From the Archives: Dola Frances Dunsmuir

Dola Dunsmuir and man on horseback at Hatley Park, McCann Collection RRU Archives

As we continue in our RRU Archives series on getting to know the Dunsmuir children, please enjoy a brief glimpse into Dola Frances Dunsmuir Cavendish's life.

Born on September 25, 1903, Dola was the youngest of the Dunsmuir's ten children.  The next youngest sibling, James Jr (or "Boy") was nine years her senior, and the eldest, Robin, was a full generation -- 26 years -- older than her. There was some gossip that perhaps Dola was not borne of Laura Dunsmuir, but never-the-less, Dola was fully accepted into the family. Although she was too young to have a close relationship with her siblings, Dola was quite adored by now-retired James. In fact, he, Dola, and the eldest grandson Jimmy (who was actually older than Dola) used to play great games of hide and seek in Hatley Castle.

As Dola was just 6 years old when the family moved to Hatley Park, she is the only Dunsmuir to have truly grown up on site. The photo above shows Dola's love of horses, a hobby that was popular with the family, and one eagerly pursued with the many horses that stabled here. 

Dola also had a fascination for the theatre, which she enjoyed when she and her 'nephew' Jimmy visited Europe. There she met and formed a friendship with the stage and film actress Tallulah Bankhead. She remained a shy soul, however, and could not find happiness in her short marriage to Lieutenant-Commander Henry James Francis Cavendish. When she divorced Cavendish, she remained in England, where they had moved permanently, and tried to join the social life that included her older sisters. She also became closer friends with Tallulah, who enjoyed her company almost as much as her family's money.

The death of Laura Dunsmuir in 1937 and subsequent sale of the contents of Hatley Castle was difficult on Dola, but it was not until the outbreak of World War II in 1939 that Dola returned to Victoria. Here she built a house between Hatley and Fort Rodd Hill Park, on the piece of land her father had left to her. She called the house "Dolaura", and lived there off and on, following Tallulah and her career and, sadly, began drinking heavily as she became part of this social set. It wasn’t until her sister Kathleen was killed in the Blitz in London in 1941 that Dola then returned permanently to the house, where she took care of her sisters' youngest teenage daughters.

 13 rr Dolaura before garden McCann Collection RRU Archives
 The house known as Dolaura, under construction. This house stood between Hatley Park at Fort Rodd Hill.

In the later years, Dola and Tallulah continued to visit each other often, holding parties in each of their houses on either side of the continent. This lasted until 1966, when Dola Dunsmuir Cavendish, the last surviving child of James and Laura Dunsmuir, died of cirrhosis of the liver.

   52 cc Dola Dunsmuir portrait McCann Collection RRU Archives                    17 cc Tallulah Bankhead McCann Collection RRU Archives
   Dola Dunsmuir around the age when                 Tallulah Bankhead in a photograph she signed 
   she would have met Tallulah Bankhead.            for one of Kathleen Dunsmuir's daughters.

Caroline Posynick
RRU Archivist
250.391.2600 ext 4122