Raising 8 children and outliving 4 husbands in the rugged wilderness near Tofino in the early 20th century, Cougar Annie was a formidable woman.
Annie led an eclectic life. Not only did she spend most of her years in a secluded location about two hours outside of Tofino, she was also quite worldly, and had lived on multiple continents. Born in Sacramento, California, Annie then spent her childhood in England, South Africa, and the Canadian prairies.
Her real name was Ada Annie Rae-Arthur, née Jordan, and she arrived in Tofino by boat with her husband Willie, and their three children, in the spring of 1915. They had come from Vancouver to take advantage of the offer of free land but also to escape Willie’s opium addiction. For the latter problem, it seems they could not have come to a better place––the property was incredibly secluded, but it was also a particularly rugged plot of land that they received.
Already fairly well-acquainted with the hardship resulting from her husband’s addiction, Annie proved more than equal to the task of living off this rugged land. Once settled at their homestead, Boat Basin, she and her husband had five more children, and contrary to the traditional gender roles of the day, Willie looked after the children (since he disliked heavy labour), while Annie saw to the rest.
In 1936, further hardship arose when Willie drowned, leaving Annie alone with eight children. Since Annie was now the sole care-giver in a place that demanded extra work just to survive, many of those living nearby assumed that she would relocate. Instead, she sought a practical solution to her recent widowhood––she advertised for a husband.
Annie posted ads such as: “BC widow with nursery and orchard wishes partner. Object matrimony,” and she was successful––three times. Annie’s second husband died after inflicting himself with an accidental gun wound to the leg. Her third died of pneumonia. After the fourth husband proved violent––he attempted to push her off a cliff––Annie chased him off the property at gunpoint. It’s little wonder that he fled––Annie had a reputation for being a near-perfect shot. Over the years, she reputedly shot at least eighty bears and sixty-two cougars in defence of her livestock.
Independent as ever, Annie stayed on the property long after her children had moved away, supporting herself by running a small general store, and by selling bulbs from her enormous garden by mail. Her garden was said to have hosted over 100 varieties of flowers. Annie lived to the ripe old age of ninety-seven.
Today, Cougar Annie’s homestead at Boat Basin can be visited from Tofino via a 25 minute float plane or a 2 hour water taxi.