Updated: Apr 7
Two children, one cougar, enormous bravery::This story may not be for the squeamish.
"Anthony Farrar and Doreen Ashburnham"
Photo Clip: Vancouver Sun (1916)
On September 23, 1916, 11-year-old Doreen Ashburnham set out to fetch her pony in the lower pasture of her family's farm in Lake Cowichan. Anthony, her 8-year-old friend, neighbour and son of her mother's best friend, decided to follow along. As the two kids turned the final bend and descent of their half-mile journey, they came upon a large cougar crouched down in the middle of the road. On instinct, the kids turned to run. The cougar jumped on Doreen and pinned her down face-first to the ground. Doreen yelled at her young friend to run and save himself, but Anthony wasn't about to leave her alone. He climbed a small tree and jumped directly at the cougar knocking it off Doreen's back. Doreen got up on time to see the cougar turn on her brave little friend. The cougar struck Anthony on the face with its paw, tearing his nose and cheek. Anthony fell to the ground, and the cougar jumped on his back. Seeing that the cougar had the back of Anthony's head between his teeth, Doreen grabbed her pony's riding bridle and began beating the cougar. It didn't budge. She leaned into its mouth with her elbow, and the cougar bit down hard. It hurt, but at least she had forced the cougar to release Anthony's head from its jaws. With her fingers, Doreen gauged its right eye as much as possible, and the cougar released her elbow. It slowly backed away and stood on its hind legs to fight. Doreen yelled, screamed, and did what she could with her pony's bridle. Finally, the cougar gave in and crawled under a nearby log. The two friends helped each other to their feet and ran home. Doctor Stoker, brother of Bram Stoker of Dracula fame, who had taken up residence in Lake Cowichan upon his retirement overseas, was immediately summoned to care for the kids. He reported that Doreen had many scratches, but the worst was the bite on her elbow. Anthony received 46 stitches and a three-week stay in the hospital in Duncan, BC.
"I consider that the action of the boy saved the girl's life, and likewise the girl in return saved the life of the boy and they each could have escaped separately by sacrificing the other." - Dr. Richard Stoker, Lake Cowichan (1916)
Clip: Vancouver Sun (1916)
Vancouver Islanders were relieved to hear that the cougar that had attacked the kids had been found. Sadly, the cougar's gouged eye was the only functioning eye he had left. His left eye had cataracts, and it was concluded that he may have been rendered completely blind by the incident.
"Royal Albert Medals"
Clip: The Washington Post (1916)
While war raged overseas, the young duo had taken on a battle of their own. Word of the incident got out and Anthony and Doreen became international heroes. Theodore Roosevelt wrote to congratulate British Columbia on having two such heroic young citizens. Newspapers around the world called for a reward. Applications were submitted for a Royal Humane Society medal, a Carnegie Medal, or anything to remember their heroic act of courage and bravery. Just before Christmas the following year, Anthony and Doreen each received a Royal Albert Medal from King George V for their bravery.
"The Two Heroes"
Photo Clip: Daily Mirror (1917)
Anthony and Doreen fully recovered from their injuries, and their story was discussed for many years. Even today, the story of Vancouver Island's young heroes appears in many modern-day history blogs and newspapers. Anthony, as brave as he was, grew up to join the Princess Patricia Light Infantry and was placed in charge of ammunition. Sadly, in 1930 at 22 years old and only a year into his new marriage, the young Lieutenant Anthony Farrar was accidentally killed by a stray bullet during target practice at Camp Hughes near Winnipeg.