From the moment she first stepped onto the historical homestead of Ada Annie Jordan – later known as Cougar Annie – Katrina Kadoski felt inspired to write about her life.
Moving to the west coast of Vancouver Island, 33 miles north of Tofino, in 2007, Kadoski spent almost three years walking in the same places as her heroine did a century ago.
She began writing songs and collecting information, locating photos, news clippings and letters. The result of five years of research (she travelled to Manitoba and Alberta and visited Jordan’s relatives) and creativity is Kadoski’s one-woman show, Cougar Annie Tales.
The show comes to Artspace on March 21.
Jordan had settled in the Clayoquot Sound coastal rainforest region in 1915 with her first husband and three children. She cleared five acres of land which became her garden. She grew her own food for her growing family (she had several more children with three more husbands).
But her claim to fame was the bounty she earned for shooting over 70 cougars in her lifetime – she also killed bears to protect her lifestock.
She died at age 97 after failing eyesight meant she had to leave her beloved wilderness garden and live in Port Alberni.
Kadoski hopes to recapture her fascinating life through theatre and song. The best way to do that, she said, was to actually experience the place Jordan called home for 65 years.
“The cabin she’d lived in [33 miles north of Tofino] had fallen down in 1985 and when I was there from 2007 to 2010, I was living in a caretaker’s cabin that had been built nearby, in fact I could see the chimney of her old cabin from where I was,” said Kadoski on Tuesday.
The land itself helped to tell the story, she said.
“I could see the hard day-to-day work that had gone on years before to clear the land and then, there were lots of reminders.
A bucket washed up on shore and I imagined she would have carried that with her to do her chores. All these things helped me build the character.”
Kadoski lives in Sooke, B.C. and she teaches voice, piano and guitar. Early on, she performed at music festivals, in choirs and in musical theatre. She was classically trained in voice (Royal Conservatory of Music.)
She also plays several instruments including piano, banjo, didgeridoo, penny whistle, drum and harmonica. She had a five-piece band called Honeygirl and they played Celtic, folk, rock, pop, bluegrass and other music.
How much of Cougar Annie’s story is folklore, how much is true?
Amazingly, Kadoski says, historical references and documents she has found support the fact Jordan was one amazing woman.
“People are fascinated by her life as an early pioneer bounty hunter. It is true that by 1957, Cougar Annie had killed 62 cougars – after that the numbers may have been exaggerated but it is still remarkable.”
What has the audience reaction to Cougar Annie Tales been so far?
“I’ve had people come up to me after the show who offered me old photographs they have of the area or the people who lived there and they have stories of their own to share. So my [theatrical] piece changes a little as I go along and as I add new things to it.”
Kadoski performs with projected backdrop of photos, letters and documents for historical context and there are props used on stage that add to the audience’s understanding of the setting, life and times of the main character.
Cougar Annie gets easier to portray over time, Kadoski says, but the little vignettes that connect minor characters have taken time to bring together.
In the play she makes use of real-life letters between Jordan and other people and she uses folk ballads to help move the story along.
The important thing in doing the show is what it can teach us, says Kadoski.
“Being that it is a real -life story, I think it has the power to teach people about the power of creativity and believing in yourself, against all odds. I think it also gives people a new context with which to look at their own things.”
Cougar Annie Tales comes to Artspace, above Books and Company, on Saturday, March 21. Doors open at 7 p.m. The play starts at 7:30 p.m. Advance tickets are $18 ($15 for students and seniors.).
For more information on the play or the artist/performer, visit www.katrinakadoski.com.