BC’s Cougar Annie was the true definition of rugged Canadian Spirit.
Ada Anne Rae-Arthur (Lawson), but better known as Cougar Annie, didn’t let challenges and hardships get her down, and they certainly didn’t stop her from leading a long, adventurous life.
In June 1915, Ada and her first husband, along with their three children, packed up all of their belongings from their home in Vancouver. They made their way over to Victoria and sailed on the Princess Maquinna to the remote Hesquiat Harbour, 30 kilometres north of what we now know as Tofino. From Hesquiat Harbour, the family loaded their belongings into a dugout canoe and paddled to Boat Basin at the head of the harbour.
Under the Homesteading Act of BC, Ada and her husband were deeded 117 acres and they hand-cleared five of those acres for their small farm and garden. She convinced Royal Mail Canada to establish Boat Basin Post Office, and then she created a mail-order nursery garden business. Ada also trapped fur-bearing animals and, over her lifetime, she shot over 50 cougars for the government bounty payment. She outlived four husbands, and gave birth to eight more children during her life.
In 1968, Peter Buckland, an investment broker and amateur prospector from Vancouver, was hiking in the area and met Ada. He started to visit her regularly, and eventually Ada convinced him to buy the property and hire some caretakers to help her with the land, now that she was too old to do it all herself.
After arriving in 1915, Cougar Annie lived on her homestead until 1983, when she moved away at the age of 95. She passed away two short years later, just shy of her 97th birthday.
In 1998, Peter established Boat Basin Foundation as a charitable organization to own and maintain the property and garden. Today, you’ll find over two kilometres of moss-covered pathways here, along with some of the original, now crumbling, buildings. Visitors can stay and appreciate the history and natural wonder that is Cougar Annie’s Garden.
In addition to Cougar Annie’s homestead, the foundation also constructed the Temperate Rainforest Field Study Centre, which includes seven cabins and a central building, on a ridge overlooking the garden and out towards the Pacific Ocean.
For more information on Cougar Annie’s life, be sure to read the prize-winning book Cougar Annie’s Gardenby Margaret Horsfield. The heritage site is accessible by boat or air, and once you’re there just imagine what it must have been like, over 100 years ago, to settle down and thrive in the coastal wilderness.
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