The indefatigable Mrs. Mac and her Endswell legacy

Nicolette McIntosh of Endswell Farm died last month at 89

As a pre-teen Nicolette Cross surveyed the war-stricken English countryside for fallen aircraft. As a young woman she became the youngest member of the U.K.’s United Society of Artists. In her 20’s the farm-raised Englishwoman left everything she knew for a new country and a new love. And in her 30’s, Nicolette and husband George Buchan (Buck) McIntosh took on a piece of  Bowen history that would mould their family and the rest of their lives. And that was just the beginning.

 

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Nicolette Cross was born in 1930 and grew up on a large farm near Oxford, England. As a girl during the Second World War she was a pony messenger, riding out to any downed planes or fallen bombs in the vicinity and reporting back what she saw. When Nicolette got older, she was a steeplechase jockey, guiding horses over fences at high speeds.

The indefatigable Mrs. Mac and her Endswell legacy_2
Nicolette loved horses. She grew up riding and was a pony messenger in England during the Second World War. She was a steeplechase jockey in England and after moving to Canada kept riding into her eighties. - Submitted

As she grew into adulthood, Nicolette studied at the Byam Shaw School of Art for five years. She exhibited her work from her early student days and became the youngest member of the U.K.’s United Society of Artists. She had hoped to continue studying art in London, but while on a trip to Italy, a serendipitous invite to an acquaintance of her parents’ Florentine home saw Nicolette’s life change course.

“[They] just happened to be invited to tea at that house on that day, and that’s where they met,” explained Nicolette and Buck McIntosh’s daughter Fiona.

It was 1954, Buck was on sabbatical from his law firm in Vancouver and Nicolette was travelling. The two saw one another seven times before Buck departed for Canada.

“When he returned to Vancouver, he then called and proposed,” said the couple’s younger daughter, Georgia. “And she said that for some reason she accepted.”

The two were married in 1955 in England and settled in Vancouver.

Nearly a decade later UBC called up Buck. As a young man, Buck had spent a lot of time on Bowen at the Galbraith Bay-bordering property that would later become Endswell Farm. Its owners, Wallace Wilson, a UBC professor, and his wife Ethel, a well-known writer, gave the property to the university in the 1950s to be used as a retreat. But the Wilsons set up the gift so that should the university ever want to sell or significantly modify the property, Buck would get first right of refusal to buy the land. Buck got the call in 1964. UBC wanted to log the land but needed Buck’s permission. So Buck and Nicolette had a decision to make: let the logging go ahead or buy the land.

Nicolette was a lifelong painter. She trained at the Byam Shaw School of Art in London, England.
Nicolette was a lifelong painter. She trained at the Byam Shaw School of Art in London, England. - Submitted

“As somebody pointed out, they said, ‘If you don’t get it now, you’re never going to see it again,’” said the couple’s son, Cameron. “That was pretty sage advice.”

 

Today, Patrick Buchanan, who was caretaker at Endswell for 35 years, describes the farm as a little Garden of Eden. Eden it was not, however, in the ’60s.   

“At that point, the farm wasn’t really much of what looks like today,” said Cameron. 

“The cottage was dilapidated,” recalled Fiona. “And basically the mice let us come up for the weekend.”

The family still lived in town, Buck kept up his job as a corporate lawyer and Nicolette looked after the three children, but the weekends belonged to Bowen.

“For basically, as long as any of us have been alive, we went up there every weekend, all summers,” said Cameron. “And it just, it became us, and we became it.”

“[Our dad] always wanted to be a farmer,” said Fiona. “But after the war, he needed to have a career and he went to law school.

“[Nicolette and Buck] were a good fit in that way, because she brought that intuitive knowledge of animals and farming. And together, they made that farm.”

Endswell (named for the Shakespeare play) took decades of work. There was the field that “was and still wants to be a swamp” as Georgia described it that took cutting, blasting, drainage building, and getting equipment unstuck from the muck. There was the grassy field for sheep that each of the McIntoshes spent hours ridding of rocks. There were the buildings that needed repairing. There was the hay field built on a slope.

And then there were the animals.

“Mrs. Mac and I had a love for farming,” said Patrick, who joined the farm in the ’70s. “And we would we’d get all sorts of weird animals without telling [Buck]. Like bantams, 10 different kinds, and we had peacocks and we raised pheasants one year, she thought it’d be good idea, and then we let them all go…they didn’t survive after about three or four years.

"She was always doing stuff like that." 

“There were also attempts at cattle, which was a disaster,” said Cameron. “And we had pigs, which was exciting, but probably not the best.”

The farm was best known for its eggs. For 35 years Endswell had hundreds of chickens laying fresh brown eggs. Eggs that would need to be sorted by Douglas.

“Douglas was a candling and grading machine that was probably state of the art, once. But that was a long time ago,” said Fiona.

Douglas was named for a 1970s Ministry of Agriculture poultry specialist, (who called himself the “[Fraser] Valley Chicken Man”) Doug Hamilton. While the human Doug was famous among Lower Mainland chicken farmers, Douglas the egg sorting machine was a hit with the Bowen youngsters who would take tours of Endswell in later years.

Buck and Nicolette McIntosh were married in 1955 and bought Endswell in 1964.
Buck and Nicolette McIntosh were married in 1955 and bought Endswell in 1964. - Submitted

“Douglas has gone to the Egg Marketing Board Museum, he’s not with us any longer,” said Georgia. “But he was with us for a very long time.”

Beyond the farming, the McIntoshes also enjoyed the sea, taking out their Flying Dutchman Jr. sailing dinghy only when winds were strong enough to warrant a small craft warning.

“A nice gentle breeze was no good. It had to be a very stiff wind,” recalled Fiona.

“They were a lot of fun,” said Patrick. 

 

Nicolette and Buck moved to Bowen full time in the late 1980s, when Buck retired and the last of their children left for university. They kept up the farm along with Patrick until Buck died in 2000. Then it was Nicolette, or Mrs. Mac as much of Bowen knew her, and Patrick on Endswell.  

“She was sort of a second Mom to me,” said Patrick. “We both became best friends. She really spoiled me. I was the bad son, the adopted one. But she spoiled me.”

Nicolette
Into her 70s, Nicolette helped with the lambing on Endswell. - Submitted

He recalls Mrs. Mac, into her ’70s, taking her turn with the lambing in the cool January and February nights. “She was always hands-on with our animals.”

At 75 Mrs. Mac went on a two-week horse riding tour in Botswana for her birthday and she stayed an equestrian into her eighties.  

“She was tough as nails,” said Georgia. “She was not one to mince her words. If she liked you, that was high praise. And she didn’t like you, it was pretty clear.”

Mrs. Mac also held more than one fundraising art auction out at Endswell, selling some of her landscapes and  still lifes.

About a decade ago, Patrick and his wife moved from Endswell to their own property and the farming side of Nicolette’s life lessened. A couple of years later, another Bowen family started up Home Farm Gardens on Endswell.

While farming continued on other parts of the property, Mrs. Mac kept up the renovated cabin (the original structure built in 1889) she and Buck moved to in the late 1980s.

 “She was very determined, and she never liked to be idle,” said Patrick. He’d still visit Mrs. Mac every Saturday and help with the odd job.

“She still went to the gym two or three times a week, exercised and painted,” he said. “She was pretty good on a computer, she was way better than me.

“She was 89, always on her computer in the morning looking at the news. She liked to read. She just lived life to the fullest.”

“There was nowhere that she wanted to be more than at Bowen and she loved it so much,” said Georgia.

After a short illness, Nicolette McIntosh died on June 3.

A service will be held on July 19 at 2 p.m. at St. Francis In The Wood, West Vancouver.

In lieu of flowers, donations in Nicolette’s memory can be made to Bowen Island Arts Council or BC SPCA.

© Copyright Bowen Island Undercurrent

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