House Page 3

Great Canadian Houses

John & Mary Mackintosh Homestead, Pictou County, NS - 1885

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Bitter-Sweet: A sad story with a good ending.

When family branches of a bloodline die out, the toil of countless generations comes to an end, as does a page in Canadian history.

But it also means that family heirlooms, that only a few eyes ever saw before, now come on the auction block, and museums get a chance to acquire them, and make them available, to a far wider viewing audience, bringing back to life the people, places, and events, that gave them birth.

Original Homestead, John & Mary Mackintosh, Pictou County, Nova Scotia - G. Johnson, 1885
Orig. oil on canvas - Image Size - 40 x 55 cm
Found - Chester, NS

Signed, G. Johnson 1885

Simply Fabulous! Where has one - ever - seen a more wonderful picture of a Canadian "Homestead" than this one, painted in 1885, of the farm of John and Mary Mackintosh, on the French River, near Springville, in Pictou County, Nova Scotia?

The fences are in place, the buildings are up and in use, including the log house, where someone is cooking supper, and the outbuildings, made from lumber cut in the sawmill, right. Cows graze contentedly in the foreground as a grandson - wielding a long fishing pole - and his dog, run across the makeshift bridge.

On the far side of the mill tail, the legendary Mary Mackintosh, herself - she had successfully raised 12 children to adulthood on this farm, all of whom had moved away by 1885 - is washing clothes in an iron banded washtub as a nearby fire heats her wash water for all the extra laundry she has brought down.

Behind her, the horse has just dragged in logs from the river beyond and John Mackintosh wields his ax - he is hammering a wedge to split a log - while in the distance, a worker is dragging in more logs that have been floated from the woods down the French River for the sawyer who is trundling logs on a wheeled cart through the door to the saw mill where he will cut them into lumber. (Note the exquisite extra detail which the artist displays here: the familiar cocking of the horse's hind leg in the "at rest" position, and the tiny splitting wedge.)

The log house is typical of those built by many Canadian pioneers in English-speaking Canada, using long lengths, and setting them into "saddle notches" at the corners. They were often one room, with curtains for privacy, to make it easier to heat the space. This one has been up for some years - the moss has started to take over the roof.

In many cases, twenty to thirty years later, the log house would have been replaced by a framed structure, covered in wooden siding. Quite often the log cabin was just sided over with boards, so many buildings that look like frame on the outside, actually contain the original log cabin structure inside the walls



Perhaps to celebrate the 50th anniversary and the pride in his accomplishments, he - or more likely his children - hired G. Johnson to paint the homestead and its members at their hardworking best. Probably - like in the Farries family (see Great Canadian Houses) - the American siblings hired an American painter to do the work.

Today the old homestead remains only a memory preserved in this fabulous Canadian heritage treasure.

And no doubt, for much of its life, this painting was hung, in a place of pride, in this very same log cabin.

Left is the location of the homestead, above, near Springville, Pictou County, Nova Scotia. This part of the province was noted for farming and lumbering.

The site of the farm was originally called Mackintosh Mills - the reason for which is clear in this painting - but was changed to Greenvale in 1891.

According to reports, the site of the homestead is now overgrown but the foundations of the house are apparently still there.


John Mackintosh, a joiner (furniture maker), of Irish Mountain, near Springville, Nova Scotia, (1813-1888) married Mary Mackenzie (1814-1907) in 1835 at Grant's Lake. They raised 12 children, some of whom started to change the spelling of their names, including a son, Dr. Donald Mackintosh (1846-1932), who went to Harvard and became a doctor who practiced in Pugwash, Nova Scotia. Other sons became joiners like their father, as well as druggists, carpenters, and blacksmiths at various times. Two of them, and a daughter, moved to Rhode Island, in the US.

Sadly, John died only three years after the picture was painted. He was 75, worn out by the hard work.

Mary, who raised all 12 of her children - 8 boys, 4 daughters - to adulthood, built an enormous reputation as a midwife during a time when there was no doctor available in this part of Nova Scotia. "Granny Mackintosh" reputedly never lost a mother or a baby in over 300 deliveries in the region. She charged $8 and stayed for a week with the mother and child, during the delivery time, till the new mother could manage on her own again.

Mary Mackintosh passed on in 1907, in her 94th year. Her daughter Elizabeth - known as Lizzie, Betty, and Elspet - whose husband had died, continued to live in the homestead above. When she died, in 1922, the farm must have been abandoned.

The painting, too, along with family possessions, moved away, a silent witness to a mighty enterprise once cut from the Canadian wilderness by an enterprising pioneering family.

We know it was a family heirloom because it was framed by Charles G Calder of 258 Westminster St., Providence, Rhode Island. We know three Mackintosh siblings ended up there. When that part of the family died out the painting went to auction.
















Go to the Mackintosh\Mcintosh Family Tree and Graves
Copyright Goldi Productions Ltd. - 1996, 1999, 2005