When we travel our accommodation preferences tend to run to small inns and bed and breakfasts. They are all unique and have their own charms, and an added bonus is getting the ‘inside track’ from the folks who operate them on local attractions, activities and eateries. Our recent stay at Campbell River’s Haig-Brown Heritage House Bed and Breakfast far exceeded those expectations, but not in a way that anyone might imagine. We weren’t swept up with high-end accommodation or extraordinarily fancy meals, (although both were certainly more than adequate) but with the history and romance of an historic home inhabited by people who contributed so much to their community. Much of the appeal of the place is brought to life by hostess Catherine MacLeod, who actually worked for Roderick Haig-Brown when he was a magistrate.
Roderick is best known for his 25 books and more than 200 papers (all written in long-hand), many of them dealing with fly fishing and conservation. He was a pioneering conservationist and an avid fly-fisher – his contributions in those genres are reflected in the provincial park in BC’s Shuswap region that is named after him. He was also a revered magistrate and a committed community activist.
Ann was also very active in public affairs and was so well-known for taking in battered women that the local transition house, when it was finally built, was named after her.
During the early and mid-1900s the couple raised four children, crops and a lot of livestock on their 20 acre farm, perched along the banks of the Campbell River. The kids and livestock are gone now of course, but the sweeping lawns, thriving vegetable garden, perennial borders, nearby river and secret places continue to flourish and delight.
Guests staying at the B&B also get a tour of the Haig-Brown’s magical study – a bibliophile’s dream featuring more than 4,000 books, Haig-Brown’s desk, views to the garden, original artwork, a couple of his treasured fly rods, a fireplace and comfy furniture that made me want to sink down and spend the rest of my life there. All through the tour Catherine delights us with anecdotes about the family and the enduring love of two kindred souls who created a rich and rewarding life in what was, in the 1930s, wilderness.
The Haig-Brown Heritage House is managed by the Campbell RiverMuseum. Built in 1923, the house was occupied by the Haig-Brown family from 1936 to the 1990s. It remains essentially the same to this day – shared bathrooms, bare painted-wood floors, dozens of family portraits and sketches from nature lining the walls. The beds are comfortable, the furniture – much of it made by Haig-Brown himself – very simple. There is an abiding comfort and sense of history that lingers. It’s almost enough to make one think that you could bump into any of the Haig-Browns next time you walk through the door or wander along the riverbank in a reverie. The house operates as a bed and breakfast from May to the end of October, then serves as home for a writer-in-residence program the rest of the year. Both designations are, I think, ones that would have pleased Roderick and Ann Haig-Brown, whose busy, welcoming household and enchantment with all things literary are reflected in today’s use of the beautiful rambling old farmhouse and the lovely surrounding property.
It’s notable, too, that both the Haig-Browns were so well-regarded in Campbell River that there is an annual Haig-Brown Festival held each September (this year, Sunday Sept. 28) on the property. The day includes displays illuminating stewardship issues, fly-tying and fly casting lessons, music, food, kids’ games and exhibits by various community groups. (They also feature events throughout summer, including Croquet and Tea on the grounds.)
But even if you don’t attend the festival or head to Campbell River for the fishing, golf or adventure tours, Haig-Brown Heritage House is worth at least an overnight stay. It is the essence of days gone by and it encourages peaceful pursuits and plenty of reflection about good lives, lived simply.
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