Stalking—and being stalked by—Whistler’s Cougars

By Sarah Drewery, Whistler Museum.

Rarely seen but widely feared, Whistler has a small population of cougars in its extensive forests. Before the explosion of development of the valley, the population was likely more prolific.

Trapper Bill Bailiff got plenty of opportunities to test his luck when he was out in the wilderness catching wolverine, mink, marten, lynx and weasel for their furs. Bill first came to the valley in 1913; in the winters, he tended his trap line in the Spearhead Range and far up the Callaghan Creek area.

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Billy Bailiff trapped in the Whistler area from 1913.

In 1958 Billy Bailiff decided to share some of his adventures with the community in the local newsletter. He had plenty to say about cougars, of which he was less than fond: “The cougar is what I’d term a cowardly, sneaky cat”. Apparently it was commonplace for cougars to follow Bill around for days if he stumbled into their territory. He would double back to try and confront them but they would make a circle around the brush and timber to get behind him again. He described this stalking as “just as faithful as Mary’s little pet lamb.” Once, when trapping up by the Cheakamus River he managed to get a clear view of one of his pursuers and the cat decided it didn’t like to be so exposed. Running along a fallen tree that was jutting about 10 feet out over the water it took a tremendous leap and cleared the whole river – a distance that Bill estimated to be around 30ft!

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Bill Bailiff’s drawings of cougars in the “Alta Lake Community Weekly Sunset.”

Another encounter up at Callaghan Creek was a little scarier for Bill. It was a sunny February day and the snow was gone in patches on the exposed rock. Bill spotted a deer grazing on the hanging lichen and decided to take a break to appreciate it. He found a comfy spot with his back to a rock about 8 feet high and flat on top. After admiring the deer for a short while, the creature suddenly tensed and bounded off into the trees. Bill explained “I thought this was a little odd at the time…When I looked back I noticed the rock under which I had been sitting still had snow on it and it was all marked up. I went over to examine it and there was the full imprint of a cougar’s body with the usual tail lashings on each side… on looking over the edge I gave a little shudder as I perceived it had been looking down the back of my neck—in fact it could have almost reached down with a paw and snatched my hat off!”