My book is all about connections. Among women, between mothers and daughters, between human activity and the environment. The more I researched and talked to people, the more connections I found. And now that the book is out in the world, I find yet more connections.
For example, one of the daughters in my book, Mary Farrant, remembers her Telegraph Cove schoolteacher reading books out loud every day after lunch, one of which was “Starbuck Valley Winter” by Roderick Haig-Brown. Haig-Brown’s house on the banks of the Campbell River is now a heritage property, and his life as a writer and environmentalist is celebrated at an annual fall festival to which I have been invited to speak this year, on Sunday, September 22.
He was an interesting man, this Roderick Langmere Haig-Brown, a pioneer in his own right and the sort of can-do man that England in the early 20th century nurtured and spat out by the hundreds. He was born in Sussex in 1908 and right from the beginning he loved fishing and shooting. His father died in action in World War One but he seemed to have had lots of influential men in his life – his grandfather was a friend of writer Thomas Hardy and his godfather was Lord Baden Powell, who started the Boy Scouts movement. Not an angel, Roderick was expelled from his top-notch school for drinking and sneaking out, so he joined the army but it didn’t suit his need for freedom. His family, being of the class they were, thought the British Colonial Civil Service would be appropriate, but young H-B skipped off to visit an aunt and uncle in Seattle, overstayed his visa and snuck into Canada, where he worked as a logger in Nimpkish Lake (not far from Telegraph Cove), a commercial fisherman and an occasional fly fishing guide.
He spent 3 years back in England enjoying the delights of London, where he started his writing career, before deciding British Columbia suited him better and he settled in Campbell River on Vancouver Island. Somewhere along the line he met Ann Elmore from Seattle and married her.
Ann Elmore. Now she’s another connection.
By all accounts she was a brilliant student, graduating high school two years early and Berkeley University with honours. She worked in a prominent bookstore in Seattle, where she met Roderick the writer, while she wrote monthly articles for the bookseller’s newsletter herself.
Now married, she became a school librarian in Campbell River. She amassed her own collection of more than 3000 books in her study at home, aided and abetted by her adoring husband who had the wit to encourage her intellectual pursuits. She was a knowledgeable fan of Renaissance art and architecture, and cultivated a wonderful garden. But her greatest legacy arose from her concern for women and children who came to her for aid, and the Haig-Brown house became an unofficial shelter and safe-house, so by day she worked in the school library and by night cared for at-risk waifs and strays in her house.
The Ann Elmore Transition House shelter facility was named in her honour, and is now part of the larger network of the Campbell River North Island Transition Society, which is one of the two charities I am donating my book royalties to.
Both Ann and Roderick lived as true stewards of the land. As his books were primarily about fly fishing and the natural world, it was not surprising that he was concerned about the health of local fish and the environment in which he lived. He became a board member of the Nature Conservancy of Canada, an advisor to the BC Wildlife Federation and a member of the Federal Fisheries Development Council among other appointments. Both he and Ann worked to preserve Strathcona Park and a mountain there is named after the couple.
Roderick’s interest in the often destructive relationship between people and nature was tempered by Ann’s more pragmatic approach to victims of destructive human relationships, and she was ahead of her time with her attitude to healing with both care and justice.
The Haig-Browns sold their Campbell River house and garden to the provincial government to be preserved as greenbelt land, retaining the right to live there for the rest of their lives which ended in 1976 (Roderick) and 1990 (Ann). The house is host to a Canada Council-sponsored Writer in Residence program (and used as a bed and breakfast in the summer). The house is managed by the excellent Museum at Campbell River, which will be there at this year’s Fall Festival to sell my book and host (along with the Campbell River North Island Transition society) my presentation, in the Haig-Brown house study from 1pm-2pm, surrounded by Ann Elmore’s book collection.