They danced all night! That was exactly the idea which prompted Colin and Florence Forrest to build the Royal Oak Inn…
The Forrests had recently arrived from Shanghai, and together with local partners Dave Burnett and Vera Levey, they envisaged an English-style tea and dance room overlooking Royal Oak village. The hill-top site afforded scenic vistas over the rolling farmlands of Saanich, but was also strategically positioned at the junction of the roads to Butchart Gardens and the new airport. The “tea room” opened on May 30, 1939.
Victoria architect Hubert Savage provided designs for a large Tudor revival cottage, complete with thatched roof, eyebrow dormers, leaded windows, and massive masonry chimneys. The building nestled into the brow of hill, framed within an English dry-stone terraced rock garden, fruit orchards and Garry oaks. Savage was a good choice for an architect. He had worked with Victoria’s famed arts-and-crafts style architect Samuel Maclure and built numerous Oak Bay and Uplands residences.
A dominant feature of the building is its large open hall, itself derivative of centuries of English building practice which originated in the hall-houses of the Tudor era. Large brick fireplaces, a minstrel’s gallery and banks of leaded-glass windows are contained within the huge exposed “cruck” timber frame, a building technology which owes its origin to medieval barns and churches.
While briefly the after-hours haunt of newly recruited air force officers training at Pat Bay, unfortunately the Forrest’s business was unable to survive the strictures of wartime rationing and general austerity. In late 1940 the Inn was sold to recent English immigrants John and Katherine Maltwood. The Maltwoods were looking for a house reminiscent of a country house they had owned in Somerset, and compatible with their extensive collection of early English oak furniture and oriental antiques. The main function of the house however, was to provide a setting for Katherine Maltwood’s own sculpture works.
Artist, antiquarian, scholar, collector and world-traveller, Katherine had been trained in London at the Slade School of Art. From the 1890s to the 1920s, she practiced as a successful scholar, maintaining a studio in Kensington, London. Her influences were as wide as her interests, from John Ruskin and the English Arts-and-Crafts movement, current French Symbolists and Auguste Rodin to the ancient monumental sculptural traditions of Egypt, India and South America. The Maltwoods renamed their house “The Thatch”. To accommodate Katherine’s ongoing artistic and writing activities they added a two story studio on the north side connected to the main building by a passageway from the minstrel’s gallery. From their Saanich “manor house” the Maltwoods continued to collect local art, receive visitors from around the world, and entertain an ever-widening circle of local friends, writers and artists.
In 1961 Katherine Maltwood died, leaving her house and collection to the people of British Columbia. John died in 1967 but not before seeing the museum turned over to the University of Victoria in 1964. Growth of the collections, increased use of them for teaching purposes and urbanization of Saanich prompted the University to sell the property and re-establish the museum at the Gordon Head campus in 1977.