The Legacy of Roderick Haig-Brown

By Mark Hume, with Photography by Nick Didlick

The Roderick Haig-Brown family home looks out over the shimmering waters of the Campbell River. From his desk, in the library, he could look out over the lawns that slope down to the rivers edge. It is said that he didn’t fish there, right in front of the house, because there wasn’t much holding water. But it looks inviting enough, and no doubt that view helped inspire him as he turned out the books that would become recognized around the world as angling classics.

The town of Campbell River, which has a rich fishing heritage, has surprisingly done little over the years to honour the great writer who lived there. Perhaps its because Haig-Brown wrote mostly about fly fishing in rivers, not about trolling for big salmon in the ocean, which is more economically important in Campbell River, which is busy with marinas and resorts.

In recent years, however, the community has been more aware of Haig-Browns great legacy. The family home has been preserved, with the help of the provincial government, and the stream that runs through it has been restored, attracting coho back to spawn. There has even been talk of a statue.

Now the Museum at Campbell River has put together a special exhibit, to honour the city’s most renowned citizen. Its about time – and it is a worthy exhibit. Nick Didlick, the webmaster and co-publisher of this site, recently visited the show and pronounced: Its great. Its really wonderful.

Following is a release from Lesia Davis, executive director and Linda Hogarth, curator of the Museum at Campbell River, announcing the exhibit, which runs all summer, through to the end of September.

Its just another good reason to visit the community. The other reasons being the salmon, trout and steelhead that can still be caught by fly fishermen in Haig-Browns favourite river.

Haig-Brown exhibit profiles international legend, community man

One of the best known fly fishermen in the world lived at Campbell River on Vancouver Island. The widely-read books of Roderick Haig-Brown lured many an enthusiast to fish the Islands rivers and visit the author at his home on the banks of the Campbell. Made famous by his fishing expertise, Haig-Brown was also a remarkable man in other ways, and his influence remains strong more than 25 years after his death.

This summer the Museum at Campbell River celebrates its most renowned citizen in a special exhibit, Return to the River, the Legacy of Roderick Haig-Brown. The exhibit presents the multiple facets of Haig-Browns life as an international legend, a national and community figure and a family man in a rural home.

Haig-Brown was born in England in 1908, into a large, privileged and literary family. Photographs in the exhibit show his maternal grandfathers country home in Dorset and the family of 10 sons and four daughters to which his mother belonged. “Roddy’s” early experiences of hunting and fishing began with the woods, meadows and trout stream on the Dorset estate.

Visiting the Pacific Northwest as a young man, Haig-Brown went to work in the Nimpkish River area on northern Vancouver Island. While working at logging, timber cruising, trapping, fishing and beachcombing he was also writing articles and taking photographs, and his frontier experiences later provided the subject matter for many of his books.

Marrying in 1934, Haig-Brown and his wife Ann settled in Campbell River, which then had a population of a few hundred residents. While Rod continued to write, they adapted to a self-reliant lifestyle, putting in a garden, carpentering, acquiring cows and chickens. Both were involved in community activities and devoted to their growing family. Producing book after book to popular and critical acclaim, Rod also accepted an appointment as magistrate for the area, a position he filled for many years, and during World War II he was an officer in the army.

Haig-Browns essays and books earned him a widening reputation which brought increasing demands on his time. Besides the court work and his writing, he was continually busy with speaking engagements, interviews, and filming and broadcasting requests. He received honourary degrees, awards and commendations, was elected Chancellor of the University of Victoria and appointed to the International Pacific Salmon Fisheries Commission.

Likened to Thoreau, Haig-Browns knowledge and love of the natural world characterizes his writing as much as his fishing lore. He was a pioneering conservationist who, ahead of his time, sought solutions to the effects of settlement and industry and a balance between reasonable use and exploitation of resources. He is well known for his opposition to the damming of Buttle Lake and the Moran project on the Fraser River.

The exhibit in the Museum at Campbell River brings together elements of a man whom many current residents knew personally or remember as a presence in the community. The prized collection of fishing flies, rods and reels is here, as are original illustrations by Charles De Feo for Return to the River and by Louis Darling for A River Never Sleeps. A corner of Haig-Browns study is recreated, showing his desk and the window overlooking garden and river where he sat to pen his manuscripts. Haig-Brown wrote his books by hand into lined scribblers. They and the pink Royal typewriter used by his wife Ann to produce printed versions for publishers are exhibited, along with editions of the books, photographs and memorabilia. Liberally sprinkled with quotes from Haig-Browns thoughtful, lyrical writing, the exhibit also includes magistrates paraphernalia, coverage of environmental battles and evidence of scuba diving and birdwatching hobbies.

Films about Haig-Brown are also available for viewing. Fisherman’s Fall is a 13-minute, award winning film produced by the National Film Board in 1967 (see part one here and part two here).

Years of Grace, which premiered this spring, is a 50-minute biographical documentary created by Michael Sagadore for the Knowledge Network. Written by Valerie Haig-Brown, it contains superb photography and many interviews with family and friends.

Going to Campbell River visit and stay at the Haig-Brown House