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Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Great idea for a CanLit book ...

I received an email last night from B.C. writer and academic Ron Dart. Ron is currently enjoying a week-long residency at the Roderick Haig-Brown House, & he sent me his following piece on RHB. I thanked Ron for his fascinating article on CanLit history, & find RHB of more improtance than ever as a precursor to the growing eco movements to save our planet from climate change. Ron has promised to send me an update on his stay, which I'll post on Riffs & Ripps.

In this age of folding publishing houses & fewer and fewer economic & even social opportunities for writers, Ron's stint reminded me of the existence of the few established writers retreats in Canada. On my first visit to the nearby ZenForest I met writer Martin Avery. Martin had just completed a retreat of several months at the Pierre Berton House in the Klondike. I've been volunteering with the restoration of the Al & Eurithe Purdy A-frame in Prince Edward County, and the A-frame is scheduled to become the first Ontario writers' retreat. 

My 'great idea for a CanLit' book is a collection, an anthology, of these Canuck writers' retreats, with articles & works created by the various writers during their residencies. 

Here's Ron's piece on RBH:

    Roderick Haig-Brown (1908-1976): Canadian Ecological Prophet

                 The Conservationist-Preservationist Dilemma

          The 988-hectare Adams River recreation area was

          dedicated in 1977 and named for Roderick Haig-Brown,

          the eminent salmon conservationist and writer…..In

          1991 Roderick Haig-Brown became a full Class A park.

                                                                           James D. Anderson

         British Columbia’s Magnificent Parks: The First 100 years

         pgs. 146-147     


         As the foremost conservationist in British Columbia from

         the late 1940s to the late 1960s, the internationally known

         fishing writer and naturalist Haig Brown fought conservation

         battles and promoted ecological ideas during a time of

         aggressive industrial expansion into the province’s resource

                    Arn Keeling

        “A Dynamic, Not a Static Conception”: The Conservation

        Thought of Roderick Haig-Brown: (2002)                 


        You (Haig-Brown) ought to have a halo, an angel’s halo quivering

        over your head.         
                            Al Purdy   

The historic conflicts about how to view and use Nature that occurred in the United States between John Muir and Gifford Pinchot have played themselves out in Canada in a variety of ways. Pinchot, who became the chief forester in the US Forest Service in 1905, was a “conservationist”. John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club in 1892, was a “preservationist”. The conservationist position tends to see parks as a resource that needs to be managed for sustainable commercial use. The preservationist position sees parks (and much else) as not for profit wildness that should not be a plaything of mining, logging, hunting, trapping, city tourism, hydro, dams and many other entrepreneurial interests.

The founding of Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park in British Columbia in 1977 (a year after Haig-Brown’s death) signalled that the life and writings of Haig-Brown had played a significant role in the conservationist-preservationist horn butting in British Columbia. Haig-Brown published more than 30 books and many articles that dealt with the delicate interplay of nature and humans. The publication of Haig-Brown’s adult novel, On the Highest Hill (1949), articulated and anticipated the emerging ecological crises and “wars of the woods” of the 1950s-1970s just as the timeless and timely article, “Let Them Eat Dust”, in Measure of the Year (1950), established Haig-Brown as a thoughtful writer that could not be ignored on the preservationist-conservationist tensions---the article is still required reading in some university courses and BC schools. Haig-Brown gave a lecture in mid-October 1953 at Victoria College entitled, “Divine Discontent”, and in the provocative and articulate lecture, he summed up his insights well in a paragraph midway through the wise forth telling: “So I urge upon you discontent, discontent with things as they are, discontent with yourselves. But let it be a constructive and informed discontent, not a curdling and destructive one, the sort of discontent that pushes you on to do more and enjoy more and, above all, to be more, for yourselves as well as for everyone else”---Haig-Brown, the prophetic ecologist from Campbell River, was shaping the conscience of a new generation in the early 1950s. It was also in 1953 that the touching and tender, informed and humane NFB film on Haig-Brown, Country Magistrate, was released. It is rare moment when a respected magistrate takes to oppositional front stage in a large public ecological battle, but Haig-Brown did so in a couple of years after Country Magistrate.

Haig-Brown was front and centre in the clash in the mid-1950s over Buttle Lake in Strathcona Provincial Park (oldest provincial park in British Columbia-established in 1911—excellent peaks, including Golden Hinde and Comox glacier, worth the treks and climbs)--his committed participation in the struggle elevated him to a leading figure in BC environmentalism. There are many who have argued that the publication in 1962 of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring birthed, in a new and updated phase, the ecological movement in North America, but the publication of Haig-Brown’s Fisherman’s Summer in 1959 clarified, in the starkest possible terms, the problems with the spraying of DDT.    

Many of Haig-Brown’s later books such as Writings and Reflections (1982) and To Know a River (1996), edited by his daughter, Valerie Haig-Brown, made it abundantly clear that Haig-Brown lived the trying tension that so fragmented John Muir and Gifford Pinchot. The National Film Board short film on Haig-Brown, Fishman’s Fall, has a meditative, almost Zen like quality to it---worth watching many times. Valerie Haig Brown has written a superb biography of her parents, Deep Currents: Roderick and Ann Haig-Brown (1997), which lightly landed on their early years, life in Campbell River and the many published books/articles/lectures on fly fishing and conservation-preservation issues on Vancouver Island and elsewhere. Deep Currents is a fine primer that illuminates the commitment of Roderick and Ann Haig-Brown to face, from a variety of levels, the challenges presented to those who live the trying tension of preservation-conservation.

Adams River in Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park has one of the largest sockeye salmon runs in North America and in the autumn of 2014 (every 4th year), it will be a dominant run. The narrow river channel and gorge that the fish must navigate is a sight to see—indeed,

a Canadian home grown wonder of the world. The fact that both the salmon run is so intense (water thick red at high season) and the park was named after Haig-Brown speaks much about the respect that Haig-Brown earned from those committed to the oft complicated clash between preservationists and conservationists.

The Haig-Brown home in Campbell River is now a Heritage Home and a Bed and Breakfast site worth the staying at for a few days. The intricate and well wrought lives of Roderick-Ann Haig-Brown and family can be followed and entered with growing interest for those keen to get a feel for the ecological challenges faced by those on the front lines of some of the environmental challenges of the 20th century in British Columbia.   

There are 26 KL of trails in Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park (none too demanding or difficult---it`s more what can be seen from the paths and visitor viewer platforms that makes the trail worth the ramble).  There are those who turn to the high peaks and ancient spires as mountaineers and the effort and skill needed to reach such summits are worthy of many a tale to tell. There are also, though, the multiple foam thick mountain rivers that are abundant with life and whose survival often hinges and hovers precariously in the balance. Roderick Haig-Brown was no mountaineer, but the battles he fought in the lowlands to preserve land, water, soil, fish habitats and spawning areas have much in common with those whose preserve the alpine and higher rock regions. The autumn 2014 dominant sockeye salmon run in Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park will be a sight not to miss---indeed, one of Canada’s 7 water wonders.

Appendix I

I had a lovely lingering breakfast April 23rd 2014 with the Hon. John A. Fraser. John was Minister of the Environment when Joe Clark was Prime Minister, Minister of Fisheries when Brian Mulroney was Prime Minister and first elected Speaker of the House of Commons. John was an up and coming lawyer in the 1960s when Roderick Haig-Brown was a Magistrate in the Campbell River area. John spoke fondly of his many encounters with Haig-Brown and the impact Haig-Brown had on his thinking when he was Minister of the Environment and Fisheries. It was John Fraser who played a strategic role in creating South Moresby Park, and it was John Fraser who encouraged Elizabeth May (now the Green Party MP on the Island) to, initially, become involved in Federal politics. In fact, Elizabeth May dedicated Paradise Won: The Struggle for South Moresby (1990) to “John Fraser and the Conspiracy to Save the Planet”. There is, therefore, an ecological lineage and family tree connection between Roderick Haig-Brown, the Hon. John Fraser and Elizabeth May.         

Appendix II

Valerie Haig-Brown, in the Epilogue to Deep Currents, brought her book to a close with these telling words and not to be forgotten insights about her father.

         I am often asked what my father would think of whatever

         current or continuing ecological disaster we have brought

         upon ourselves. My first thought is a silent, “I’m glad he isn’t

         here to see it”. But my answer is that, if you read his books,

         you will know what he would think. He warned of the  

         consequences of our rush towards “progress” from the age

         of sixteen when he wrote a letter to an English paper about

         the effect of the run-off from tarred roads on the streams of

         his native country. And he never stopped pointing out the

         hazards of our behaviour.     


Ron Dart    

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hi chris – you know me – i am always up for another “great idea for a CanLit” collection

if you organize it i will publish it


Hidden Brook Press

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