There is an effort underway to re-name Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park with a Secwepemc name. While it may be considered appropriate to recognize local First Nation’s over 9,000 years of life here with a name change, it would also be disrespectful to reject the contributions of one of BC’s most respected conservationists whose efforts led directly to the creation of the park. Although Haig-Brown passed away in 1976, his legacy carries on through the work of the Institute named for him that is based out of his well preserved home in Campbell River.
Since 2004, the Haig-Brown Institute has sponsored a writer in residence program at the Haig-Brown house. With support from the Canada Council for the Arts, some of Canada’s best writers have spent the winters at the house and in the community. No doubt that they utilize Haig-Brown’s library where there are thousands of books from floor to ceiling, including most of his over 25 published works about fishing, rivers and conservation. In addition to the writer’s program, the Institute promotes watershed conservation, as well as local restoration and enhancement projects.
In 2016, the Institute’s writer in residence was Andrew Nikiforuk, one of Canada’s foremost and most prolific non-fiction authors, with books about the tar sands, mountain pine beetles, fracking, public education, and 21st century biological plagues. In December, Andrew delivered the seventh annual Haig-Brown Memorial Lecture entitled, “Why Haig-Brown Matters More than Ever.” It is an extraordinarily perceptive essay that details the many reasons why Haig-Brown deserves greater recognition and why his vision resonates so well today.
Haig-Brown was born in Sussex, England in 1908 and was the grandson of a famous educator. His first environmental battle was writing about the impact of road tar spilling into fish-bearing waters. He was groomed to become another member of England’s managerial class, but his rejection of authority resulted in expulsion from the exclusive school his family had enrolled him in. Adventure beckoned him, thus he journeyed to the Pacific Northwest to work in lumber camps and then moved to Vancouver Island to work as a surveyor.
Enthralled by the richness of the region and the abundance of fish and wildlife, he soon became appalled at the destruction and waste of industrial logging. He married Ann Elmore, a Seattle girl who had a love of books and a deep sense of justice and community. They built a life together and raised four children on a small farm next to a stream where he spent so much time fishing. Haig-Brown became a bold critic of resource extraction, “No people have the right to act against its knowledge and damage and destroy the face of the earth for short-term gain.”
Andrew emphasized how Haig-Brown was ahead of his time. For example, in 1938 he sounded the alarm about the pace and scale of clear-cutting on the Island. At a Board of Trade meeting in Courtney, he asked, “when and how reforestation was going to take place and just who the hell was going to deal with the unemployment, lack of revenue, disorder and environmental ruin when there were no more tall trees to fell.” Three years before Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, Haig-Brown wrote about the harmful impacts of DDT on fish bearing streams, wiping out fingerling salmon in the Miramichi River.
Long before fishery scientists revised their attitudes about fish hatcheries, Haig-Brown wrote about how hatchery stocks degrade wild stocks with inter-breeding. Instead, he promoted the need for stream restoration and better management of existing stocks. Yet the overuse of hatcheries in Alaska continues to be a major problem by producing too many fish that out compete BC sockeye for food in the Gulf of Alaska.
Haig-Brown fought many an environmental battle, including the Butte Lake dam in Strathcona Park, the damage from fuel spills and the impacts from fossil fuel use. His writings included many tirades against land fragmentation, pollution, overexploitation, invasive species and climate change. Above all, his books stressed the need to respect where you live; “One cannot know intimately all the ways and movements of a river without growing into love of it. And there is no exhaustion to the growth of love through knowledge, whether the love be a person or a river because the knowledge can never become complete.”
(Andrew Nikiforuk’s lecture can be downloaded from shuswapwatershed.ca)