From the Archives: October transitions

Jenny Seeman

October is a beautiful time of year in Victoria. Despite the chill in the air, the gardens still display a rich array of autumnal colours as the deciduous trees ready themselves for winter. With so much coniferous forest, the green never really leaves us, and the natural environment still offers bounty, even as the seasons transition and the harvest comes to an end.

Photo credit: Bev Hall Collection

October has seen many significant transitions in our built heritage too. On October 21, 1942, HMCS Royal Roads, as the government owned site was initially known, was decommissioned as a ship and was recommissioned as Royal Canadian Naval College, Royal Roads. The celebratory events took place in the shadow of a new construction project on the site and it wasn’t until October of 1943 that cadets were able to move in to the new residence block, now known as Grant Building.

HMCS Royal Roads band on recommissioning day, October 21, 1942

Further back to over a century ago, 1908 was a big year of transition at Hatley Park. By October, construction of an enormous new home for James and Laura Dunsmuir was in full swing under the leadership of contractor, Thomas Catterall. The archives has a small collection of photos from the Catterall family documenting this remarkable period.

Construction July 8, 1908 and Thomas Catterall. Photo credit: Laura Catterall Ferguson Collection

Thomas Catterall was a well-known Victoria contractor and had worked with James and Laura Dunsmuir to build their previous home on the Gorge, Burleith. Ada Catterall, pictured in many of the photographs, married Harry, the son of Thomas Catterall, in 1901. Harry worked alongside his father on the Hatley Park project and he and Ada lived onsite during the construction project.

"Where we camped from March 5, 1908 to December 20, 1909, Hatley Park, Colwood B.C." Photo credit: Laura Catterall Ferguson Collection.

Ada and Harry no doubt met because of their connection to the Dunsmuir family. Ada’s older sisters, Elizabeth and Florence, both worked in the Dunsmuir household in the 1890s and when the family later lived at Burleith, Ada also worked as a housemaid. Her father, Charles Gladding, was a gardener to the Dunsmuirs for many years. In 1901, almost 24, Ada may have seen Harry at Burleith on some errand for his father, and from there a romance blossomed.

Their wedding took place at St. Saviour’s Church, on November 5, just one week after the Dunsmuir’s eldest daughter, Byrdie, was married to Guy Audain in the same church. While Ada and Harry’s marriage did receive some coverage in the newspapers for its beautiful floral displays, it was the lavish wedding of Byrdie and Guy Audain that was still the talk of the town. In fact, looking at the descriptions of the two weddings, it is possible that the extravagant floral arrangements of the Dunsmuir wedding were put to good use the following week. The Daily Colonist on October 30, under the announcement that “Captain Audain and Miss Dunsmuir made happy for life”, enthused about the pretty green and white floral displays in the church: “…Suspended from the central arch of the chancel screen by white satin ribbons was a large bell of closely woven chrysanthemums, with a large snowball-like bloom dangling, like a tongue, from the bell…” The Gladding-Catterall coverage a week later describes a reception, held at the Gladding’s new residence on Craigflower Road (near Burleith), where “in the main hall was a large chrysanthemum bell”. Perhaps being father of the bride and gardener to the Dunsmuirs had its advantages!

Also featured in the Catterall photos are the children of Ada and Harry: son Tommie, and daughters, Helen and Laura. Tommie Catterall as a young man in the 1920s and 1930s also worked for the Dunsmuirs, performing various odd jobs around the estate.  

Tommie Catterall as a young man. Photo credit: Laura Catterall Ferguson collection.

Finally, this photo is a great view of the castle roof construction, but also has a curious caption:

The caption reads: “Thanksgiving day, November 9th,’08”. While Thanksgiving has been a national holiday in Canada since 1879, the date was not fixed as the second Monday in October until 1957. Prior to this, the date would be announced each year by the federal government. After World War I, there was a period when Armistice Day and Thanksgiving were observed on the same day: the Monday in the week of November 11. However, in 1931, the two observances were separated and Armistice Day became known as Remembrance Day.  According to the photo caption, Thanksgiving in 1908 was observed on Monday, November 9. The people in the picture are Ada, Lilly Griffiths (Ada’s friend), Harry Catterall, Mr. P. Eve (a family friend) and Tommie Catterall.

If you have any questions about the collections in the archives, please contact Jenny Seeman, ext. 4122. Happy Thanksgiving!