Backstage

WITH MONTREAL’S COUGAR HUNT

Poppydog? Poltergeist? Or prowling panther? How the city acted at the call of the wild

April 25 1959
Backstage

WITH MONTREAL’S COUGAR HUNT

Poppydog? Poltergeist? Or prowling panther? How the city acted at the call of the wild

April 25 1959

WITH MONTREAL’S COUGAR HUNT

Backstage

Poppydog? Poltergeist? Or prowling panther? How the city acted at the call of the wild

SLIT-EYED big-game hunters slipped through the bush hauling back on leashed snuffling hounds and fingering their weapons—shotguns and 30-30 rifles, 303s and bows with steel-fanged arrows. At dawn they had tumbled out of beds in downtown apartments and suburban bungalows to stalk dangerous quarry through the backyards of people who lived half an hour’s drive away. The electrifying word was out: panther! Three of the big cats, the word had it. were prowling the western tip of the most densely populated plot of land in Canada. Montreal Island, with murder in their yellow-green eyes.

“It had all the makings of murder, all right,” shudders Ernest Portelance, police chief of suburban Scnneville. “On the March 14-15 weekend we counted at least a hundred guns beating our little bush both days.” But only a smattering of the excitement took place in the gun-crowded VA -square-mile bush of the Senneville bird sanctuary. Elsewhere:

Headline writers went cat-happy. Big Panther Hunt Is On. said the Montreal Gazette on March 14. Cougars! blazoned La Presse on the 16th. promoting the story to the front page. 100 Hunters Draw Blank, shouted the Gazette on the 17th. Panthers Stalked! cried the Star on the 18th, and the next day made an editorial appeal to the big cats: Panthers, Go Home! Meanwhile:

A professional cougar-hunter, John Fernandez, of Vancouver Island, working as a skin-diving demonstrator in a downtown department store, volunteered to catch the cats. For four days he provided Police Chief Portelance with a welcome excuse to ban amateur hunters from the scene; on the fifth Fernandez retreated to the city, angrily denouncing newspapermen who reported that nobody on Vancouver Island had ever heard of a cougar hunter or skin-diver named John Fernandez. Meanwhile:

Wildlife experts, snarling like cougars, sprang at each other. There were not one but three cats, a big black male and two fawn females, Fernandez reported while still on the job. There were three cougars, all right, decided Bruce Wright, whose The Ghost of North America is the latest cougar book in print, when the tracks were described to him by phone in Fredericton. N.B. “But it's a female and two cubs.” Shown the same track, Montreal Game and Fisheries chief Finnin Bourque snorted: “Big dog." Gazette wildlife writer George Carpenter promptly bet him the track was a cougar’s. Game department expert Charley La François snapped up more of Carpenter's money: “There hasn’t been a panther in Quebec for a hundred years,” he rapped. Donald Cleghorne, excurator of the Redpath Museum, positively identified the tracks: “Three cougars.” Meanwhile:

Back in the hush, Police Chief Portelance set out a “have-a-heart” trap, loaned by the Granby zoo, to try to take one of the cats alive. A week later the trap was still empty but Portelance was still looking: "All I know is I saw an awful big cat. The hunt's off. but we're keeping our eyes open." -KEN LEFOLII