From the Archives: Leisure activities

Jenny Seeman
Women at leisire at Hatley Park

Long summer days are here and for many that means taking some vacation time, relaxing and finally finding time for leisure activities.

At Hatley Park, it is not hard to see what leisure activities were available to the Dunsmuir family while at home. There were croquet and tennis lawns for the competitively sporty, stables filled with ponies for riding, forests teeming with game for hunting and well stocked ponds fishing. The Dunsmuirs had it all, and more besides.

In an era when women of wealth and status were not expected to work, the Dunsmuir daughters in particular were well versed in finding things to do. Well educated and involved in the arts, they performed in plays, in musical reviews and hosted many lavish parties and charity fundraising events.

Elinor Dunsmuir was born in 1887 as the fifth of ten children and received her education in Europe. She studied music in Dresden and became an accomplished composer and pianist. One of her passions was book collecting, and many of her books are in the museum collection at Royal Roads. Her taste in books was eclectic, showing an interest in the unorthodox and bohemian, as well as classical literature and religion.

Book collecting really took off in the 18th and 19th centuries. More than a matter of mere acquisition, it grew into an entire sub-culture. Collectors, both self-identified and professional began to seek each other out – some even formed societies. One such bibliophile was a man named Shane Leslie. As an Irish aristocrat and politician, he had access to the libraries of many of the old estates in England and Ireland, and was able to negotiate great deals for rare books. A fairly prolific author himself, it appears that he and Elinor were acquainted, as Elinor’s book collection contains several of his books, one of them a proof copy of a translation of Plato’s Symposium or Supper. The final published version is also in the collection and includes a handwritten note with his signature, suggesting that Elinor may have assisted in the publication process.

Further to the topic of leisure activities, inside one of Shane Leslie’s books in the museum collection is a folded page of The Spectator, a British political magazine started in 1828 and still in print today. The page is dated June 9, 1933 and contains a crossword partially completed by Elinor. Crosswords as we know them first became popular in the early 1920s and were distributed in American newspapers and magazines. They reached British papers in 1924 and were a regular feature by the 1930s. Elinor appears to have enjoyed the challenge.

The one guinea prize for solving the crossword is long gone, but if you’re looking for something to do while the sun shines, try picking up where Elinor left off! Also, look out for an exciting event in August here at Royal Roads University. The archives, in partnership with the West Shore Arts Council, will be hosting a screening of the film Whatever the Cost with a performance of some of Elinor’s original music by vocalist Elizabeth Gerow and pianist, Jannie Burdeti.

For more information about the museum and archives collection, contact Jenny Seeman in the archives, ext. 4122.