Catherine MacLeod: Serving up History & Hospitality at the Historic Haig-Brown House
By Erika Anderson of the Campbell River Museum .
Catherine MacLeod sits in the kitchen of the Haig-Brown House, previously called Above Tide by its well-known former owners Roderick and Ann Haig-Brown. She looks relaxed and content as she sips her coffee. “It’s pretty much a happy job,” she explains. MacLeod came from a career as a legal assistant in a high pressure law office, so she truly appreciates the peacefulness of place that comes with working at the Haig-Brown House. “My biggest worry today is that a wasp is building a nest by the front door, it’s certainly a change from my previous work.” This is her 7th year running the Bed and Breakfast and being the onsite caretaker for the property from May through October. In the winter months the house hosts a writer in residence.
In the mid-1970s MacLeod was working in the Campbell River courthouse. For the first few months of her job, she was working alongside Roderick Haig-Brown, who was a local magistrate at the time. “He was very kind. When I started working there someone told him I was a fledgling writer. He came out at lunch one day and spent 40 minutes or so with me. He asked what I was writing, and what I was reading, and encouraged me to write about things I was passionate about.” She had been told he was a writer, but at the time MacLeod didn’t know how prolific and well-known of a writer he was. She recalls that both Roderick and Ann were known for encouraging any creative interest in young people. It is clear Macleod thinks very highly of the family that once lived in this house.
We discussed a picture we had both seen online from a recent wedding on the property. “It’s getting to be a well-known place for wedding ceremonies,” says MacLeod. It is not surprising, with the manicured formal lawn and surrounding gardens, lovingly tended by long-time gardener Marcy Prior, and the peaceful presence of the river.
MacLeod says recently there has also been increasing requests to use the site for professional photography sessions. The site hosts croquet and tea events on the formal lawn Wednesday afternoons during July and August. For a nominal cost, guests enjoy light dainties and are served tea on real china. There is the opportunity to play croquet, as the Haig-Brown family had done, and to tour the study containing thousands of books and the desk where Roderick wrote his books.
As for the Bed and Breakfast, there has been an increase in guests from Europe, many of whom are fans of Haig-Browns writings. There are also a lot of repeat visitors that come back every year. Many of the bookings are from word of mouth, as many visitors to the site go home and tell their friends about their stay. “People love to see the study and to hear about the history of the house and the Haig-Brown family, so generally I will spend at least half an hour with new guests telling them about it and showing them the study.” I asked her what makes a stay at the Haig-Brown House unique? “It is the history of the place, the house is maintained in the way it was when the Haig-Browns lived there. It is such a peaceful location, situated on the river, trails, and surrounded by nature. Also, I like to pamper my guests by putting out fresh flowers and making them nice breakfasts. I genuinely love meeting all of the new people. A stay here is a respite from people’s busy lives.”