The Stantons in their ‘family car’ at the head of Knight Inlet. MCR 15493 Courtesy of the Museum at Campbell River

LOOKING BACK: The pigs of Knight Inlet

The wonderful and amazing story of Jim and Laurette Stanton

By Erika Anderson

Working at the Museum, I have the opportunity to read quite a few local history books. While camping this summer I read a book that was recommended by a friend who always told me never to let anything get in the way of a good story.

And this book was certainly full of good stories. He has passed away and I wish I could tell him I thoroughly enjoyed his book recommendation, Grizzlies in their Backyard by Beth Day. The book draws from the journals of Jim and Laurette Stanton, a charming and quirky couple that have captured the imaginations of so many people.

Jim and Laurette Stanton lived as newlyweds in an apartment in Seattle, working their jobs from Monday to Friday, and heading to the outskirts of the city to go fishing and exploring with their little powered rowboat on weekends. They were young and in love and dreamed of exploring in their boat full-time. In June 1919 they sold most of their possessions and loaded up the double ended rowboat powered by a 2.5-horsepower kicker engine, and moved to an abandoned one-room logger’s cabin near the head of Knight Inlet. They lived in the area for several decades and became famous for their ability to coexist with the local grizzly bear population.

The Stantons befriended many visitors to the inlet over the years. When one particularly fancy yacht was leaving after spending several good days of fishing with Jim as his guide, the owner left Mrs. Stanton a gift – a hairless tropical pig that had been given to him by a South Sea Island Queen. A much treasured pet, who was regarded as being as close to royalty as swine could be, had been treated to regular baths, manicures and other luxuries on the yacht. The pig’s name was Miss Dennis.

The Stanton’s tried to accommodate the pig, for example indulging in the pig’s wish to have cream and sugar in her afternoon tea. As the pig was hairless, she took to wearing wool socks in the winter. She seemed content with life, enjoying the occasional swim and joining Jim at every opportunity for a ride in the boat. However, Dennis yearned for the company of other pigs, and so Jim and Laurette decided it was time to get Dennis a mate.

Bill, a young Yorkshire boar, joined them soon after. As they aged Dennis began to grow hair in the colder climate, and Bill grew some tusks. Their progeny had both hair and tusks.

The piglets inherited Dennis’ outgoing personality and soon discovered the cabin’s cat door. They found it quite amusing to form a ten-pig parade and squeeze through the hole, picking up any stray socks or other things that had fallen on the floor, and then to run in circles squealing in the tiny cabin. They preferred dawn for this activity – about 4 a.m. was ideal.

The piglets also adopted their mother’s love for swimming, and found a little bank where they could line up and then jump into the water for their daily dip in the cold water of the inlet. Dennis had two litters of approximately 10 piglets per year.

Mrs. Stanton insisted that because they were pets they could not be butchered. So in addition to living a life where saving enough food to get through the winter was challenging, the Stantons’ were supporting a growing drove of pigs.

Wolves were a constant problem for the Stantons, and were often tempted by the seemingly easy meal that the pigs presented. Dennis trained her piglets from an early age on how to deal with an encroaching wolf.

As it approached the pigs would pretend they didn’t see the wolf, letting it get quite close. Dennis would give the signal and the pigs would turn and charge, en masse, at the approaching wolf. As they were a very large group of pigs, this was an effective way to deter the predators.

The grizzly bears, however, did not present as big of a challenge for the pigs. For the most part the pigs and bears fed side by side without incident.