After exploring the delights of Nootka Sound, which included visiting the historic Friendly Cove where we saw the most beautiful First Nation totem poles I have ever seen, we rounded Esperanza Point and saw the Esperanza light house which was the only part of North America to experience WWII first hand.
In the morning of June 20, 1942 a Japanese submarine surfaced off the point and proceeded to hurl 25 missiles at the lighthouse and then they left. Each one missed the light house, leaving the light house nervous but un hurt. After the war, the captain of the submarine was delicately asked ‘WTF?’ to which he responded that the target hadn’t actually been the light house. This maybe a plausible story if the lighthouse was in the middle of a city…or even a village…Let’s just say that there isn’t a lot of other ‘targets’ to throw missiles at on Estevan Point.
Regardless, we rounded the point under spinnaker (yippee!) and sailed into Hesquiat Bay on the hunt for Cougar Annie…or at least the gardens of Cougar Annie.
If you don’t know who Cougar Annie is, don’t look to me for historical fact. Let’s just say that my version of the Coles Notes version is that she came to the wilderness with her first husband in 1915 to escape his opium addiction. She lived there till 1985, running through a number of husbands over that period of time, replacing them as they passed away by advertising in the paper for the next.
As a pioneer she was as wily as they come. Despite having a troop of children, she set up a post office, and sold mail order plant seeds for nearly nothing in order to keep enough mail going through the office so it remained legit. She ran a general store, and as there was a bounty on cougars she made a profit on shooting them too. In her spare time, she turned the rain forest to a beautiful garden which she sold to her friend Peter Buckland who has been the custodian ever since.
We wanted to see it.
All we had was a couple of 10 year old maps that gave us a vague idea of the location, and a lot of enthusiasm.
It turned out we needed the enthusiasm because the rainforest had long since taken back the beginning of the trail and the rest of the trail was a near vertical scramble up a cliff face hanging on to roots and stumps to reach an old logging road, home to gajillions* of mosquitos. Once on logging road we walked for 20 minutes before reaching the gardens, finding Peter’s home and discovering we could have taken a 10 minute row to the same spot.
Peter, is a very patient and kind man. Tours are by appointment only. We had not made an appointment.
He had just finished giving a 3 hour tour and was taking a needed rest in his hammock before meeting another group that evening.
He looked at his hammock longingly, and then very generously agreed to give us an abbreviated tour.
Cougar Annie’s gardens are beautiful, it’s hard to appreciate just how much work goes from turning rain forest into garden, but lets just say there’s a grave yard full of husbands that may be testament to that.
What I didn’t appreciate till I got there, is that Peter worked on the property with Annie for 20 years. When she sold the property to him, he continued and still does to this day. When you visit you see both thumbprints on the place.
Peter has built an impressive interpretive centre and cabins high up in the woods so that groups can come to the wilderness and learn about the ecology and experience the rainforest. For a while they had boat tours to bring tourists in so that people could see the history of the place but there have been beaurocratic problems so as far as I can gather the whole place is in receivership and for sale. Currently, very few get to see this historic gem of BC’s past.
When I say ‘Peter built’ stuff there. You probably imagine, modern tools for construction. All that has been built there has been built without bulldozer, diggers, and complex power tools. Trees are felled when necessary and moved with simple machines like the use of pivots, pulleys and beach combed rollers. He has made intricate boardwalks out of hand split cedar planks. This garden is a labour of love and is testament to the smarts and wiles of a type of people who can apply intelligence and cunning to real world problems instead of following a cell phone around the place following it’s commands and orders.
The next morning, we watched two of Peter’s neighbours foraging for breakfast amongst the rocks on the low tide line. Time seems to slow here, it seems to be more about living your life as you want to rather than focusing on lofty future goals.
The history of humans living in Hesquiat Bay goes back millennia. Cougar Annie is just one layer of that history. When Peter finally moves on it won’t be long before the rainforest reclaims it as quickly as it had the trail we took to get there. There is a sense in that beautiful bay that every thing is just playing the waiting game. I hope that something can be worked out so that this small snapshot of frontier life can be preserved.
If you would like to know more about Cougar Annie’s life and the Boat Basin Foundation which maintains the gardens please visit them here. www.boatbasin.org
*not an estimate.