Previous chapter [“The hippies,” November 29]: In the late 1960s and into the 1970s, the newest threat to Nancy Crowther’s wilderness lifestyle was on two legs instead of four. Hippies, draft dodgers, deserters and back-to-the-land-ers descended into the Lund and Desolation Sound area, often seeking the end of the road or beyond, which many times led them to Cougar Nancy’s front gate.
Changes were rapidly occurring all around Nancy Crowther, and she faced those threats boldly and directly, just as she had done her entire life. Over the years, the Cougar Queen of Okeover Inlet had become such a legend that she allowed various media outlets to interview her so she could get her story out.
Crowther was also a passionate letter-writer, and would often be seen carrying bundles of envelopes to and from the Lund post office. Some of those letters appeared in the Powell River News, when public meetings were being held over a proposed provincial park on the shore of Okeover Inlet in the late 1970s.
“I can’t get into Powell River to the meetings to express my views or to hear other’s views because of the stealing problem I have experienced for over 10 years on my property. I must pay someone to stay in my home so I can leave and it is difficult to find anyone I can trust. I own a large amount of waterfront. I have experienced this stealing ever since I developed it for oyster farming. I came here with my parents in 1927 when there was no connecting road from Lund to Powell River. There was no road to Okeover Inlet either, only a trail, and in these modern times I am finding that I wished it was still the way it was.”
She signed the letter: Yours truly, Nancy Crowther, a voice crying in the wilderness.
Nancy was somewhat surprisingly in favour of the newly proposed Okeover Arm Provincial Park. When interviewed for the Powell River News, Cougar Nancy said she hoped the park would mean more conservation enforcement, specifically for shellfish poaching on her oyster lease. But she also wondered, “who would ever want to use a park in the middle of nowhere?” Okeover Arm Provincial Park, also known Tuxwnech, was officially opened in 1979, and its entrance is on Crowther Road.
Cougar Nancy’s complaints increased.
According to a neighbour named Selina Smith, Nancy had a running battle with BC Hydro over the placement of a transformer Nancy wanted moved further away from her log cabin, supposedly because it made her toes tingle. Nancy also had concerns about the electromagnetic rays from the microwave oven at the new restaurant near the government wharf, some two kilometres away (a restaurant that is still there, and now the renowned Laughing Oyster). Nancy was also extremely wary of a mysterious black boat that apparently moored in the bay in front of her cabin at night, but was gone each morning.
Nancy also began to loathe her telephone, which was a party line, so it rang often. Nancy stopped answering it and eventually disconnected it all together, effectively cutting herself off from the outside world except for letter mail and in-person visits. When folks like my family arrived on her beach to launch our boat, Nancy would insist that we disconnect the battery to our car to prevent “radio waves” from entering her cabin. She eventually began to intermittently turn people away altogether, including those who had helped her for years, telling friends and neighbours to get off her property and not to come back. Only extended family and the occasional reporter were allowed.
In the 1980s, Cougar Nancy felt that the mysterious force she referred to as “them” had managed to get inside her log cabin. She once told a story of coming home to mysteriously find a pot on the boil, another time her bathtub was full of water, and other odd occurrences she couldn’t explain.
It spooked Nancy to the point that she covered up all of her furniture in sheets and moved out, refusing to sleep nights in the cabin, returning only in the daylight. When night fell, Nancy would stake out her cabin from a tent pitched in the woods on her hillside, rifle at her side.
When winter came and tent living proved too cold and wet, threats from inside the cabin were still too great for Nancy to consider moving back inside. Instead, she began to sleep in her beat-up, yellow, rusting Dodge pickup truck, which she would park haphazardly at various blind corners and other dangerous spots on both Crowther and Malaspina roads. Her truck would often be sticking out into the road.
Neighbours would check in on Nancy, knocking on the driver’s side window to see if she was okay. She could be found sleeping on the bench seat of the truck with her dogs, her rifle, and a thick wool blanket. If Nancy recognized those visiting her truck, she was kind and full of stories, assuring those concerned that she was comfortable. As always, she’d sent people off with a “Cheerio!”
Due to neighbourly concerns, the RCMP visited her for a wellness check when she was working her oyster lease and didn’t see cause for concern. However, some say Cougar Nancy was sleeping in her truck for up to two years through all seasons.
Many attributed Nancy’s increasingly paranoid hallucinations to her wilderness isolation for so many years. There were lots of oddballs, misfits and eccentrics at the end of the road, and Cougar Nancy was one of them. In local terminology, Nancy may have “gone bush,” a supposedly common affliction among isolated coastal dwellers, settlers or hermits.
In the end, it turns out the locals were wrong. A car crash in that rusty yellow pickup truck would be the catalyst for finally figuring out what was wrong with Nancy Crowther.
That’s in the next and final 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.