Guisachan--A tale of Cowboys, a Duke and a Duchess
Guisachan Heritage Park
Place of the Firs
It is a serpentine tale of pioneering beginnings, Scottish nobility with a buckaroo relative, three generations of mixed farmers and present-day culinary offerings created daily by Chef Georg Reider. Two historic homes stand today in Guisachan Heritage Park in Kelowna.
The land was first pre-empted in 1861 by the Hudson’s Bay packer, trader and farmer, John McDougall. He built a log cabin home that saw ten sons grow up in the large, for the time, two-room dwelling with dove-tailed corners. By 1879, the ranch property, a 480-acre swath, reported the ownership of 180 cattle, 20 hogs and 30 horses.
“Many tales of the wild doings of these McDougalls were told us. A testimony to the truth of some of these was to be seen in the marks of the pistol shots with which the walls and ceilings of the house were riddled,” recorded Lady Aberdeen in the early 1890’s, the Aberdeens were the estate’s second owners.
The Cameron Gardens surround the Restaurant
The McDougalls owned the land first.
The log cabin now serves as a private residence on the park surrounded by serene gardens originally cultivated by Elaine Cameron, wife of Gilbert “Paddy” Cameron, the last private owners of Guisachan House—the city-owned property is a mere 2.4 acres of the original 480.
In 1890, the Aberdeens fell in love with Canada, especially the temperate valley with so much promise, and were convinced by fellow Inverness Scotsman George Grant Mackay to buy the “garden of Eden” site. They planned to build a home and lucrative fruit-growing estate. Mackay would use his acquaintance with the Aberdeens to his advantage across the region. He bought bordering land creating the township of Benvoulin, sold Forbes Vernon’s Coldstream Ranch along with building the Capilano Suspension Bridge in Vancouver in 1889. He died suddenly of illness in 1893.
Was this where the term, "ya old Coot" came from?
Lady Ishbel had a brother often called “Old Coutts” or “Couttsy.” He had his sister’s love as “her goal was ever to make Old Coutts a rich man.” He’d ranched near Towner, North Dakota but hard times had befallen his Horse-shoe Ranch, however, he did sell his nearly 1000 acres for $7001 in 1894 nearly double his initial purchase price. Since 1957, the North Dakota Aberdeen Angus Breeders Association has honoured Coutts with the Marjoribanks Trophy awarded to the prize-winning Angus of the region annually.
Coutts Marjoribanks (pronounced Marchbanks) had attended the exclusive preparatory school of Harrow just west of the family’s get-away Dollis Hills farm estate. He loved the active outdoor life, but was caught up in some sort of unrevealed scandal by his early twenties. At age 24, he was given £6000 as start up capital—a £400 annual salary and sent to America. Mark Zuehlke, author of Scoundrels, Dreamers and Second Sons, claims the capital may have been grudgingly proffered by Lord Aberdeen at the behest of his wife—not by the Marjoribanks’ patriarch, known for starting the Golden Retriever breed.
Construction of Guisachan
Coutts accepted to manage the construction of the new home, along with a “footloose companion” named Eustace Smith. In short order, the Aberdeen’s lawyer, George Jamieson arrived from England to discover the construction of the home “a disaster” and cheques being issued from an unknown source—Eustace Smith left after a year and a half.
Jamieson claims witness to an “indolent life of shooting, drinking at the local tavern (the Bellevue Hotel) and an extravagant home adorned with gold Japanese wallpaper (uncovered after 80 years by a restoration project), seven chimneys and no insulation.”
The final verdict on poor “Old Coutts” is fairly clear.
He attempted to run the Aberdeens’ affairs in the new West, but by 1894 Coutts was released of his duties. His father died in March of that year—and he came into his money. He married a childhood friend named Margaret Nicholls in 1895, lived in Scotland for 15 years only to return with his stepdaughter and wife purchasing the Corona orchard on Lake Kalamalka and building a “charming” home called Invercraig.
The Restaurants Dining Room and Fireplace
On the Canadian Dollar Bill
Where did Coutts end up?
Reports Larry A. Macfarlane in his treatise British Remittance Men as Ranchers: The Case of Coutts Marjoribanks and Edmund Thursby:
“...his stepdaughter, Kathleen Myhre, recalled that Coutts ‘had very little money sense’ and ‘a ‘lot’ of leisure time. He had ‘excellent taste and pleasure in beautiful things. His main interest was fishing and shooting’ She concluded: ‘He was a man of moods and impulses, and I think his upbringing did not fit him very well for life in the world. He was always kind and generous, and my mother was devoted to him.’"
He’s been recorded as a “mudpup extraordinaire,” “a colourful character” and “Remittance man,” but Coutts' later years in Canada, though unprofitable, seem to have been happy ones. He died at his own farm on November 1, 1924 at the age of 64.
A Paper Chase in 1905
Meanwhile...back at the ranch(es)
By 1900, Guisachan (pronounced Gooshagan) Ranch had to be sold. A jam factory had been built in Vernon and development costs were once more skyrocketing for the Lord and Lady at Coldstream Ranch. The factory never made a jar of jam and only saw a spectacular community dance and celebration in 1905. The Coldstream Estate Company Limited was created in partnership with Lavington Ranch owner, James Buchanan, $80,000 in shares were purchased which would pay $85,000 and see the Aberdeens exit as property owners in the Okanagan Valley.
The Aberdeens’ summer retreat where “headaches left, the air was fresh and appetites returned” was sold to an ex-sea captain, John Conlin, who sold it to W. C. Cameron in 1903. The pair must have made acquaintance at Edgeley Farm in Saskatchewan as both managed its 20,000 acres in short order at the turn of the 20th century.
The Aberdeens at Coldstream
Paddy and Alistar Cameron
From Captain Conlin to the Camerons
From 1903, Guisachan Ranch saw mixed farming. William Cameron worked the ranch until 1910, and his two sons, Gilbert, known as “Paddy” and Alister, split the property until 1964. The ranch saw its most prosperous era as orchards matured and locals could purchase fresh milk and meat products at the Cameron’s store. Sheep were raised by Alister, who moved them up and down the Bald range and Burnt Basin for 30 years. Paddy and his wife Elaine owned the Guisachan House side—Elaine cultivated the surrounding gardens until her passing in 1978.
Paddy loved horses and created the forerunner of the Kelowna Riding Club...donating clubhouse buildings and fields. He was also the president of the Central Okanagan Historical Society.
In 1964, Aberdeen Holdings bought the property and guaranteed Paddy and Elaine a life-lease which ended with Paddy’s demise in 1984. He was 98-years-old. The Okanagan Heritage Society and Okanagan Historical Society took part in the project of realizing the importance of maintaining local history bringing about the creation of Guisachan Heritage Park.
Lord Aberdeen later in life
The Aberdeens with Lord and Lady Gzowski
And the House endures today...unlike its namesake in the Old Country
By 1987, the McDougall House was taken apart piece by piece, moved to and refurbished in its present location. The Guisachan House received a glass-encased veranda with year round heating and cooling. In 1990, Chef Georg Reider leased the restored home, now restaurant, and has been serving his world-class cuisine for wedding guests, 7-day a week walk-in clients and catered corporate dinners for over 20 years.
The square bungalow styled in the fashion of the English 19th-century Indian Colonial design has endured two minor fires since its restoration and is a highlight for any visitor, local or foreign, desiring an exquisite meal and the opportunity to visit one of Kelowna’s oldest heritage properties. Carolyn MacHardy, UBC-O art history professor, is writing a biography of Lady Aberdeen and informed that the original Guisachan, “Place of the firs” in Gaelic, lies in ruins in Inverness, Scotland.
It is a credit to all those who have contributed to maintaining homes created during early pioneering efforts in memory of youthful reminiscences from lands far, far away.
Links to Guisachan House Restaurant
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