In 1919, Howard O’Hagan went east to study law at McGill University. There, Stephen Leacock was one of his professors, and, with A.J.M. Smith, he edited the McGill Daily. Graduating in 1925 with a B.A. and a L.L.B., he came back west where, without being called to the bar, he practised law long enough to have one man thrown in jail and another released. Howard O’Hagan never did want to become a lawyer. Instead, he began to guide and pack in the Rockies. Between jobs and life in Australia, New York, England, Berkeley, Victoria and Italy, it was to the Rockies that he always returned. Fred Brewster, his life-long friend and one of the leading guides and outfitters in the area, introduced him to two park rangers on a cold, bitter Jasper night, paying him the greatest compliment of his life: “I want you to meet Howard O’Hagan, the best mountain man I’ve ever travelled with.”
The School-Marm Tree is a novel about mountains: about the “presence” in mountains, about the heart’s desire to go beyond mountains. No other writer in Canada knows mountains as O’Hagan does, or has quite the same affinity for them. The School-Marm Tree witnesses that knowledge and affinity.