“I would never have expected that house to be so inspiring…I haven’t had that much of a productive writing schedule ever.” – Eden Robinson, 2020 The Haig-Brown House sits on the Campbell River just north of the city centre along Highway 28 heading to Gold River. The House and 19.1-acre property was sold to the province in 1975 under a greenbelt land protection initiative. Today, the House is recognized for its heritage value and honours the legacy of Roderick and Ann (nee Elmore) Haig-Brown.
Both were born in 1908—Roderick in Lansing, England, and Ann in Seattle, Washington. Roderick became well-known as an environmental writer, fly fisher, and local magistrate. Ann was very influential in local social justice initiatives, with a focus on women’s issues. The first Transition House in Campbell River is named in her honour.
Currently, the Haig-Brown House is managed by the Museum at Campbell River and has supported a Writer in Residence Program since 2004. “When my parents sold their property along the river to the provincial government for greenbelt purposes, my father said he hoped the place would be used for ‘deserving writers and conservationists.’ The initiation of the Writer in Residence Program was the beginning of a most successful program that has carried out his hope and been a pleasure for the visiting writers and a considerable joy to his children.” – Valerie Haig-Brown, 2013
The Residency aims to provide the opportunity for a Canadian writer to have a dedicated five months to work and develop a specific project. To date, the Museum has hosted 16 writers (the full list follows this story).
“This was an extraordinary residency, and a gift of inspiration. The Haig-Brown House on the Campbell River embodies the spirit of its celebrated owners. The place literally welcomes writers with a warm and quiet embrace. The Museum at Campbell River provided excellent support and carefully respected my writing time. It did an excellent job promoting the residency.” – Andrew Nikiforuk, Writer in Residence 2013/14
Over the years, feedback has highlighted the positive energy and inspirational environment that the House provides. Anyone visiting the Study will instantly understand what an ideal writing atmosphere it provides. An immense library is a main feature of the room, a credit to the skills of Ann in collecting and organizing over 3,400 books! Ann was the librarian at the local high school from 1960 until 1973.
The property is an amazing rambling of gardens, lawns, and forest right on the banks of the Campbell River. Kingfisher Creek also runs through the property. From the House one can easily hear the rushing of the river. Birds, bears, and deer are all frequent visitors. It doesn’t take long to understand how the natural setting provides the ideal reflection time so necessary for inspiration.
“For me, the Haig-Brown residency has been a sanctuary away from the distractions that sometimes slow me down as a writer. The house, the river, and the property have been an inspiration on many levels and I have had some of my best writing days here.” – Trevor Herriot, Writer in Residence 2011/12
The residency is also aimed at providing a resource for the local community, as it is designed to provide for community outreach programming. The intention of the residency is to split the writers’ time between personal writing space (60%) and community outreach programs (40%). Programming includes working one-on-one with local writers, providing workshops, visiting schools, giving talks at the Museum, and travelling throughout northern Vancouver Island as requested.
The outreach programming provides opportunities for northern Vancouver Island to experience and interact with professional writers from across the country. It also provides a resource for a wide range of ages, from school children to seniors, and experience levels from beginning writers to seasoned professionals.
“My residency at the Haig-Brown House has given me much needed time to write again. I’ve accomplished much more than I thought I might at the start, mostly because of the quiet, creative space that the House seems uniquely designed to provide. I’ve also made some great contacts in the Campbell River area, in effect expanding my literary community.” – Charlotte Gill, Writer in Residence 2012/13
In this balanced approach to the Residency, both the writer and the local community have great benefits. The Haig-Brown Writer in Residence Program is indeed a true jewel of community life in Campbell River.