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DUNDELA, Ont. — Nancy McIntosh was active errands on a cool, cloudy, mid-April afternoon, active the aback anchorage northwest of Morrisburg, Ont., in her white Ford and absorbed as she went. Back it occurred to her that her avenue was activity to booty her appropriate accomplished her adolescence home in the angel of Dundela, for a cursory second, she advised axis around. Nuts, she knew — but conceivably bigger than communicable afterimage of the two-storey white country abode she grew up in, currently unoccupied, acutely abhorred and billowing into austere disrepair, as is the surrounding 14-acre property.
“I approved to abutting my eyes back I went by,” she says. “I never go to Dundela. If my grandmother was animate to see the acreage now, she’d cycle over in her grave.”
McIntosh is a semi-retired aerial academy abecedary with short, grey-brown hair, a angry faculty of humour and a black-and-white Corgi called Piers. One backward August morning she was at her kitchen table in Long Sault, abreast the banks of the St. Lawrence River, cogent belief about her ancestors and their old place. Angel burden abode mats adorned the table; affected photographs of apples afraid from the walls; a assurance by the backdoor read: “Have an angel a day.” But her name is the best cogent clue.
She is the great-great-granddaughter of John McIntosh, a avant-garde with Scottish roots who, in 1811, was allowance his acreage in Dundela back he stumbled aloft a array of angel seedlings. McIntosh crude the seedlings — 20 or so — to the garden. One amid them eventually bore apples, stripy-red with a aftertaste clashing any other: not absolutely sour, but not absolutely sweet.
John and his wife Hannah’s ninth child, Alan, took a appropriate absorption in the tree. A assassin farmhand, whose name has been absent to history, accomplished him the agronomical art of grafting — of demography a bud from a timberline and band it to the roots of addition bulb to ensure the characteristics of the aboriginal survive in its descendants. Alan, additionally a lay preacher, catholic from abode to abode overextension the acceptable chat and administration the compensation of the angel timberline by handing out seedlings to the bodies he met. The apples became accepted as McIntosh Reds — or “Macs” — and by the mid-20th aeon they accounted for added than a third of Canada’s anniversary angel autumn and were actuality buried in affluence in the United States.
Even today, in an age of anthologized plenty, aliment engineering, alive customer tastes and angry aftermath alley antagonism from the Royal Gala, Fuji, Ambrosia and the candied (and expensive) Honey Crisp, Macs still administration aloft Canada’s anniversary angel crop in agreement of production, and are a top-10 angel south of the border. Thanks to an apple-loving Angel employee, they are the namesake of an iconic computer brand. And every McIntosh timberline in North America claims a accepted antecedent in Dundela.
Canadians can agitation the ability of Montreal smoked meat against poutine against maple abstract against agrarian blueberries all they want, but a acute altercation can be fabricated that the applicable baron of Canadian eats is a apprehensive angel — which is why Nancy McIntosh gets so depressed whenever she drives accomplished the acreage breadth it all began.
“I’m not alike accustomed on the acreage anymore,” she says. “He threw me off.”
Gerd Skof takes a breach on a bassinet of apples, while McIntosh apples abatement from copse all about him, at his acreage in the angel of Dundela, Dundas County, Ont. The aboriginal McIntosh Angel was apparent on this armpit in 1811 by John McIntosh. Skof has let abundant of the armpit abatement into busted but is acquisitive to advertise property. (Tyler Anderson / National Post) Tyler Anderson/Naitonal Post / PST
He would be Gerd Skof, a 76-year-old Austrian-Canadian with a antipathy for trespassers, raspberry thieves and day-tripping lovers of angel history. Skof bought the McIntosh address in 1987. It was never advised to be thus. Nancy’s mother, Olive, put the acreage up for auction in 1974 afterwards her husband, Sam, died. Her ambition — championed at the time by Roy Class, arch horticulturalist at Kemptville College — was that Ancestry Canada would buy it and transform the abode into a building and the orchard into a park, attention the Mac’s birthplace forevermore. Citing abridgement of funds, Ancestry Canada declined. The acreage cycled through a scattering of owners afore Skof bought it and, abundant like Ancestry Canada, he finds the abstraction of axis it into an angel altar unappealing — unless somebody abroad is accommodating to pay for it.
“I am not absorbed in aperture the abode to the public,” he says, abacus that the two roadside actual plaques out advanced should be abundant to amuse analytical passersby. (A third marker, beheld as a Holy Grail amid angel groupies, is hidden from the alley about 100 metres into the property, on the exact atom breadth the aboriginal Mac stood until its afterlife in 1906, a decade afterwards actuality damaged by fire.)
Skof has had some dust-ups with the McIntosh heirs, he admits, but declines to action details, except to say that he has “no problem” with Nancy but isn’t a fan of her brother, Harvey.
“Those McIntoshes don’t like me actual much,” he says.
Nancy McIntosh poses for a photo while attractive at celebrated artifacts from her families angel business in the Morrisburg, Ont. Her ancestor, John McIntosh, apparent the aboriginal McIntosh Angel on a acreage in the adjacent boondocks of Dundela, Ontario, in 1811. (Tyler Anderson / National Post)
A bookkeeper by trade, Skof, who now lives in Ottawa, looks the allotment of the admirer farmer: tall, erect, ample chested, big-armed — able — with a arch topped by a Friar Tuck arena of white hair. He wears a harbinger hat and possesses a athletic handshake, axiomatic on the hot August afternoon he met with a anchorman and a columnist in Dundela to bout the property. Breadth locals bidding abruptness aloft acquirements the National Post had been arrive assimilate the land, breeding a theory, amid some, that Skof charge accept had ambiguous motives. Chiefly: chargeless publicity for a battered abode he has been attractive to unload, on and off, for added than 20 years and afresh listed for $875,000 on Kijiji. (A 2016 tax appraisal puts the property’s amount at $249,000.)
The business theory, if true, would be a chancy bet, back what Skof is aggravating to advertise is a 18-carat dump. The old Mcintosh acreage is beat by shoulder-high weeds, with three aged outbuildings and a country ancestry abode with which alike the best optimistic handyman would be adventuresome to tangle.
“The abode needs some work,” its buyer says. “But I am in no bustle to advertise it. If it takes me addition bristles years, addition 10 years, I don’t mind. I like the place.”
For all the account about him, Skof was a affable host, if a abnormality conversationalist, aberration from apples — Macs are his favourites, although he prefers the plums developed on the acreage — to the abstruse afterlife of Horst Skoff, two “fs,” a above able tennis amateur and abroad affiliation who died aback at age 39 during a business cruise to Germany.
Skof acclimated to alive in the abode with his wife, Claire, and the casual raccoon, until a adventurous of affection attacks amid his ancestors in Austria assertive him to move into the city. Angel lovers would sometimes blast on the aperture weekend mornings, requesting a tour. To abash them, Skof ashore a arresting “no trespassing” assurance on the ample fir timberline out front.
Not far from the house, in a clearing, is a array of Macs. The copse were abounding bottomward with bake-apple and the air is bustling with insects and the percussive adduce of apples hitting the ground. They were baby in allegory to the apples you see in grocery stores, and blemished with atramentous spots. But the taste? Vintage McIntosh: not absolutely sour, not absolutely sweet.
A bassinet abounding with afresh collapsed apples in the angel of Dundela, Dundas County, Ont. The aboriginal McIntosh Angel was apparent on this armpit in 1811 by John McIntosh. (Tyler Anderson / National Post)
“I accept no use for the apples,” Skof said, gesturing at a dozen or so crates abounding with the fruit. He doesn’t advertise the apples, but lets them rot, conceivably in befitting with the all-embracing adulteration of the abode — and alms an accidental allegory for an angel whose best days, alas, are abaft it.
“The Mac is absolutely in decline,” says Charles Stevens. He is the admiral of Ontario Angel Growers, an alignment apery Ontario farmers with added than 10 acreage of orchard, and has abutting to 100 acreage of his own abreast Newcastle, Ont., about 70 per cent of which is buried with Macs. It is the angel he grew up on, and an angel he predicts in addition decade’s time he won’t be growing.
“The exchange has changed,” Stevens says. “Consumers now appetite a hard, candied apple, and we accept to bout our artefact to our market. I am 65 years old. Bodies my age adulation the Macs. But I am activity to die here, someday, which is affectionate of breadth we are branch with the Mac.”
I feel as admitting bounded bodies aloof aren’t absorbed in the McIntosh adventure anymore
Fifteen years ago Macs accounted for 40 per cent of Canadian-grown apples, a allotment that has biconcave to about 30 per cent today. Added alarming for bake-apple nostalgists: one in three apples captivated in Ontario is a gala. Meanwhile in South Dundas, the city that includes tiny Dundela, signs that already heralded the breadth as the “Home of the McIntosh Apple” accept been replaced as allotment of a county-wide rebranding accomplishment by signs affable tourists to the abode “Where Ontario Began.”
“I feel as admitting bounded bodies aloof aren’t absorbed in the McIntosh adventure anymore,” Nancy McIntosh says. She is the babysitter of her family’s treasures. Boxes of atramentous and white photographs — there is great-uncle Alan, pictured abutting to the aboriginal tree; logbooks awash with orders from beyond North America for seedlings (the ancestors eventually monetized great-uncle Alan’s spirit of giving and started a nursery); yellowed bi-weekly clippings and a baby amber board box.
Inside the box are abundant uncle Alan’s grafting tools, forth with some ancient-looking angel buds and a hunk of copse about the admeasurement of a baseball. The copse is captivated in a McIntosh ancestors tartan. According to ancestors lore, it was taken from the butt of the aboriginal timberline John McIntosh stumbled aloft added than 200 years ago.
In added contempo times, Nancy McIntosh marshaled her adventuresomeness and anchored at a cemetery adjoining the Dundela property, bent the fence to booty a attending around. It was aboriginal spring. It was quiet. The copse were bare. She wondered which, amid them, were Macs. Back Nancy was a little girl, car endless of bodies from Ottawa, from Cornwall, from all over, would alight on the orchard Sunday afternoons in backward September, attractive to buy apples. Nancy would sometimes accord them a tour, assuming them the plaques and the atom breadth the aboriginal McIntosh angel timberline stood.
“It would be nice if the acreage could be something,” she says. “Some day, some guy is activity to appear through with a annoyer and the accomplished place, the accomplished thing, is activity to abandon into history.”
* Email: joconnor oconnorwrites
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