From the Archives: Real estate in 1938

Jenny Seeman

The archives at Royal Roads University is a fascinating collection that covers not only university corporate records, but also collections from the Military College and the Dunsmuir era. Records in the archives come in all sorts of formats. From electronic and paper documents, to photographs and sound recordings, there is a huge variety of media. There are also a few films.

One particularly interesting movie was created in 1938 and was used to help market the Hatley Park property. Upon Laura Dunsmuir’s death in 1937, she left instructions in her will that the estate and all its contents were to be sold. This was a long process and during that time, the home and surrounding property was managed by a skeleton staff of about ten people. There was a monthly transfer from the estate of Laura Dunsmuir to Hatley Park of $1,500 to cover costs, which would represent about $26,000 today, so you can imagine that the trust company managing Laura’s accounts were keen to sell.

The film was one of the ways they tried to generate interest in the sale, several sets of photos were also commissioned and articles in magazines such as Country Life tried to promote the luxurious lifestyle available to those with the budget. The film was distributed in the US and the UK in April of 1939.

Photo by G. Maves. One of several that were commissioned to advertise the property.

The following month, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited Vancouver and Victoria on the western leg of their cross-Canada tour. Taking a break from the constant view of journalists and photographers, the gates were firmly closed behind them and they spent a full afternoon at Hatley Park, wandering the house and gardens, and picnicking on the lawns. Laura would have been pleased to learn that they remembered that pleasant and peaceful afternoon for many years and followed with interest what happened to the property after it was sold. The week after the royal visit, June 1-5, 1939, a room-by-room auction was held for the contents of the house and many valuable items were sold off at bargain prices.

In the end, despite the attempts to market it as a family home, the Canadian government purchased the property for $75,000 to create a naval training establishment, HMCS Royal Roads. The trust company managing the sale met with representatives from the Ministry of Defence in Ottawa in April of 1940 and the sale was completed in December of 1940.

It is hard to say whether the film generated any interest in the property at the time, but it is certainly valuable to us today as it gives a wonderful idea of what the gardens and grounds looked like. The film was created by an amateur film maker, Douglas Flintoff.

Born in Exeter, England in 1882, Flintoff initially apprenticed as an artist in the printing trade and became a master printer in Leeds. There, he opened a cinema in 1913 where he introduced the concept of children’s matinees. He also solved one of the common problems in early movie theatres, where films were typically projected onto a large fabric sheets mounted on a stage. The film would often be projected not only onto the sheet, but also the wall behind, creating a shadow effect. Flintoff’s simple solution was to coat the wall behind with a flat, white paint and project straight onto it. His theatre soon became well known for the quality of the projection. During the First World War, Flintoff was a member of the Royal Engineers and assisted his commanding officers by projecting aerial flight simulations onto the ceiling to help them understand the impact of aircraft and airborne weaponry in modern warfare.

Douglas Flintoff came to Canada in 1927 with his family, settling first in North Saanich and then Victoria. He continued work as a commercial artist and developed his interest in film making. He formed the Atlas Educational Film Company and made movies for BC schools, the first being a short film about the logging industry. His plan was to create around 30 films about various Canadian industries that could be used not only in schools but sold abroad too. He claimed they would be educational, of commercial value to the province, and would raise the international profile of BC and Canada.

He also toured church groups, Women’s Institutes, and hospitals giving lectures, comedy performances, and performing songs with accompanying film reels. By the early 1940s, he partnered with Godfrey Hirst to open a photo-craft store on Broad Street. They sold photographic equipment and movie cameras as well as providing expert service and repair.

As a performer and a film enthusiast, it is not surprising that Douglas Flintoff also pursued acting roles in motion pictures. This still is from a movie called “Murder is News”  (1937), shot in Victoria.

In 1934, he started the Victoria branch of the Amateur film club. It was a very active group, initially 8 people, it grew to 51 by the time he died in the mid-1960s. His film at Hatley Park was just one of many visits to the property by the film club to make movies.

The real estate film was not the first movie to be shot at Hatley Park, and certainly wasn’t the last. Contact the archives for more information about movies filmed on site since the 1930s, including less well-known titles such as, “The Mystery of Harlow Manor” and “Crimson Paradise”. 

The 1938 Real Estate movie by Douglas Flintoff is available on the library website.