This is not a tale about your average bed and breakfast. The Haig-Brown Heritage House bed and breakfast is a story about a pair of kindred souls who created a rich and satisfying life in the wilds of northern Vancouver Island in the 1930s – and whose solid, well-built and well-loved home now serves as a B&B, as a writer-in-residence site and as a captivating and totally charming lesson in the rewards of hard work, an enduring love and lives well-lived.
Roderick Haig-Brown is one of those luminaries of the early 20th century whose name may (or may not) be familiar for a variety of reasons. He is best known for his books about fly fishing (which was how I recognized him), but a little research reveals that there was so much more to the man and his wife Ann that it is mind-boggling.
As a couple, they survived the travails of raising four children on a 20-acre farm that bordered the Campbell River. Ann was very active in various community organizations, and also took in battered women when the need arose. Roddy (as he was known to family and friends) was a revered magistrate, one of the very first conservationists and a prolific and very successful writer of both fiction and non-fiction (he wrote a total of 25 books and countless magazine articles – in longhand).
We were fortunate enough to spend a night at the Haig-Brown house recently, hosted by Catherine MacLeod, who is herself a fount of information about the house, the property and the Haig-Brown family. Catherine worked briefly for Haig-Brown when he was a magistrate and tells stories from those days as well as those recounted to her by many local residents and the Haig-Brown’s four children, all still alive but scattered to the winds.
If you are looking for high-end accommodation this is not the place for you. The lovely old house remains essentially as it was when the family lived in it. There are three bedrooms and two small shared bathrooms on the upper level. Worn bare wood floors and simple-but-comfortable furnishings complete the picture. Breakfast (served at a table that Haig-Brown built) is good, but basic – as it would have been in the days of the Haig-Browns.
If, however, you want a taste of history and a better understanding of how people lived in ‘the good old days’, you need to stay here. The Haig-Browns were people of tremendous substance, integrity, intelligence and community-mindedness, with an international circle of friends and family. Catherine will regale you with her anecdotes, and you can take time to delight in the family photos and sketches from nature that line the walls, the furniture created by Haig-Brown, the expansive gardens and lawns, the all-entrancing Campbell River….and the amazing study, built as an addition to the house after World War ll. It is a bibliophile’s dream – four solid walls of books, Haig-Brown’s desk and chair tucked into one of the corners looking out to the gardens. A couple of his beautiful old fly rods are displayed in cases, and there are stunning artwork mementos from friends, neighbours and family all through the room. It is the kind of wondrous environment that leaves you in awe – not only of the room itself but of the people who created it and so clearly enjoyed every aspect of it – more than 4,000 books, comfortable furniture and magical views to the outdoors. It’s easy to imagine what a sanctuary it must have been for Haig-Brown, and no doubt continues to be for the writers in residence who spend the winter months in the house after the bed and breakfast operation has closed for the season.
The Haig Brown House Bed and Breakfast (and Catherine, with her marvelous stories) sparked our curiousity, and I ended up purchasing two books while we were there. Haig-Brown’s ‘Measure of the Year’ includes his lyrical descriptions of everyday life at his beloved home. Deep Currents, written by the Haig-Browns’ daughter Valerie, is a biography of the couple, gleaned primarily from the copious numbers of letters they wrote. I can’t put the darned thing down, am enchanted by their enduring commitment to each other and the community in which they lived.
While things at Haig-Brown House have changed to some small degree, the actual property continues to inspire. The gardens and lawns are lush, the house offers up its unique charms, the river flows on, as ever. And, there is a lasting legacy that keeps the memories of the Haig-Browns alive – the bed and breakfast, the writer in residence program (I am sure he would have been so thrilled with that), the summer kids’ camps and special afternoons of tea and croquet on the lawn. My only regret is that I never had the opportunity to meet these amazing people, but the opportunity to learn about them and their many contributions to society is one that I will cherish.
More information on Haig-Brown Heritage House can be found at the website:
Haig-Brown Heritage House is located at 2250 Campbell River Road
GPS co-ordinates are:
- 50.0345967625092 Long. -125.27904594999336
N 50 02.076 W 125 16.743