Forgotten Labour Series:Feeding the Dunsmuirs

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jhumphries
Dunsmuir dining table

Among stories of the prominent Dunsmuir family that called Hatley Park home, are the lesser-known stories of the staff who fed them, attended to their children and worked as their chauffeurs.

Ah Hoy was one such cook. For about five decades, Hoy lived with and worked for the Dunsmuirs. According to the 1911 census, he worked an 84 hour work week at Hatley Park, 52 weeks a year earning an annual salary of $900 in 1910, roughly $0.20 an hour. Today that would be about $19,500 a year at $4.35 an hour. For context, other Chinese labourers workers at the time in labour positions were working 60 hour work weeks making $0.15 an hour.

Although Hoy worked more hours in the week given the nature of his role, he was paid adequately in relation to other staff, most of whom were of European descent. The highest paid Dunsmuir staff at the time was Van Maastricht, the chauffeur who worked 60 hours per week year round, earning an annual salary of $1800 in 1910, amounting to about $0.57 an hour. The next highest paid was William Packe, the butler, working a 60-hour work week brought in an annual salary of $1000 in 1910, about $0.32 an hour.

It’s unknown when exactly Hoy was born and when he entered Canada. We can estimate that he was born between 1866 and 1870 and immigrated to Canada between 1885 and 1891. During this period, he would likely have paid the $50 head tax. Unfortunately, we do not have a connection to Hoy’s family or descendants (if he has them) but through archival records, we can piece together snippets of his life and work at Hatley Castle.

In his book, “My Borrowed Life”, James Audain, son of Sarah Byrd (Byrdie) and Guy Audain and grandson of James and Laura Dunsmuir, said Hoy was one of the first people he would visit on arrival to Hatley Castle.

"When the Dunsmuirs finally left Government House to take up residence at Hatley Park I remember riding along the trail that later became the old Island Highway, to pay them a visit. The right miles from Foul Bay Road must have taken me a couple of hours, for I let Brownie go along at a leisurely pace. One there, I was able to tether Brownie near the Kitchen door and probably asked Packe, the butler, or John Jamison the footman, to keep an eye on him. Then as usual, I went in to pay a visit to Hoy, the aged Chinese who ruled over the Kitchen, and for whom I had a special admiration as he always had some tasty delicacy stored away to give me" (p. 18).

On August 23, 1913 Ivan Chinnery wrote in his fishing journal about a trip he was to take with the Dunsmuirs. “At the last moment Muriel [one of the Dunsmuir daughters] decided that she preferred Hoi’s cream cake to the yacht cook’s chocolate buns and so we left her sorrowfully on the doorstep at Hatley."

It is in these stories that we can gleam a small sense of the impact Hoy had on Hatley Park. As of now we do not know what happened to Ah Hoy, where he went, if he married, whether he stayed in Canada or returned home. Our hope is that one day we will be able to add to his story and his relationship to this place. For now we will just have to keep following the trail of breadcrumbs.

Visit the BC Archives to see a photo of a Chinese servent believed to be Ah Hoy.