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A look into the life and times of a B.C. pioneer family and their big cats

Last Updated Jul 25, 2019 at 9:40 am PDT

The Schnarr girls had cougars as pets. (Source: Cougar Companions/Harbour Publishing)

The Schnarr girls had cougars as pets, though the cats didn't like August

The book is available from Harbour Publishing

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Few people who visited British Columbia’s remote Bute Inlet country between the 1890s and the 1940s stayed there for long, but those who did left an impression. That was certainly true of one family, who are now the subject of a new book.

In Cougar Companions: Bute Inlet Country and The Legendary Schnarrs, author and historian Judith Williams introduces us to the Schnarr family. August Schnarr was a trapper and a hand logger but his real contribution was the incredible photo archive he left behind.

“[He] was a pretty good photographer and he took his old Kodak way back into the bush and up into glaciers and places like that, in and around Bute Inlet, so we have some amazing photographs dating back from about 1910 into the ’60s,” she says. “He was an expert of the territory, he was able to move through it safely and when other people couldn’t, he was often sent to rescue people who had lost themselves way back in the Coast Mountains.”

Williams says she has been interested in Bute Inlet country for a long time. “I wrote an earlier book called High Slack about events in Bute Inlet in the 1860s, which was an attempt to build a road up there that led to, really, the first major First Nations-incomer clash, quite a violent one.”

She says besides the images of mountain climbing and upriver treks are shots of Schnarr’s daughters, Marion, Pansy, and Pearl, raising their pet cougars, itself a remarkable feat. “Nobody has really had cougars as complete house pet sort of level of accommodation to humans, so they’re pretty special in having done this,” she explains.

However the big cats, named Girlie and Leo, never took to Mr. Schnarr all that well. “They didn’t like men generally,” Williams points out, “Because they were blind when they got them and when they opened their eyes, they imprinted on the girls.”

Williams says the book also shows how resilient the Schnarr women were, especially having lost their mother at a young age. “They logged with their dad and they also went on the trap lines and also could live up there alone when he went away. Tough girls.”

Cougar Companions: Bute Inlet Country and The Legendary Schnarrs is Number 24 in the Raincoast Chronicles series. It is available from Harbour Publishing.