Into the land of cougars and bears….

After the swells and motion of our offshore experience calmed down we decided to set a course for Cougar Annie’s garden.  According to Wikipedia, Cougar Annie (Ada Annie Rae-Arthur, June 19, 1888 – April 28, 1985) was a pioneer who settled near Hesquiat  (pronounced Heshkwit) Harbour at Boat Basin in Clayoquot Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island in 1915 after having lived in EnglandSouth Africa and the Canadian Prairies as a child. She arrived with the first of her four husbands to save him from an opium addiction and ensure that the remittance cheques that came from his family in Scotland would continue to arrive. At the time she and her husband settled on the coast, they had three small children. She gave birth to eight more children in this remote location. She acquired her nickname because of her famed marksmanship. She shot dozens of cougars during her long life.  You might wonder why we would want to go to a remote place that is full of bears and cougars…  all I can say to that is: It seemed like a good idea at the time.

waiting for the beach bus
waiting for the beach bus

First we would need to go to Tofino and from there make our way to Boat Basin.  Once in Tofino, surrounded by surf shops, my little people and Pete became surfers too!

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 South Chesterman’s beach provided some fun times.  Tofino has a great bus service with a route that takes you from town to the various beaches in the area.

On our first day the waves were small but on subsequent days they were much larger!

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Near Tofino is the wonderful “Big Tree Walk” on Meares Island.  We hadn’t seen trees so big EVER…  pretty amazing.

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After a few loads of laundry, filling up with fuel and water, we were ready to leave for Hesquiat…  As we approached, the clouds hung over the mountains like a big cozy blanket.

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There were no other boats around as we crossed the infamous Hesquiat Bar…  once at the anchorage there was one other boat… a large power boat with an older couple on board with three small barking dogs. It was calm and peaceful. We awoke in the morning alone.  They must have woken up early to get to their next destination.  You have to look very carefully and closely to see our little boat in this photo…  magnificently remote and expansive…  full of cougars and bears.  But the beaches….

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The kids want to go to the beach. I was warned by some experienced people in Tofino: “Do not let your kids go off on their own on the beach.  The cougars wouldn’t try to get you, but if your little ones are on their own, they’re just the right size to get scooped up.”  I don’t have a gun like Cougar Annie did…  I don’t feel entirely comfortable here…  The open ocean is suddenly feeling like a remarkably safe place now…  “ok – to the beach” I announce after a 10 hour marathon of playmobil in the cabin (new level of cabin fever).

As we got close to the beach Nel announced it was her turn to get off first.  Fine.  She did a great job getting the bow line organized and then stepped off onto the sand.  “wow Mummy, my feet are going down!”  laughter and amazement… “Mummy I can’t move my feet!”  laughter stops….  “what?!?”  I step off, and it was the most surprising thing – foamy sand that behaved like quicksand. “Great, afraid of cougars and bears but what got them in the end was the quicksand!” runs through my mind…  As it happened, it was only foamy for about 5 inches, then there was something solid – resistance of some kind, we wouldn’t be consumed by this place after all…

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The kids had a great time racing around the beach au naturel laughing and giggling and having a fantastic time.  Everything was wonderful, until suddenly it wasn’t.  “Mummy, my foot’s bleeding.”  says Liam calmly as he sits on the side of the dinghy to show me…  a huge cut on his foot dripping with blood and also caked with sand.  There must have been a sharp shell just beneath the surface of the foamy sand that cut him while he was running around…  cougars aren’t like sharks, are they?  drawn in my the smell of blood?  Alright kids, back to the boat.  First aid was easier on the boat than on the beach.  Liam was so keen to get back to the beach where there was warm water for swimming that we created this special boot for him that would keep his foot clean and dry while allowing him to swim, run and generally have fun on the beach.  This foamy sand was very good at hiding those little sharp shells…  It wasn’t long before Neli got a cut on her foot too.  Both cuts, with cleaning, antibiotic ointment, bandaids, and time healed well and didn’t stop them or slow them down at all.

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I had to see Cougar Annie’s Garden…  this place was so full of mystery and dangers (real and imagined).  I had to see where this strong woman survived here for so long.  The guide book was a bit vague…  but on the second try we found the road that lead to the beginning of the property.

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OK.  So we went back to the beach to try to find someone.  Nobody around…  NO ONE!

Alright, so this shouldn’t be a huge stumper, right?  So we went back to just show ourselves around.  But wait, then there’s this:

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It was so strange to realize that there really was on one here.  Even the one person who might have been here was gone…  and now we were being told that we weren’t allowed to see the one place that had drawn us up to this remote wilderness.  I couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t forgo the opportunity while Pete on the other hand is so passionately rule abiding that he patiently waited for me to go quickly in, snap spme photos and then come quickly out again.  Surely if we couldn’t find anyone around to ask permission, there wouldn’t be anyone around from whom we’d have to ask forgiveness…  right?  Truth be told, I do feel a bit guilty, but only a bit.

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3 thoughts on “Into the land of cougars and bears….”

  1. I didn’t know the property was entirely off limits now. I worked on a book about Cougar Annie years ago (Cougar Annie’s Garden) and the story and photos are quite wonderful. I haven’t had a chance to see it, so I’m glad you went in to have a quick look, at least! Your photos are great. I must go back to visit Tofino soon…

  2. Thanks for the photographs and sharing the adventure! Though I’ve not heard of Cougar Annie, I understand that she is emblematic of the pioneers of her day. How she made it to 95 without water pills, a pace maker, nitro patches, an insulin pump, and a motorised scooter, I dunno…

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