Our Tofino Neighbours: Peter Buckland, Cougar Annie's Garden
Cougar Annie is more than a local legend in Tofino, she was pioneering force. Renowned for her cougar-shooting prowess, Annie started out her life in Boat Basin, at the north end of Clayoquot Sound, in 1915. On a property of 117 acres, she carved out five acres for her gardens and a life for herself in the wild. The property that Annie lived on is in the heart of some of the densest temperate rainforest in the world; you can imagine the challenges she had in clearing the land and cultivating a garden there. Now her remote homestead is one of the oldest rural gardens in B.C. and a treasured heritage site.
The decades-long maintenance of the gardens is ultimately successful because of the tireless work of one person: Peter Buckland.
Originally from Vancouver, Peter worked as an investment dealer before seeking prospecting opportunities on the west coast. While he’d visited Tofino previously, his first visit to the gardens was in 1968. It takes a certain type of personality to live such an extreme and remote existence, and indeed, Peter notes that Annie was very much a “determined, manipulative and tough” lady. And yet, over the next 19 years he made monthly visits to Boat Basin and developed an exceptional relationship with both Annie and the area.
By Annie’s request, Peter purchased the land in 1981 and moved there in 1987. Reestablishing order and infrastructure to the grounds—which had grown wild since Annie’s departure in 1983—required an astounding feat of work. For the next 16 years he spent the majority of his time cutting back and reshaping the garden into a maze of moss-covered pathways. To date, Peter estimates he (mostly solo but also, at times, with some friends and volunteers) has spent 33,000 hours labouring to create the incredible facilities we have access to today.
In 1998 Peter realized he needed to ensure the site’s survival as a special heritage asset and created the Boat Basin Foundation. Established to own the property through donation, and preserve it for future generations, the Boat Basin Foundation works to encourage education about the natural and cultural history of the area.
A visit to Boat Basin and Cougar Annie’s Garden is accessible from Tofino by float plane. There you can walk the split-cedar boardwalk meandering through ancient rainforest and see Annie’s plantings among the salal, ferns and other forest plants that Peter uncovered and preserved. On the walk you’ll also pass a 1200 year-old cedar tree and several sites which conclusively show human activity before the arrival of Europeans to North America. Few sites in North America show this, Peter says. To list a few of the Gardens’ international counterparts in this regard he mentions: L'Anse Meadows, the Pueblos of New Mexico, and Mayan ruins—that is to say, it’s an extraordinary historical site in more ways than one.
While it is one thing to read about the grounds (and the award-winning book Cougar Annie's Garden is available to borrow at the Inn) the best way to drink it in is to visit. Boat Basin owns and maintains the property as well as a field study centre where people can learn about temperate rainforest ecology.
Day trips are available, or you can stay (a minimum of two nights is required) in one of the seven old-growth cedar cabins, built with selectively harvested trees milled right on the property.
This incredible place is unequal to any other. We’re so grateful for people like Peter who work to protect these important areas for us all to enjoy and we simply cannot endorse a visit to this coastal gem enough!