Cougar Annie is a west coast legend. She was the original feminist, eking out a living for her family in the wilds of west coast Vancouver Island in the early 1900’s. It is said she killed over 100 cougars in her lifetime, earning herself the name. Cougar Annie was an excellent shot. She killed cougars to protect her homestead and livestock, becoming so well known for her skill she became a bounty hunter for the BC government. She earned between $10 and $40 for each cougar she killed. Cougar Annie was known to be calm in the eye of danger and prepared to defend herself or her property at any given moment. She packed a gun well into her 70’s but eventually mellowed with time. As she aged, she would say to visitors and friends, “Forget Cougar Annie, call me Granny.”
Cougar Annie was born Ada Annie Jordan in Sacramento, California, on June 19, 1888. She was an only child born to restless parents who moved Ada Annie from country to country as she was growing up. The family lived in England, South Africa, the Canadian Prairies and finally, Vancouver, by the time Ada Annie was in her teens.
Ada Annie met her first husband Willy Rae-Arthur while working for her father in his veterinarian’s office. Willy was 36 and Ada Annie was 21. During their first few years of marriage they lived in Vancouver where Willy tried his hand at several occupations, mostly without success, as he felt himself a gentlemen who shouldn’t have to work. Ada Annie had three children in as many years and learned to make do on a small allowance Willy received regularly from his family in Scotland. Unfortunately Willy’s interest and attraction to drink and opium often led him astray and these bad habits landed the family in financial difficulties.
In order to remove Willy from Vancouver’s Chinatown and his opium addiction, it was decided Ada Annie and Willy would move to a remote tract of land on the west coast of Vancouver Island. This novel approach was seen as practical way to cure Willy of his opium and alcohol problems. In April 1915, they boarded the coastal steamer Princess Maquinna in Victoria and travelled up the west coast of the island to Hesquiat Harbour, about 30 kilometres north of current day Tofino. Once in Hesquiat Harbour, the family’s journey was not yet over, as they loaded all their belongings into a dugout canoe and travelled a further distance to Boat Basin at the head of the harbour, where a small, overgrown cabin awaited. Ada moved in and never left.
Over the next few decades more than 5 acres of land were cleared by hand. Fruit trees, bushes, shrubs and gardens were planted to provide food for the growing family. Between 1915 and 1931 Ada had eight more children, three did not survive infancy. The family had milk cows, goats and chickens. They fenced in the yard to keep out predators. By the 1920’s, Ada Annie had started up a small nursery garden business and she opened a little general store to provide for the First Nations people from Hesquiat Village as well as passing boaters and fishers. Her gardens, especially her prized dahlias, were to be her pride and joy for her entire life.
Willie drowned in 1936 and shortly after Ada Annie opened the post office to provide a public service and bring in some money for the family. During these years her livelihood depended upon the regular visits of the Canadian Pacific Steamships Line Princess Maquinna that arrived every 10 days in Hesquiat Harbour from 1913 to 1952 on her rounds from Victoria to Port Alice. This boat was also a link to the outer world, and newspapers.
Ada Annie advertised for another husband in the Western Producer. This advertisement produced George Campbell and they were married in 1940. George died within a few years, of an accidental gunshot wound to the leg. In 1947 Ada Annie married her next husband, Esau Arnold. When Esau died of pneumonia in 1954, Ada Annie again put an ad in the paper. A Mr. Robert Culver saw the ad but couldn’t adapt to the lifestyle in Boat Basin although he moved his children there for a brief time and they tried to make it work. In time he departed and another man, George Lawson took his place. Lawson and Ada Annie married in 1961 and separated in 1967. Lawson was 12 years younger than Ada Annie and some say he was a bit of a cad. He tried to run Ada Annie off a cliff to get her farm but she outsmarted him and ran him off the property with her shotgun. It is also said that the more kindly, Robert Culver, returned to Boat Basin when he and Ada Annie were both in their eighties and he stayed with her off and on for some years. Apparently she was done with marriage though, as Ada Annie and Robert never married.