The Cougar Lady Chronicles, chapter 11: The divorce

The life and times of Nancy Crowther, Cougar Queen of Okeover Inlet

Previous chapter [“The marriage,” November 8]: After meeting a man at a Powell River square dance, Nancy Crowther surprised many of her family and friends by accepting a marriage proposal to become Mrs. Harry Neave. She moved into town, quit her longtime job at the company store, and became a housewife, but the marriage was not bliss for the Cougar Lady. She quarrelled with her new husband and accused him of being selfish. She soon received sad news from her wilderness homestead that would once again change the course of Cougar Nancy’s life.

In the early 1960s, Cougar Nancy continued to make the trek from Powell River to the family cabin in Penrose Bay to visit her aging parents, sometimes with her new husband, more often without him.

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By then, great improvements had been made for travelling up and down the Sunshine Coast. BC Ferries linked the water-access towns of Powell River and Sechelt with the rest of the world. An extension of Highway 101 was built, the road now stretching all the way from Langdale to Lund.

Branching off from Highway 101 just before Lund was the steep and winding Malaspina Road. At the bottom of the forested hill was the small settlement of Okeover and the government wharf.

For decades, Cougar Nancy would head north along that shoreline from the wharf to her family homestead either by rowboat or overland on a trail that wound through the salal, salmonberry bushes and towering cedars.

In the late 1950s, the Crowther family had worked hard to create an actual road, eventually sanctioned by the government. The Crowthers logged it, graded it, and maintained it, and their homestead was at the very end of it. Everyone in the area called it Crowther Road, and it wasn’t long before the government officially named it so. It is called that to this day, and Crowther Road has never been paved.

Once the road went in, power lines eventually followed, and for the first time since arriving in 1927, the Crowthers began to have some modern conveniences at the log cabin, like a telephone and electric lights.

One morning in the early 1960s, Nancy Crowther was at her married home in Powell River when her telephone rang. It was her mother, who rarely ever used the phone, but Cougar Nancy’s father Bill had fallen ill and couldn’t get out of bed.

Nancy and her husband rushed out to the homestead and took Nancy’s father to the Powell River hospital.

Sidney William Joseph Crowther died on March 24, 1961, at age 78.

Nancy’s father was a well-respected pioneer, homesteader, oyster farmer, logger, community builder and a longtime volunteer scout leader. He was known for his sharp English accent, his educated intelligence and friendliness, his poor eyesight, omnipresent pipe and general odour of goats that lingered on his clothing. His funeral at the Anglican church in Powell River was a packed affair.

The death of her father hit Cougar Nancy hard, and with her marriage already on the rocks, she felt the need to spend more and more time with her mother, now 74 years old and living alone in the wilderness. There was a huge oyster lease to maintain, and goats, chickens, geese, cats, dogs and beehives to tend to, not to mention their sprawling garden, and all of the trees they planted over the years: apples, pears, cherries, hazelnuts, walnuts, grapevines and more, many of them now fully mature and producing every year, and always an attractant for bears.

Weeks stretched into months. Nancy’s husband back in Powell River was getting fed up and wanted her to return to him and town living. Nancy refused, again citing his selfishness. Divorce papers were filed, which was considered a rarity in Powell River in that era.

Ignoring town gossip, Nancy reverted both to her maiden name and the wilderness. Cougar Nancy Crowther was back, this time for good, and just in time.

Within weeks of her permanent homecoming, Nancy would come nose to nose with what she thought was the biggest, blackest, meanest looking dog she had ever seen, but it was no dog. The standoff came on a very rare occurrence when Cougar Nancy was without her rifle.

You’ll read that story in the next chapter of the Cougar Lady Chronicles.

Grant Lawrence is an award-winning author and a CBC personality who considers Powell River and Desolation Sound his second home. Portions of the Cougar Lady Chronicles originally appeared in Lawrence ’s book Adventures in Solitude and on CBC Radio. Anyone with stories or photos they would like to share of Nancy Crowther are welcome to email grantlawrence12@gmail.com.

 
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