In 1915, Ada Annie and William Rae-Arthur, with three young children, landed on the shore at Boat Basin, 50 km northwest of Tofino. The five-acre garden they cleared in the rainforest became Ada Annie’s lifelong passion. She brought in countless plants and fruit trees and created a mail-order nursery, thanks to a tiny Post Office in her own home where she was Postmistress – and often sole patron.
For nearly seventy years she lived here, rarely leaving. She bore eight more children; she outlived four husbands; she trapped and shot many cougars, gaining the name Cougar Annie. Her isolation increased over time but she never quailed in her determination to stay put in her remote home. Her garden became radically overgrown as she aged. It seemed doomed to disappear completely following her death in 1985, just short of her 97th birthday.
Against all the odds, thanks to over thirty years of determined volunteer effort, the garden has been restored and still thrives in the wilderness. Some 33,000 hours of hard work enabled this heart-lifting story of a garden to be rescued from the brink and find new life. In 1998, Boat Basin Foundation was established as a charitable organization to own and maintain the garden and to promote interest and education in cultural and natural history. The Foundation built the Temperate Rainforest Field Study Centre, above and behind the garden. Six remarkable cabins and Central Hall, crafted from cedar milled on the property, provide a place where groups can stay and learn about the area.
Cougar Annie’s Garden has become an oasis of calm and colour surrounded by the densest rainforest on earth. A maze of over two kilometres of moss-covered pathways weaves through the garden. Along the approach to the garden from the beach visitors pass a 1200 year-old cedar tree and evidence of cultural use by Hesquiaht First Nation prior to Columbus landing in America. The 700-metre hand-split cedar boardwalk connecting the garden to the field study centre plus several trails, including Walk of The Ancients, a forest path through a grove of immense trees, fully immerse the visitor in West Coast natural history.
Cougar Annie’s Garden stands as an extraordinary tribute to a stubborn pioneer. However, this ‘secret garden’ is pitted against the force of nature and balanced like every garden before, all the way back to Eden, between the past and the future. It could easily succumb to the chaos of overgrowth and the indifference of time.
Visits and support are encouraged to help this enclave of history continue to bloom, with obstinate beauty, in the wilderness.