The Haig-Brown Home:
Where Literature, Ecology, Community and Religion Meet
It seems clear beyond possibility of argument that any
generation of men can have only a lease, not ownership,
of the earth; and that one essential term of the lease is
that the earth be handed on to the next generation with
unimpaired potentialities. This is the conservationist’s
concern. Roderick Haig-Brown
Measure of the Year 1950
If it (Life) hurts you sometime, remember who you are and
why you are and whence you came, and know that no hurt
lasts for ever and none is destroying you if you choose to
build on it. Never stop or stoop to hurt back. Only go on to
do and be and serve when you can.
Measure of the Year 1950
The death of Farley Mowat (1921-2014) reminded us of the passing of a literary ecologist. The origins of Greenpeace on the West Coast in 1971 alerted many to the fact that something was not right with our irrational and mindless abuse of the physical world. The ongoing environmental work by David Suzuki (b. 1936) since the 1970s-1980s on the nature of things has kept before the minimally alert the consequences of poisoning this fragile earth, our island home. But, before Farley Mowat, Greenpeace and David Suzuki, there was Roderick (1908-1976) and Ann (1908-1990) Haig-Brown.
My wife (Karin) and I decided to spend a few days at the Haig-Brown home in Campbell River (BC) the first week of June 2014. The home (and spacious land surrounding it) is a Bed-Breakfast (plus a place to study the contributions of the Haig-Brown family to literature, ecology, religion and community) from May-October, and a Writer in Residence hearth and home from November-April each year. The memory of the years the Haig-Brown family lived in their compact residence is still in the wood, orchards, gardens, library and trees. The fast flowing Campbell River churns by at the lower lawn and the restored Kingfisher Creek is worth the path walkabout. The Haig-Brown name is, mostly known, at a superficial level, by those who have read many of his books on fishing. But, there is much, much more about Roderick and Ann Haig-Brown than the books and articles on fly fishing. It was this “much more” that interested Karin and I when we caught the 6:20 am ferry at Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo June 3 2014.
It takes about 1.5 hours to cross water deep Georgia Straight to Nanaimo. Many islands are passed on the journey and rock high mountains jut out of the earth like stilled giants of bygone days—many of the higher behemoths still had plenty of snow on their alluring summits. The drive up Island, after we docked, took us, initially, to Father Charles Brandt’s hermitage at Black Creek. Father Brandt is a contemplative ecologist, and he met Roderick-Ann Haig-Brown in the mid-1960s. In fact, when Father Brandt was ordained to the priesthood in 1967, Roderick and Ann gave him a copy of Roderick’s A Primer of Fly Fishing. Father Charles has been in the thick of many of the environmental battles in the area (Oyster and Tsolem Rivers), and in 1991, he was awarded the Roderick Haig-Brown Prize for the Environment. Karin and I spent a couple of hours with Father Charles, and he kindly showed us letters he had received from Roderick and Ann Haig-Brown (plus a variety of books from them). Father Charles is a bookbinder who does meticulous work on books and some of the books he has bound are now priceless 1st edition beauties by Roderick Haig-Brown. Father Charles is now in his early 90s, still lives in his hermitage, is a superb photographer and has some outstanding photographs of cougars that have come and slept on his porch and front lawn (a cougar whisperer of sorts).
Karin and I left Father Charles by noon on June 3rd and made our way further northward to Campbell River. We stopped at the Museum in Campbell River where a variety of Roderick and Ann Haig-Brown letters, clippings and memorabilia can be found---many newspaper articles on their opposition to damming, logging and mining projects going back to the 1950s---all rather unusual for an establishment magistrate (of which Roderick was). We were given Valerie and Mary Haig-Brown’s room on the upper floor for our duration of the week. There are all sorts of family photos, books and archives scattered throughout “Above Tide” (name of the Haig-Brown home).
I rose early on the morning of June 4th, wandered the Haig-Brown property, took to some of the trails created by the Greenway Lands Trust, did the loop walk of Kingfisher Creek (now restored) on the edge of the Haig-Brown property, then sat by the edge of the curling and foaming water’s edge of Campbell River (where Haig-Brown often fished). The rising sun opened up patches of light on the green carpet like lawn. I took plenty of photos and read voraciously from a variety of Haig-Brown books. I tried to transport myself back decades to when the family lived on the much larger land---it was rather bland and barren when they moved in—with much careful work, the place became a thing of moderate and comforting warmth. Many are the vivid tales that could be told of the lively domestic scenes and literati that graced Above Tide for decades.
I spent much of the latter half of the morning of June 4th in the Campbell River Museum (many folders of Haig-Brown material---much more at University of British Columbia). The sheer creativity of Roderick and Ann Haig-Brown is a library in itself—hard to know where to begin. I was pleased to discover that the Haig-Brown Institute in Campbell River had been sponsoring the annual Roderick Haig-Brown lectures since 2009----the booklets that have been produced from the lectures are more than worth many a read. The Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize was initiated in 1985 to honour and recognize writers and publishers who ‘contribute most to the enjoyment and understanding of British Columbia’. Alan (1997) and Celia (1989) Haig-Brown (son and daughter of Roderick-Ann) have both won the Regional Prize. Valerie Haig-Brown (eldest daughter) has been the main literary agent for her parents, and her book, Deep Currents: Roderick and Ann Haig-Brown (1997), is a superb primer on the life of the family.
I was taken when staying at the Haig-Brown Heritage home by all the drawing of animals. We have tended, in the West, and rightly so, to highlight human rights and, in the last few decades, environmental rights. But, animal rights are only slowly coming to be significant. Many of Roderick’s earliest novels dealt with animals and, by extension, animal rights. Silver: The Life Story of an Atlantic Salmon (1931), Pool and Rapid: The Story of a River (1932), Panther: The Story of a North American Mountain Lion (1934) and Ki-Yu: A Story of Panthers (1934) stand within an older Canadian tradition that recognizes the rights and significance of animals: Sir Charles G.D. Roberts and Ernest Thompson Seton are but two Canadians that stand behind the animal rights ethos that Roderick inherited. Again, we can see how Roderick threaded together, as an early writer, the intricate relationship between land, animals and humans. The Haig-Brown home is an attractive microcosm of this integrative way of being without being naïve or unduly romantic about the complex and delicate relationship between humans, animals and environment. The forest, stream and river that surround and seems to embrace the home speaks a powerful message to those who have attentive and alert ears to hear.
I was most fortunate on the afternoon of June 4 to meet with Bob Evans and David Brown. Bob has the finest collection of Haig-Brown books and articles in existence, and for two hours, he walked me through his masterpiece of decades. Gem after literary gem was brought down from the large book shelf and book room. I just sat, looked and listened. A trip to Bob’s is a must do for those keen to dive yet deeper into the waters of the Haig-Brown literary impact and sheer breadth. Bob also had a fine photo of Alfred Pope (Roderick’s grandfather and brew master) walking side by side with Thomas Hardy—Roderick was taken, when young, to visit Hardy in Dorset where the Pope’s lived. The impact of Hardy on Haig-Brown’s life can be found in the article published on Hardy in Haig-Brown’s Writings and Reflections (1982). David Brown worked with Ann at the local school for many years and David (there is a fine photo of him with Roderick in wet suits about to go swimming with the salmon) has a fine and nuanced understanding of the Haig-Brown family. We also had a brief but informed discussion about the treatment of the Japanese in Canada in WWII, and it was Haig-Brown who brought this to the fore in Salt Water Summer (1948)---one of the first novels in Canadian literature to lean into and identify with the Japanese Canadians (and the camps they were put in in WW II). Again, what could I do but listen in as story after story came my delighted way? There are, of course, all the books, articles, newspaper clippings and much else----there is also the oral tradition that if not written about disappears like snow melting in the spring.
The packed afternoon spent with Bob and David (and all the Haig-Brown gifts offered me) was most gratifying. There is the home and there are all those who still have many stored memories of the “Holy Family” of Campbell River.
The fact that Roderick and Ann were in the thick of many of the contentious environmental issues of the time that included damming
lakes, logging and mining meant a trip to Upper Campbell and Buttle Lake was a must do. The Green gold rush that possessed many loggers (and the province) was something that Roderick exposed and found wanting in Timber: A Novel of Pacific Coast Loggers (called in other publications The Tall Trees Fall: A Novel of Pacific Coast Loggers). Karin and I headed to Strathcona Provincial Park on June 4th to see where all sorts of protests and arrests have taken place over the years. Strathcona Park is the oldest Provincial Park in British Columbia and its history is not the best on environmental issues—rather rare for a Provincial Park which is supposed to have a conscience of sorts. Karin and I drove to Lower Myra Falls, then, to our horror and disappointment, on the way to Upper Myra Falls, we passed through a large mining operation. The air was acrid and it was, in many ways, a sort of abomination to have such a sordid place in a provincial park—quite out of character with the purpose of a park. It was easy to see the issues that the Haig-Browns and many others have had to face when going to Upper Myra Falls---the dust from the mine even clung to skin and pores---hardly an invitation to enjoy the beauty of Strathcona.
The publications of Panther and Ki-Yu in 1934 could not have helped but attune the broader outdoor world to another way of seeing cougars. It was these two books (and other published material) that caught the attention of Ai Purdy. Purdy published an article in 1974 on Haig-Brown in Weekend Magazine called “The Shoes of the Fisherman”. The meeting and correspondence between Purdy and Haig-Brown expanded until Haig-Brown’s sudden and unexpected death in 1976. The article was renamed “Country Hunter” and included in Purdy’s No Other Country (1977), and in 1980, “Cougar Hunter”, became the Introduction to Haig-Brown’s Woods and River Tales. It is awkwardly noticeable in Purdy’s listed and published books of poetry, prose, edited and posthumous books that his 1992 book, Cougar Hunter: A Memoir of Roderick Haig-Brown is strangely missing. The controversy that surrounds this book of Purdy-Haig-Brown correspondence, Purdy’s essay on Haig-Brown and a couple of poems by Purdy does need to be noted. Bruce Cave, in his exceptional book, Roderick Haig-Brown: A Descriptive Bibliography (2000), has a running commentary on the fiasco surrounding the publication and destruction of many of the copies (p.300). The fact that so few copies of Cougar Hunter now exist does need to be faced straight on---our understanding of Purdy and Haig-Brown is weaker because of such a lack. I hope to do a longer essay, in the future, on both the book and the conflict that led to its virtual disappearance. Gratefully so, there are a few who still have copies, but the cost to purchase a good copy of Cougar Hunter: A Memoir of Roderick Haig-Brown is about $300:00. I was most fortunate when with Bob and David to have a long, lingering look at a hard cover missive that Bob has a rare copy of.
June 6th came our way and it was time to depart. Karin and I had marvelled at the way the grape vines at the Haig-Brown home (hole cut in the window) came into a former porch. The grapes were green but warmed under the gaze of the sun beating down on the glass roof—it is not often that a thick grape branch comes into a home and spreads its growing lesser branches in all directions---such is the creative and artistic Haig-Brown charmer of a residence.
I would often read, when sitting on the Haig-Brown lawn each young morning, one of the Haig-Brown Memorial lectures. I returned, again and again, to the 2012 lecture: What We Learned: The Haig-Brown Family: Mary, Valerie, Alan and Celia. I was rather taken by a few comments by Alan Haig-Brown about his mother. He had this to say:
Years later, on a visit to the Above Tide home on the
Campbell from my new home in the interior, my mother
persuaded me to attend church with her. As a parent today
I understand the joy of having your grown children share
those things that are important to you. But at the time I said
somewhat impatiently, “Why do you want to go and sit with
all those people. Half of them are Social Credit.” These
supporters of unbridled development were the equivalent
of our current provincial Liberals.
“But they are all my community”, she said. These words of
Inclusiveness remain with me to a far greater extent than
all the sermons that I have heard in my childhood church.
Ann Haig-Brown has been called a “fiery catholic” and when such a term is understood aright, she was just that----a white heat passion for all that was good, true and beautiful----generosity to 1st Nations peoples, a home of hospitality to battered women, appalled by the aggressive development industry that reduced all things to the immoral ledger of profit and loss, a librarian with a vision of why books are important and a love of what her Roman Catholic Church could and should be in Campbell River and beyond. Roderick has written incisively and tellingly about Ann in the July section (“The Garden”) in Measure of the Year—it’s a coup de maître of a few pages that welcomes many a read.
We caught the noon ferry back to Horseshoe Bay on June 6th, and to our satisfaction, three killer whales swam side by side in a synchronized way beside the ferry. Gratefully so, the captain of the ferry slowed the boat so we could watch such choreographed deep dives and high arching, fins gracefully turned upwards----a fine and fitting way to end the journey.
Selected and Annotated Bibliography
Cave, Robert Bruce. Roderick Haig-Brown: A Descriptive Bibliography. Citrus Heights, CA: Privately published, 2000 (an A++ overview of Roderick Haig-Brown’s literary output/commentaries up to and including the year 2000).
Egan, Van. Shadows of the Western Angler.
Egan, Van. For the Love of the River. Campbell River: Campbell River Arts Council/Haig-Brown Institute/Museum at Campbell River, 2009 (an appreciative reflection of the significance of Haig-Brown by one whose life was shaped by his meetings by Haig-brown)
Haig-Brown Family: Mary, Valerie, Alan, Celia. What We Learned. Campbell River: Campbell River Arts Council/Haig-Brown Institute/Museum at Campbell River, 2012.
Haig-Brown, Valerie. Deep Currents: Roderick and Ann Haig-Brown. Victoria: Orca Book Publishers, 1997 (a superb and must read book on the journey of the Haig-Brown family).
Metcalfe, Bennett. A Man of Some Importance: The Life of Roderick Langmere Haig-Brown. Seattle & Vancouver: James W. Wood Publishers, 1985 (this book has a bite and snap to it that other books tend not to---certainly no hagiography)
Purdy, Al. Cougar Hunter: A Memoir of Roderick Haig-Brown. Vancouver: The Phoenix Press, 1992 (this book reflects Purdy’s appreciation for Haig-Brown, but the storm in the cup controversy about the publication has meant few are aware of this minor classic of Purdy’s).
Robertson, Anthony. Above Tide: Reflections on Roderick Haig-Brown.
Madeira Park: Harbour Publishing, 1984 (a splendid, kindly and thoughtful introduction and overview of the life and writings of Roderick Haig-Brown).
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June 9, 2014
Thank you for this very interesting article, Chris! Dallas and I were in Campbell River in January and, had I known about the Haig-Brown house bed and breakfast, we probably would've stayed there! Maybe we'll get a chance to next year!
Thanks, again, for making the trip up to Maynooth to participate in "The Word Is Wild Literary Festival!" I'm planning to hold another one next year, around the same time, and hope that you'll be able to come up to that one, as well!
Happy Monday! ;o)
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