Victoria Theatres and the “Flu Ban” of 1918

Page 2 – Meet the audience, The Malon Family

Let’s meet our “audience”, a middle-aged, middle-income mother of two school-aged children. In August 1918,  Mrs. Helen Malon and children Yvonne (12) and Pierre (11) moved to 68 Burnside Road in Saanich, an easy walk or streetcar ride into the city’s many theatres. Mrs. Malon kept a diary of events from her daily life – cooking, cleaning, shopping and going to “shows.” (As adults, Pierre and Yvonne Malon were friends with my grandparents. Mrs. Malon’s diary has been shared Pierre’s daughter Joan Nicholson.)

Mrs. Malon and family, fall 1912. Yvonne at front, Pierre at right

Mrs. Malon’s diaries start in 1912 when she and the “babies” [Yvonne barely 6 and Pierre nearly 5] were about to move to Canada. On June 13 1912, the day before they sailed from Liverpool, the Malons went shopping, “then we went to the “cinema” show, much to the joy of the babies. We were very glad to sit down and rest and rather enjoyed some of the pictures. Yvonne made a running commentary of questions, much to the amusement of people round as some of the pictures were rather “broad”, they were hard to answer sometimes!”

Later, Mrs. Malon’s diaries give us an opportunity to explore what was showing in Victoria in the WWI era. Here are a couple of notable entries that specifically mention the names of shows.

June 2 1917 – In the evening Mrs. Warren and I went to the theatre to see “Intolerance”. Got back very late. (Advertisements in the local Victoria papers show that “Intolerance”, D.W. Griffith’s “Colossal Spectacle”, was showing at the Royal Victoria Theatre “All this week” twice daily at 2.30 and 8.15 with big symphonic orchestra and ladies’ choir.)

Advertisement for D.W. Griffith’s colossal $2,000,000 spectacle “Intolerance” and other notices for other shows in Victoria at the time such as a “Sparkling, Riotous, Mirth-Provoking” Keystone Comedy

February 26 1918 – Went to see the doctor and then saw “Aladdin”. The Dominion Theatre was showing the wonderful photodramatic production of “Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp” — “It would appear that magic was used in making this picture. The opening scene, displaying the city of Baghdad at sunset, is beautiful in itself. Men are seen praying and salaaming with their faces towards Mecca….(The Daily Colonist February 26 1918)

What was showing in Victoria in the weeks leading up to the “Flu”? Mrs. Malon mentions two incidents of going to “shows”. Note – She doesn’t always give the name of the show or the theatre, so we have to guess what might be attractive to children.

Tuesday September 10 1918- Fog early and chilly, turning hot later. Went down town in the morning. In the afternoon went to a picture show.

They may have been to the Variety Theatre to see “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea”. It was very popular in Victoria. On opening night (Monday September 9 1918), “every available seat was taken long before 8 o’clock and a large crowd waited patiently in the theatre lobby to gain admittance”. (The Daily Colonist September 10 1918.) “There is a terrifying combat fathoms deep, between Captain Nemo and a giant octopus crushing a pearl diver in its monster tentacles; positively the most thrilling spectacle ever photographed.” (The Daily Colonist September 8 1918) “While the submarine features are the ones which will create the most widespread interest, they are epoch-making in the realm of public entertainment, this celluloid drama will attract many for its beauty of sky and landscape.” (The Daily Colonist September 10 1918)

Victoria Daily Times September 9 1918 (shows starting that week)

Friday September 20 1918- Went down town in the morning. Also in the afternoon. Took children to see Dr. Raynor and to a picture show afterwards.

The Malon family may have gone to the Dominion Theatre, where William Farnum (“a popular Fox Star”) was starring in “True Blue”, “A Smashing Fighting Tale of the Rocky Mountains” where “two half brothers, ignorant of their relation to each other, are, through a strange series of incidents, brought together on a ranch in the West.”

Or maybe they went to Royal Victoria Theatre to see “The Claws of the Hun”, “A Series of Exciting Adventures which show how German Spies are Beat at Their Own Game” — Charles Ray plays a rich young man who is kept from joining the army by his invalid mother. “Then, broken-hearted, he gets a hand to play in the great game” when he learns about a German spy. “He beats the spies at their own game, wins the girl, a letter from the President and his mother’s permission to enlist.”

The Daily Colonist September 19 1918

Page 3 – The Theatres Go Dark