Nestled in the Douglas fir and Garry oak woodlands at the entrance to Knockan Hill Park on Burnside Road is an arts and crafts cottage built in the 1930s for Thomas and Maude Hall.
The house, Stranton Lodge, was designed by noted Saanich architect Hubert Savage and built by contractor Donald McKay Lindsay in 1934. Situated on a rocky knoll with views to Portage Inlet, the small house was designed to integrate with the natural landscape. Behind the property the Garry oak meadows and native plants of Knockan Hill Park extend, while to the front is a showpiece garden created by Maude Hall and garden designer Arthur Lahmer.
Lahmer designed many gardens around Victoria during the 1930s and 1940s and documented his work in a series of diaries. His nursery business was located on Burnside Road at Eaton Avenue, not far from the Halls. A 1940s catalogue for Lahmer’s Nurseries lists “choice and unusual flowering shrubs, dwarf conifers, fruit trees, evergreens and roses.” Rhododendrons were priced at $3, rose bushes at 75 cents, and a two-year-old cherry tree could be purchased for $2.50. Plants were sourced locally (some from Layritz Nurseries and Butchart Gardens) as well as internationally.
Along the sloping landscape at Stranton Lodge, Lahmer constructed a series of cascading pools filled with water-lilies, aquatic plants and gold fish. Areas were set aside for lawns, flower beds and flowering trees, connected by terraces, walkways, stone steps and dry stone walls. Shrubs and flowers were selected for their size and colour to complement the season and the overall harmony of the design. Garden vistas and distant views were an important element of the overall design.
With climbing roses, honeysuckle and lilac, it was an English garden adapted to the local environment.
The Halls had emigrated from England and settled in Saanich in 1912. Both were trained as school teachers and Thomas Hall served as principal at Burnside School and George Jay School. During the First World War he served overseas with the 103rd Battalion and 29th Battalion and was wounded in 1917. He returned to France with other Canadian veterans in 1936 for the unveiling of the Vimy Memorial.
Maude Hall was active in the IODE and Women’s Institute in Saanich. She documented the development of the garden in photographs now preserved at Saanich Archives. The photographs include handwritten captions describing the plantings. Many images include her beloved dog “Skookum”.
After Thomas’ death in 1961, Maude continued to live at Stranton Lodge, eventually selling the 8.74 acres to Saanich in 1973. In May of that year, Mayor Hugh Curtis wrote to Maude to convey his delight at the important addition to the municipality’s park system. She responded to express her hope that “many people will enjoy the park and care for it lovingly.”
This important heritage site continues to be well cared for through the efforts of the Friends of Knockan Hill Park Society, Saanich Heritage Foundation and Saanich Parks.
Caroline Duncan is the archivist at Saanich Archives. You can explore Saanich history online at saanicharchives.ca.