From the Archives: Kathleen Euphemia Dunsmuir

Kathleen Dunsmuir Otto Mayer portrait McCann Collection RRU Archives

In this continuation of archives posts on the Dunsmuir children, we have a brief glipse of the life of Kathleen Euphemia (Kat) Dunsmuir Humphreys*, the third youngest of James and Laura's 10 children.

Kathleen was born on Dec. 22, 1891, and lived with her parents until the outbreak of World War I in 1914. It was at that time she decided to volunteer to support the war effort, first in England and then in France, to work in a soldiers' canteen. Known as "Miss B.C." because British Columbian soldiers overseas would often recognize her when they met her as she was doing her work, Kat prepared hot drinks and light food for soldiers who were either on their way to or out of the main battlefields. As she wrote to her mother in a letter published in the Victoria newspaper The Daily Colonist on April 22, 1915:

I am cabling to see if you can possibly get $2,500. We still have some money left, but we give so much. For instance, we give two buns for a penny, instead of one. Even then, we might do all right, but we feed all the men who have nothing free, as well as trains of wounded that come down in front of us. We also give everything to the guards who bring in the German prisoners, so you see we do need a lot. How they do love on a cold morning at 5 or 6 o’clock to have hot chocolate and buns! We love the work.

It must have been quite an adventure - and a lot of work - for a young woman who likely had become used to the lifestyle that Hatley Park had provided! 

It was during her service as a canteen girl that Kathleen met Major Arthur Selden Humphreys, whom she married in London on Oct. 20, 1915. Kathleen had to give up her canteen work as a wife of an officer serving in France was not permitted to travel or work on Continental Europe. 

Selden Humphreys WW1 Autin Portrait P Lutmer collection RRU Archives                          
Major Selden Humphreys in his World War I uniform

Raoul Autin portrait

The couple returned to Victoria to live after the war, where they had four children, and gained a reputation for being generous hosts.

By the late 1920s, Kathleen became interested in film and movie-making. As her marriage to Humpreys ended, at the age of 40, she moved to Hollywood to pursue a film career. She continued to host lavish parties in her home near Hollywood Boulevard and Rodeo Drive, and became involved in bank-rolling movies. One included The Crimson Paradise, which was filmed on the Dunsmuir property in 1933 and billed as "Canada's First All Talking Motion Picture." (Unfortunately, the film was reviewed as a 'real turkey' by the manager of Victoria's Capitol Theatre, where it premiered late at night and only ran for three days.)

Kathleen Dunsmuir Humphreys McCann Collection RRU Archives
Kathleen in Hollywood

In the end, the movie venture lead Kat to near financial ruin, and so she returned to live at Hatley Park for a while before auctioning her belongings and moving to Switzerland in 1937.

With the start of World War II in 1939, Kathleen found herself once more following her sense duty to support the troops, and again organized a mobile canteen in England. With this, she and her older children lived and served in the war effort at the height of the bombing in London. It was there that her son, who joined the Royal Air Force, announced his engagement. Sadly, it was in celebration of his marriage at a cafe in London that Kathleen was killed in an air raid on March 8, 1941. 

As mentioned before, the Dunsmuir family story is truly an epic one. If you are interested in finding out more, please consider reading The Dunsmuir Saga by Terry Reksten, which is available in the RRU Library, or by sending an email to the address below.

Caroline Posynick
RRU Archivist
250.391.2600 ext 4122

The image at the top of this post is an Otto Mayer portrait of Kathleen taken in 1908. Also note that this post has been adapted from a previous one on Kathleen that appeared in Roadspiel in January 2011.