The saga began when a stag was found dead in the Stanley Park zoo on Thursday 5 October 1911. At first the park superintendent thought it may have been the outcome of a stag fight since it was mating season. To be sure, Superintendent Balmer left the carcass out overnight. The next day, he found that the dead stag had been mauled and dragged thirty yards through dense brush. The killer returned the following night and feasted on the kill, which had been laced with rat poison, but to no effect. Within the week, the goats in the petting zoo were also getting whacked, while other animals, especially the rabbits, were showing signs of nervousness.
Someone reported having seen a bear swim across the second narrows, but “nature experts” soon determined that a cougar, not a bear, was carrying out the killing spree. The park superintendent recruited some Vancouver police officers and organized a cougar hunt one week after the first kill, but to no avail. The party found no trace of the beast and that night “two more goats were murdered wantonly and the blood of one sucked dry,” something no “self-respecting bear” would do, according to the Province. Superintendent Balmer arranged another hunt, this time by a big game hunter and his specially trained cougar-hunting dog. Again, the effort was in vain.
Finally a reported sighting came in that a large animal resembling a cougar had been spotted on the English Bay side of the park. But, the Province noted, “one of the informants was a lady, and as she was admittedly not well informed on zoology, there is a possibility that she may have been mistaken.” Her claim was, however, corroborated by a man (presumably a zoologist), who was quite certain it was a cougar. The hunter, meanwhile, had found cougar tracks and estimated that it must have been a big one, somewhere between 200 and 250 pounds.
More hunters with trained dogs joined in the search, but with no luck. Then the last of the deer family was slaughtered on 24 October. It was a 125 pound buck, leading the experts to conclude the killer must be at least a 250 pounder.
The Province newspaper raised the stakes by offering $50 to whoever delivered the cougar’s dead body to its Hastings Street office. With this incentive many would-be cougar killers headed for the park, raising further concerns about park safety. The Province cautioned readers that only experienced hunters were being granted permission to track the cougar and that unauthorized hunters could face a $100 fine.
The reward money was enough incentive for three hunters to trek in from Cloverdale. George Shannon, Henry Hornby, and Max Michaud were accompanied by a Province reporter and three foxhounds, Sport, Mike, and Speed, and set out to get the cougar.
The Cloverdale men “were of the type which we in Vancouver know too little about – the men who live near to nature.” These nature-men set out early Thursday 26 October and Shannon swore they’d get the cougar by 4:00 “or we’ll know that he isn’t in the park.”
The hunters soon realized the park was bigger than they thought and lamented not coming a day earlier when the scent leading from the most recent kill was still fresh. But sure enough, at six minutes before four o’clock, Hornby shot the cougar near Beaver Lake. The wounded beast fled, but was soon re-discovered forty feet up a hemlock glaring down at the barking dogs. A few more shots and the dead cougar thudded on the forest floor.
Rather than the expected 250 pound male, it was a 137 pound female cougar that caused all the fuss. The Province had it stuffed and displayed it in its storefront window. It eventually returned to the park as a display at the Stanley Park Pavilion. Terri Clark from the Park Board staff tells me that it was probably removed from the pavilion before the 1940s because staff she talked to from that era have no recollection of a stuffed cougar. My guess is that it ended up in the Vancouver Museum’s collection.