Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Haig-Brown Legacy

A portrait of Ann Haig-Brown, hanging on the walls of the Haig-Brown House

There are many genial spirits in this house, but the one I feel most clearly is Ann. I do most of my writing in her kitchen, watching the birds come to the branches by the window as they would have for her.

I was told that Ann was with Roderick when he died. He was in the yard working. Ann called him in for dinner. He turned and collapsed from a heart attack.

steam rising from the cedar fence on a cool morning on the Haig-Brown property

The Haig-Browns were both known for their compassion for people in trouble. Ann would open their home to battered women using it as an informal transition house. Today, the transition house in Campbell River is named after her.

Roderick, meanwhile, took his job as a country magistrate very seriously. He was thought of as being perhaps too lenient by some people--going easy on a teen caught with a small amount of marijuana--but he would always look at the whole context around the infraction that came before him, see the person and their life before making a decision.

Sometimes young men brought before his bench received sentences that included coming to the Haig-Brown farm once a week to learn about fly-fishing in exchange for some farm work. There were days when, between Ann and Roderick's social reform efforts, the perpetrator and the victim of the same crime would be on the property, a man out in a field with Roderick and the woman in the garden with Ann.

Roderick told one man who appeared in his court that if he stopped drinking and changed his ways he could live in the cabin on their property as long as he liked. He took up the offer and was living there when Roderick died and in fact remained in the cabin three or four years after Ann's death in 1994. The cabin was torn down just last year.

There are stories too of their bond as a couple. Roderick appreciated Ann's intelligence and would always consult with her on things that arose in his life as a writer, a conservationist, and a magistrate.

One story comes from someone who accompanied Ann to the airport to pick up Roderick after one of his many trips away from home in later years. Their reunion kiss, was reportedly altogether much too long for people of their age.

As I move through the shadows of this house alone and walk the trails on the property, I think of the two of them, the love that bonded them to one another and to this place. Exemplary people can live in cities far from any contact with nature, and people who live in the country can be coarse and heedless. Even so, when I hear of people like the Haig-Browns, their generosity of spirit and untiring service to the world, I cannot help thinking that it comes from a maturity of soul that can only be engendered by what Roderick called "participation in the world's real life, of steadily increasing intimacy" with nature.

Every day I learn more of their legacy here in Campbell River and in the conservation of river habitat all over the Pacific Northwest.

(No, the snow only lasted a couple of days.)


  1. Wonderful stuff, Trevor. I think you're right about "spiritual maturity": in fact, the term nowadays for what the Haig-Browns practiced in terms of the law is Restorative Justice. My workplace has pioneered a program in that field.

  2. Hi Pete--that's true isn't it? Today we would call that restorative justice. Thanks for the comment.


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