Rita Hayworth and Doreen MacGregor in a production still from Columbia Pictures film, Convicted, shot at the Willows Park Studio in 1938. (Gary Wilcox Collection)

Oak Bay was the original Hollywood North

Fourteen films were shot at Willows Park Studio in the 1930s

There was a time when Hollywood star Rita Hayworth worked – and played – in Oak Bay.

Chalk it up as another forgotten fact about Oak Bay’s first 112 years – when Oak Bay was B.C.’s original Hollywood North.

From 1933 to 1938 there were 14 films shot in Oak Bay.

Former Oak Bay resident Gary Wilcox, 76, spent a lot of time researching the topic. Wilcox’s family moved to Oak Bay in the fall of 1951, to a home across from the old Willows Fairgrounds. As a boy, he would walk across the open meadow with foundations from the old fairground buildings. But it wasn’t until the last 20 years that the Vancouver resident, and historian, revisited the Willows Fairgrounds history and dug up several books worth of tales on Oak Bay.

READ MORE: Film commission pushes for Greater Victoria film studio

“It started when Britain changed its film act to protect its film industry in 1927,” explained Wilcox. “They created a quota system.”

The Willows Ice Arena burning down in 1944. It originally served as the Willows Fairground Horse Show Pavilion, and then as the Willows Park Studio from 1933-1938, before being converted to an ice arena in 1941. (Gary Wilcox Collection)

The rule was 20 per cent of the U.S. films had to be British, and on those movies, 75 per cent of the wages and the shooting had to be British. However, a Commonwealth country qualified for these rulings.

Enter Victoria film entrepreneur Kenneth Bishop. He converted the Willows Fairground Horse Show Pavilion into a sound stage called the Willows Park Studio.

He started in 1933 with his own film company but his first two productions failed to pan out as he had hoped, Wilcox said. So Bishop enticed Hollywood companies to take advantage of the loophole and film in Oak Bay, using his studio.

A run of 12 Hollywood features, known as “quota quickies,” were filmed there from 1933 to 1038. They only took a month to shoot and cost about $40,000 or $50,000 to produce.

Hayworth was here in 1938 to film two features, Special Inspector and Convicted. It wasn’t until a few years later that Hayworth really made it. Other up-and-coming young stars of the time also filmed here.

Hollywood did come back for a major picture in 1942 called Commandos Strike at Dawn. It used the Saanich Peninsula as a Norwegian fjord, featured big names, and was nominated for an Academy Award for the musical score.

The Willows building was converted to an ice arena in 1941 but burned down in 1944, just as the Patrick Arena did in 1929.

reporter@oakbaynews.com


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

North Saanich resident fears for pedestrians near neighbourhood roundabout

Gerald Donaldson also frustrated with driving behaviour in McTavish roundabout

Claremont Secondary is plotting the biggest Halloween party in town

School’s Screamfest event marks 11 years in Saanich

First woman appointed rector at Esquimalt Anglican church since 1866 consecration

Gail Rodger is the 32nd rector at St. Peter and St. Paul Anglican parish

Trudeau concludes re-election campaign at Victoria pub

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau makes his final campaign appearance

VIDEO: Greater Victoria, here’s the news you missed this weekend

Camera licker, wind gusts and rare bird make headlines this weekend

BC Ferries crew member taken to hospital after getting struck by bow doors

Two sailings between Horseshoe Bay and Departure Bay were cancelled

Greta Thunberg meets with First Nations chief in Fort McMurray

Thunberg has turned her protest against climate change into a global movement

Canucks hang on for 3-2 win over Rangers in New York

Vancouver scores three times in first period

More beef products recalled due to possible E. coli contamination

The food safety watchdog has been investigating possible E. coli 0157:H7

B.C. VIEWS: How to get the best deal on your ICBC car insurance

ICBC slowly being dragged into the 21st century

Pot legalization has gone ‘well’, but ‘yellow flags’ on vaping: task force chair

Canada legalized cannabis for non-medical use on Oct. 17, 2018,

Most Read