Above Tide: Reflections on Roderick Haig-Brown


135 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-920080-70-7





Reviewed by C. Stephen Gray

C. Stephen Gray is Director of Information Services, Institute of
Chartered Accountants of Ontario.


Of those who have devoted their time and energies to writing about nature and wilderness, one thinks of perhaps Walton, Thoreau, Cotton, Jack London, and a handful of others. In Canada, one is more or less obliged to think of Roderick Haig-Brown: his name, one suspects, is mentioned more often than his works are read.

Anthony Robertson’s study of Haig-Brown’s work as a writer is flawed in several ways — its emphasis on plot summary (albeit on works that are no longer extant), his reliance on the reader’s familiarity with at least some of Haig-Brown’s works and, worst of all, the lack of attention to scholarly apparatus that occurs on every page.

If the book is an attempt to “place” Haig-Brown in what Robertson seems to be saying is a suitably elevated position relative to other practitioners of the nature genre, then it fails. There is almost nothing in Robertson’s book that would send the average reader scurrying to Haig-Brown’s small shelf in the library. The image of the author Robertson surveys is that of a man who realized his limitations early on in his career, accepted them, and continued to write in a manner he felt best suited his abilities. Would that many more writers adopted this practice!

But Robertson’s argument is essentially that Haig-Brown wrote with conviction, sincerity and insight about man’s relationship to nature — and that the writing is great stuff, and well worth reading. The failure of the book is that it is so unconvincing. It is difficult to see much new interest in Haig-Brown being kindled as a result of Robertson’s labors. That’s unfortunate, for I was left wondering if perhaps it might be worthwhile giving Haig-Brown another chance — in the same way a juror almost feels obliged to acquit an accused who has retained an incompetent lawyer.



Robertson, Anthony, “Above Tide: Reflections on Roderick Haig-Brown,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed October 1, 2023, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/37445.