Gardener, postmaster, pioneer, cougar slayer.
Cougar Annie’s legacy thrives.
A trip to this West Coast pioneer homestead, and one of BC’s oldest rural gardens, is unlocked with a special combination. If you have a keen appreciation of cultural and natural history, and a healthy dose of stamina, you may want to follow in the bootsteps of Cougar Annie.
Her long life reads like a list of extraordinary feats, all achieved in the wilds of our coast. Best known as Cougar Annie, Ada Anne Rae-Arthur (Lawson) moved from Vancouver in 1915, with her first husband (we mention this for a reason) and three children in tow. After sailing up Vancouver Island’s coast from Victoria on the Princess Maquinna, they arrived in remote Hesquiat Harbour, 30 kilometres north of modern-day Tofino, loaded their belongings in a dugout canoe and paddled to Boat Basin at the head of the harbour. Annie settled there and didn’t move out until she was 95 years old.
You could say that she kept busy. Annie outlived a total of four husbands and trapped and shot well over 50 cougars and black bears, first as a means of defence and eventually for a bounty offered by the Province of British Columbia. She gave birth to 8 more children, ran a general store and hand-cleared five acres of bush to grow gardens and run a small farm.
In 1968, Peter Buckland, a Vancouver investment broker and amateur prospector, was hiking through the bush and met Cougar Annie. From that point on, he started visiting her regularly. Annie eventually coerced Peter to purchase the property and hire caretakers to assist her. Over the ensuing 19 years Peter worked daily to beat back the jungle that overtook the garden when Cougar Annie became old. The garden is now a maze of over two kilometres of mesmerizing moss-covered pathways. Peter established a charitable organization, Boat Basin Foundation, to own the garden through donation of the property. To provide a place where visitors can stay and appreciate this special cultural and natural history, the Foundation constructed the Temperate Rainforest Field Study Centre – seven cabins and a central building – on a ridge overlooking the garden and outwards to the Pacific horizon. The Foundation invites groups to visit either on day trips from Tofino or for total immersion on overnight stays.
Cougar Annie’s larger-than-life story (including how she met most of her husbands and why she moved to Boat Basin in the first place) has been told in a musical play and in the prize-winning book, Cougar Annie’s Garden by Margaret Horsfield. Her legend lives on, in much the same setting as in Cougar Annie’s time, over 100 years ago.
This heritage site, accessible by boat or air, is a testament to what it takes to survive, and thrive, in our coastal wilderness.