Cougar Annie: An UnSung Eco-Heroine

scenic garden photo

Image from Ecotrust Canada

Gather 'round the campfire and we will tell you a story of a real-life cowgirl who lived in the wilds of British Columbia until she was 97 years old. She was Ada Annie Rae-Arthur, known as Cougar Annie because she was so good at shooting and trapping cougars. It was said that she could fell a cougar while holding a lantern in one hand and her shotgun in the other.

Bought in 1915, now her beautiful cottage and garden is falling into the ground and is about to be sold. Reachable only by boat or plane, it is a place of peace and solitude. The Temperate Rainforest Field Study Centre which ran it can no longer pay the mortgage.

annie house photo

Image from Globe & Mail

The garden has to be one of the last pioneer homesteads in private hands. It consists of a five-acre clearing, which she started working on when she arrived in 1915.

According to legend, she raised her family here and gradually established her nursery business. She opened a tiny general store in her house, catering to the sparse population of Hesquiaht Harbour, and later a post office which she kept going for 50 years. Cougar Annie had four husbands and gave birth to 11 children during her lifetime.

cougar annie photo

Image from ocean outfitters

"She loved the garden the most; it was her passion for almost 70 years. She planted anything and everything she could obtain. To this day, over a hundred species of imported trees and shrubs survive, many unusual and exotic species, and a vast array of perennials and bulbs continue to bloom. She was famed for her dahlias, her gladioli and her day lilies."

For decades she advertised for her wares (and occasionally for husbands) in the Western Producer and in the Winnipeg Free Press. Plants were regularly rowed ashore that she had ordered from all over the world: rhododendrons, azaleas, fruit trees, perennials, bulbs, dahlias, and countless varieties of shrubs arrived for propagation. By the 1920s, plants began to be shipped out on the Princess Maquinnai, the very boat that she had arrived on.

cougar garden photo

Image from travel with the gardener
The garden has been reclaimed and preserved by dint of the efforts of one man, Peter Buckland. When she was 92 years old, she offered the land to him for sale, with the understanding that she could stay there until she died. When she passed away in 1985, he donated the property to the Temperate Rainforest Field Study Centre and Cougar Annie's Garden Club. The Centre and Foundation are dedicated to promoting education and understanding of this remote part of the West Coast, as well as preserving the garden for future generations.

However they can no longer afford to keep it up and now it is for sale for $2.2M. The Hesquiaht First Nation, whose traditional territory includes Cougar Annie's are opposed to the sale and may take legal steps to block any proposed purchase.

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