Beyond the City Limits: Rural History in British Columbia

By R. W. Sandwell | Go to book overview

7 Cougars, Colonists, and the Rural Settlement of Vancouver Island

Richard Mackie1

Cougar sightings took place all over British Columbia in the summer of 1996. Newspapers contained frequent stories of encounters, pursuits, and punishment meted out by government cougar hunters ('conservation officers'). These animals preyed on livestock and domestic pets--and occasionally on humans. In 1996, several cougars were killed or tranquillized in rural or suburban districts of British Columbia. A Princeton woman, Cindy Parolin, was killed in August on the Tulameen River while trying to save her three children from a cougar. Parolin was the first adult known to have been killed by a cougar in British Columbia, but since 1949 five children in British Columbia (four of them on the west coast of Vancouver Island) have been killed by these wild cats. 2 Such incidents, while very tragic, are rare. For every person killed by cougars, thousands of the cats have been killed by people. For almost a hundred years, the provincial government offered a bounty for the destruction of cougars, which were classified as 'noxious predators' by a government anxious to protect and promote rural settlement. In every rural community on Vancouver Island, bounty hunters appeared--men and women with trained dogs whose income derived in whole or in part from the destruction of these feline predators.

The cougar-hunting phenomenon opens a window into the history of the rural re-settlement of Vancouver Island. This essay begins by describing, briefly, the animal, its habitat, habits, and the legislation enacted against it. I will go on to introduce the personalities of cougar hunters from the whole island, and focus on hunters and naturalists from the Comox Valley, introducing the concept of 'bush gentry.' The bulk of the essay is devoted to four brothers named Smith from Black Creek, whose careers illustrate the tensions and connections, characteristic of rural Vancouver Island, between farming, logging, and cougar hunting. I emphasize adaptation: by immigrants like the Smiths to a new economy, and by cougars to an environment changed by clearcut logging.

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