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Campbell River, B.C. 1 June 2023

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Haig-Brown House

I am sitting in the study of Roderick Haig-Brown, of Campbell River, British Columbia. An Englishman who ‘got a little too boisterous’ for his family, who sent him to ‘the wilds’ of BC as a young man, where he tracked mountain lions and bears, fly fished, and wrote and wrote and wrote. For his followers – he died in 1976 – this is a shrine. Marjorie the caretaker explained that the room is a ‘time capsule frozen in 1976.’ On Roderick’s desk, the daybook is Wildflowers 1976. I am surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of books.

I'm sure I have looked at his books, maybe read some, and certainly appreciated his quotes. Here's one now:


I have never seen a river that I could not love. Moving water has a fascinating vitality. It has power and grace and associations. It has a thousand colors and a thousand shapes, yet it follows laws so definite that the tiniest streamlet is an exact replica of a great river.


The house was inherited by the four Haig-Brown children, now in their 80s, none of whom wanted the house but wanted to somehow protect the riparian frontage on the Campbell River. A cooperation, first with Canada, and then with the city of Campbell River and the local historical museum, maintains the house from May to October as a B&B, from October through April as a visiting author’s residence.

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<p>panorama: the Study - RH-Bs desk at far left</p>

panorama: the Study - RH-Bs desk at far left

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But I'm way ahead of myself. This was a long, anxious day. It started with us trekking 6 blocks with luggage to where we were supposed to be met by our ride to Victoria, arriving (surprise!) 22 minutes early.

Thirty minutes late, the bus showed up. That works out to 50 minutes of anxiety. 

The schedule promised arrival in Victoria at 12:35, but actually we arrived a little after 1:30 with a drive of unknown duration ahead of us, a 6pm deadline, and unsure we had a car yet.

It all worked out. And there were lovely moments along the way. Here the ferry from Tsawassen is working its way through the tight channel between Galliano and Maine Islands. Our route today was the dotted blue line in the map below.

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Toward the end, we passed through the gulf in front of Salt Spring Island, where we have stayed twice in a perfect little cottage high on the island's rocky spine – the tiny yellow circle in the picture below (I think.)


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<p>Islands east of Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal (at far right)</p>

Islands east of Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal (at far right)

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We arrived in Victoria, found our car, and immediately headed out. The traffic in town was, well, big Canadian city traffic. The road from Victoria's outsquirts to Nanaimo is 'thruway' marred only by about 73 stop lights. Do the math on 60-120 cars slowing from 120kph (about 75 mph) to zero, then accelerating back to 120kph several hundred times a day, and lay that against the cost of an under- or over-pass. Oh, yeah, I forgot, that would be citizens money vs. the Queen's money, and goddess's nose, we don't ever want to spend her money if we can make the citizens pay. Right? 

Nevermind the safety issues. 

Nevertheless, along the way, especially through Malahat beside the Saanich inlet, it's gorgeous.

Below, the backup at Jingle Pot Road just south of Nanaimo; it took us two long light cycles to get across this intersection

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The town of Campbell River has the beginning of 'beyond the fringe' feel to it: lots of First Nation art and people, and whole neighborhoods with what looks like 'different' (more communal) housing and a red octagonal sign saying WAL'A instead of STOP. It's where the four lane highway from Victoria ends (but we didn't find that out until the next day.)

I had stumbled on the Haig-Brown house with Google Maps while calculating a likely place to roost on what promised under even the best of circumstances to be a difficult travel day. (Got that right!) It was so intriguing (even though I had no idea who R H-B might be) because it was the home of a bookish family man who established his homestead 'beyond the (aforementioned) fringe.'

Naturally, it has aspects of Englishness – gorgeous garden with smooth lawns, gables, and, bot surprisingly, the Campbell River running right beside it.

<p>The <span style=

The luscious riparian of the Campbell River borders the homestead.

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The house itself is unprepossessing, somewhat randomly built, with doors too close to things, small rooms, uneven painted wood floors, built during the late 1940s just outside of town. Roderick was the town magistrate (among numerous other weighty responsibilities), chancellor of the University of Victoria, and found time to write 23 books and countless essays, articles, and editorials at this very desk.


Haig-Brown house across its east garden


I am not a natural 'follower' – apparently R H-B has quite a one    but we spent a memorable late afternoon and night in this house, absorbing the quite substantial vibes of its builder and family.

2554 :

Our hostess recommended a pub in town, the Riptide, where we went for a very satisfactory dinner: mussels and clams mariniere (a British invention: a reduction of fish stock, cream, shallots, white wine, garlic, and thyme) plus an adequate salad, salads not being exactly a British staple. And a hoppy local brew. Served by a spicy young waitress with tatoos on her knees, reading right side up only to her: “the world” “is yours”.

And so to bed.

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