Complicated trailblazing female leads, we love them in movies and even more in reality.
Ada Annie Rae-Arthur was one of Van Isles finest, and an offbeat one at that.
Her story on the Island started with a bumpy boat ride that landed Annie, her first husband William and their three children at Hesquiat Harbour. At the time, the area was described as “Presenting in its entire extent the appearance of desolation and barrenness.”
A rough place to build a home in, to be sure, but Annie was undeterred.
Her first husband was reportedly no fan of manual labour, so while he primarily watched their growing brood (they’d have five more children together) and did the dishes, Annie carved out a rough homestead.
She planted a two-hectare garden with an orchard of fruit trees and flowering shrubs. Later Annie would start a mail-order plant and bulb business through. She also started a post office and eventually a general store to keep the family cared for.
The Rae-Arthurs had a good thing going when tragedy struck.
William drowned in 1936. From there, Annie’s life as a single mother of eight got a lot harder.
Annie had started picking up bounties for bears and cougars to keep her family sustained. By the end of her life, she reportedly killed about 80 bears and almost 70 cougars. Hence, the “Cougar Annie” moniker.
She was one heck of a shot, and the local wildlife didn’t stand a chance.
Cougars and bears weren’t the only beasts she picked up either.
In the middle of the wilderness (with no Tinder) – you can imagine prospects were few and far between when it came to finding a new potential spouse.
So Annie decided to find people the old-fashioned way, via newspaper ads.
Advertising in farming papers and magazines, her pickup lines got straight to the point.
“BC widow with nursery and orchard wishes partner. Object matrimony,” read one such request.
It might seem a little dry, but it worked—three more times.
Annie was remarkable at keeping all of her eventually 11 children, farm animals, plant gardens and businesses thriving.
But her luck ran dry when it came to husbands.
Her second husband accidentally shot himself in the leg. The third husband succumbed to pneumonia. Tragic ends to the paper mail romances – but they still couldn’t compare to her 4th husband.
While drunk, he tried to run Annie off a cliff to gain ownership of the land and business. She chased him off the property with her shotgun as she should. We don’t talk about him.
Annie still pulled through at the end of this soap opera-worthy drama.
Once she’d given up on husbands, she found real love in her friendship with Peter Buckland. A young prospector dropped by her house to buy some eggs and never quite left, returning to visit regularly over the next 20 years.
Peter reportedly liked to joke that had he been a few years older and she a few years younger, Cougar Annie may have snatched him up as husband number five.
He became enchanted with her garden and lifestyle and would later buy Annie’s property and restore it for all to visit outside Tofino.
By the end of her long life–at nearly 97 years old–Annie would have left behind a legacy as an eccentric, extremely tough and eagle-eyed Island woman.
She took what life gave her and ran with it, and that’s something we can all learn a little something from.
Cougar Annie’s Garden near Tofino still stands today as a beautiful tribute to an extraordinarily stubborn pioneer.
The rest of the property is now a rainforest conservatory. Hopefully, it is a form of reparation for some descendants of all those poor bears and cougars.