when Mr McKill inquired about the site surrounding the gothic mansion at Chevinedge he was met with considerable enthusiasm from councillors and local businessmen. On February 19, 1909 the HalifaxGuardian announced a zoo would be opening within three months.

Mr Glover, who has researched the zoo to celebrate the centenary of its opening, said: "About 300 local men were given temporary work to help with the construction.

"Buildings were erected at top speed to house the larger animals, caged areas for others, a bandstand was in place, and an electric theatre, said to be the first of its kind outside London was put in place. Truly, it was more than just a zoo."

Perhaps the park's centrepiece, however, was a large elephant bought from Glasgow Zoo.

Notoriously grumpy the animal escaped one night, breaking its chain and stampeding from its quarters.

The breakout was only discovered the following morning when footprints were found across the grounds.

Unlike the grizzly, though, the elephant had not gone far. It was found asleep close to the mansion, and, placated with food, it happily followed zookeeper Stanley Hinds back to its cage.

Yet such incidents continued to plague the park.

In one incident a wild boar leapt over the railings and ploughed into a visitor, its tusks gauging her upper leg.

A local man Ambler Thorn jumped into action, seizing the animal by both ears, while firstaiders rushed to the woman's assistance.

She made a good recovery but it did not go unnoticed that yet another escape had taken place.

Nor was the zoo's reputation helped by Little Elephant – the miniature train which transported visitors around the site.

Bought from Blackpool Pleasure Beach, its locomotive engine was renowned for throwing sparks at passengers, damaging ladies' hats and posing some risk of being burned.

Yet for all these problems the zoo remained a popular attraction throughout its history.

Brass bands regularly played, a parachute display amazed visitors on special occasions and there were numerous firework shows.

For many, the price of 6d – about 2.5p – was a bargain.

Indeed, it was circumstances outside the zoo's control which eventually caused its decline.

The outbreak of World War One in 1914 reduced visitor numbers and rationing made it harder to look after the animals.

Slowly, the park became unprofitable. By 1917, having sold off hundreds of animals, it could no longer survive and shut its doors for the last time.

Mr Glover, who has based his work on earlier research by Halifax Antiquarian Harry Armitage, said: "It did have some problems and we will never know how the zoo would have fared if the war hadn't happened, but it seems reasonable to assume the conflict was the major contributor in its decline." It was found asleep close to the mansion, and, placated with food, it happily followed zookeeper Stanley Hinds back to its cage.

Yet such incidents continued to plague the park.

In one incident a wild boar leapt over the railings and ploughed into a visitor, its tusks gauging her upper leg.

A local man Ambler Thorn jumped into action, seizing the animal by both ears, while firstaiders rushed to the woman’s assistance.

She made a good recovery but it did not go unnoticed that yet another escape had taken place.

Nor was the zoo’s reputation helped by Little Elephant – the miniature train which transported visitors around the site.

Bought from Blackpool Pleasure Beach, its locomotive engine was renowned for throwing sparks at passengers, damaging ladies’ hats and posing some risk of being burned.

Yet for all these problems the zoo remained a popular attraction throughout its history.

Brass bands regularly played, a parachute display amazed visitors on special occasions and there were numerous firework shows.

For many, the price of 6d – about 2.5p – was a bargain.

Indeed, it was circumstances outside the zoo’s control which eventually caused its decline.

The outbreak of World War One in 1914 reduced visitor numbers and rationing made it harder to look after the animals.

Slowly, the park became unprofitable. By 1917, having sold off hundreds of animals, it could no longer survive and shut its doors for the last time.

Mr Glover, who has based his work on earlier research by Halifax Antiquarian Harry Armitage, said: “It did have some problems and we will never know how the zoo would have fared if the war hadn’t happened, but it seems reasonable to assume the conflict was the major contributor in its decline.”