Craigdarroch Castle, situated in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, stands as a testament to Victorian-era grandeur and Scottish baronial architecture. Designated as a National Historic Site of Canada, it carries immense cultural and architectural importance within the city of Victoria.[1]

Craigdarroch Castle
Viewed from the south
Craigdarroch Castle is located in British Columbia
Craigdarroch Castle
Location in British Columbia
Established1890 (construction), 1979 (museum)
Location1050 Joan Crescent
Victoria, British Columbia
V8S 3L5
Coordinates48°25′21.5″N 123°20′37.5″W / 48.422639°N 123.343750°W / 48.422639; -123.343750
TypeHistoric house museum (Victorian era/Victorian architecture)
Visitors150,000 per year
ArchitectWarren Heywood Williams and Arthur Lorenzo Smith
Public transit accessVictoria Regional Transit System #11, #14 and #22 bus
Websitewww.thecastle.ca
Official nameCraigdarroch National Historic Site of Canada
Designated1992

History

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Construction of Craigdarroch Castle commenced in the late 19th century, with the vision of serving as a luxurious abode for the esteemed coal tycoon Robert Dunsmuir and his spouse, Joan. Unfortunately, Robert's demise in April 1889, prior to the castle's completion, resulted in the responsibility falling upon his sons, Alexander and James. Notably, James spearheaded the construction of another grand edifice, Hatley Castle, located in Colwood, British Columbia.

Upon Joan Dunsmuir's passing, the estate, through her heirs, transitioned into the possession of land speculator Griffith Hughes, who subdivided the land for prospective development. In a bid to invigorate sales amid a sluggish real estate market, Hughes devised a raffle with the castle as the grand prize. Solomon Cameron emerged as the fortunate winner, but subsequently relinquished ownership due to financial hardships. Consequently, the Bank of Montreal assumed ownership in 1919.

Craigdarroch Castle underwent diverse roles over the years, serving as a Military Hospital, a College, an administrative headquarter for the Victoria School of Board, and a Conservatory of Music, before its transformation into a historical museum in 1979. Presently, it is under the stewardship of the Craigdarroch Castle Historical Museum Society, a private non-profit organization, and attracts approximately 150,000 visitors annually. The castle attained the prestigious designation of a National Historic Site in 1992, a testament to its enduring cultural significance. Throughout its existence, Craigdarroch Castle has been intertwined with the narratives of six principal entities, each leaving an indelible mark on its rich history.

Castle History

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  • 1887-1890 Construction of Craigdarroch Castle
  • 1890-1908 Occupied by Joan Dunsmuir
  • 1910-1919 Owned by Solomon Cameron
  • 1919-1921 Craigdarroch Military Hospital
  • 1921-1946 Victoria College
  • 1946-1968 Victoria School Board
  • 1969-1979 Victoria Conservatory of Music
  • 1969-Now Historic House Museum

Museum Operation

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Viewed from the west

Today, Craigdarroch Castle operates as a museum dedicated to preserving and showcasing the area's rich history and cultural heritage. Managed by the Craigdarroch Castle Historical Society, the museum offers guided tours and exhibits aimed at educating visitors about its storied past.

The museum relies on revenue generated from admissions, sales at the gift shop, and contributions from donors and members to sustain its operations and fund restoration efforts. Craigdarroch Castle is a testament to the dedication of its supporters and volunteers and epitomizes its significance as a historical and cultural landmark in Victoria and Canada.

Architecture

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Craigdarroch Castle stands as a prime example of a bonanza castle, emblematic of the opulent residences constructed for individuals who amassed wealth during North America's industrial transformation. Built between 1887 and 1890, the castle's construction cost remains uncertain, with contemporary estimates ranging from $185,000 to $500,000, encompassing grounds and land expenses.

Spanning approximately 25,000 square feet, the castle boasts 39 rooms, 17 fireplaces, and a tower accessed by 87 stairs. Situated on a 28-acre estate, the name "Craigdarroch," derived from Gaelic, translates to "rocky, oak place," aptly describing the Rockland neighborhood's Garry Oak meadow ecosystem surrounding the castle. The castle's grounds today encompass approximately 1.75 acres, including a spacious south lawn.

 
View from the Fourth Floor at Craigdarroch Castle during the Holiday Season

Designed by Warren Heywood Williams and Arthur Lorenzo Smith of Portland, Oregon, original building plans remain elusive, with only one known photo of the interior from the Dunsmuir's years. Noteworthy features include interior wood paneling and parquet floors, fabricated by the A.H. Andrews Company of Chicago, Illinois. Prefabricated elements, including stairs, doors, window frames, and 2,128 panels, were shipped from Chicago to Victoria for installation. The shutters were supplied by the Willer Blind Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The interior paneling in the main hall and staircase is white oak, likely sourced from land owned by the Andrews Lumber Company in Arkansas. Other woods used in the house include Spanish mahogany (in the Library), western red cedar (in the Porte Cochère entrance), cherry (in the Breakfast Room), Hawaiian koa (in the Drawing Room), and American ash (for the back stairs). Multi-patterned parquet strips throughout the house incorporate exotic woods such as ebony, rosewood, walnut, maple, holly, and teak. Additionally, Craigdarroch Castle boasts one of North America's finest collections of in-situ Victorian residential stained and leaded glass windows, crafted by the Pacific Art Glass Works of San Francisco. The castle also features an encaustic tile floor from the Minton Tile Company in England. Crafted using traditional techniques, these tiles exhibit intricate patterns and rich colours typical of the Victorian era. The meticulous craftsmanship contributes to the castle's architectural significance, offering visitors a glimpse into historical design trends. The flooring in the tower remains a notable feature of Craigdarroch Castle, showcasing its heritage and adding to its cultural value.

Example of the Drawing Room

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West Side of the Drawing Room - The term "drawing room" originates from the idea of withdrawing. It was here that the Dunsmuir daughters would retire after dinner.

The Drawing Room at Craigdarroch Castle served as a formal reception area for receiving guests, with a portion likely designated for more intimate family gatherings. The term "drawing room" originates from the idea of withdrawing after dinner, with ladies retiring to the drawing room before being joined by men later in the evening. Notably, the woman with a swan stained-glass in the room is a replica of the original one, based on an English oil painting titled "Odalisque," painted by Sir Frederic Leighton in 1862. The original stained-glass was unfortunately damaged by a snowball in 1927. The room's original hand-painted ceiling was painted over in 1935 when the Castle served as Victoria College. However, from 1995 to 2007, extensive restoration efforts were undertaken to remove five layers of house paint, revealing the original stenciled and hand-painted decoration. This meticulous restoration process involved sealing the original artwork with a coat of clear artist's varnish and conducting touch-up work as needed. It's believed that this room is the only one in the Castle with decorative painting on the ceiling. In the southeast corner of the room, a small section of the original stencil below the picture rail has been uncovered. This discovery facilitated the creation of a template for reproducing the stencil design throughout the room. Originally, the trim in the room would have featured a creamier color, with gold leaf accents limited to the edges of the acanthus designs. The floor of the Drawing Room is crafted from Hawaiian Koa wood, a material commonly used for guitars and ukuleles, adding to the room's unique ambiance. Throughout its history, this room has served various purposes, including as a recreation room for patients during the Hospital years, a classroom during the College years, and an office during the School Board years.

Artifacts

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Craigdarroch Castle Historical Society preserves a remarkable collection of over 9,000 artifacts dating back to the Victorian Era. Within this treasure trove approximately 10% are original to the Dunsmuirs. The remaining artifacts, meticulously selected, represent authentic reflections of the Victorian period, enriching the immersive experience of visitors exploring Craigdarroch Castle. A pivotal moment in the history of Craigdarroch Castle occurred during the auction held on June 21, 22, and 23, 1909, where the contents of the residence, known as the Dunsmuir family effects, were offered to the public over three captivating days. To guide potential buyers and capture the essence of the castle's opulence, a catalogue was meticulously crafted for the event. Published in Victoria, B.C. by auctioneer H.W. Davies, this catalogue served as a beacon of insight into the treasures awaiting acquisition. For the Craigdarroch Castle Historical Society, this auction catalogue became an invaluable tool in their ongoing mission to preserve and celebrate the castle's rich heritage. Leveraging its comprehensive documentation, the society embarked on a quest to reclaim scattered original artifacts or source suitable replacements, ensuring the continuity of the castle's historical narrative. Today, Craigdarroch Castle stands not only as a monument to Victorian splendor but also as a testament to the unwavering dedication of the Craigdarroch Castle Historical Society in safeguarding its legacy for generations to come.

Here are some examples of the artifacts

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Purse

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This purse was once owned by Laura Dunsmuir (née Surles), also known as Mrs. James Dunsmuir and used by her during the early 20th century.

The 14-karat gold mesh handbag is an exquisite artifact exemplifying opulence and refined craftsmanship from the Victorian Era. Adorned with an array of precious gemstones including diamonds, green gemstones (potentially olivines, dermantoid garnets, or tsavorite garnets), cabochon rubies, and baroque (saltwater) pearl pendants, this accessory epitomizes luxury. Of notable significance is the gold frame, intricately monogrammed with the initials "LD" for Laura Dunsmuir, also known as Mrs. James Dunsmuir. This personalized touch adds a unique historical dimension, linking the artifact to its esteemed owner and offering insights into the refined tastes of Victorian high society.

Grand Piano

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This very fine rosewood-cased piano was ordered from Steinway & Sons’ New York factory by Alexander Dunsmuir on November 16,1898.

The 6' 10" Steinway "B" piano, commissioned by Alexander Dunsmuir, is a testament to craftsmanship and musical artistry. Its rosewood veneer casing is adorned with intricate wood-marquetry patterns, depicting long swaged garlands, musical instruments, and vibrant leaves. The keyboard cover-face bears the manufacturer's name amidst delicate leaf motifs. Empire-style legs, decorated with marquetry, support the piano, while the hinged lid and top feature images of leaves and musical instruments. Notably, a scrolled sheet with music notation adds a final touch of elegance. This instrument exemplifies the intersection of art and music during its era.

 
This pedestal was used by the Dunsmuir family in Craigdarroch until its sale as lot #175 at Joan Dunsmuir's Executor's auction on June 21, 1909.

Stand Pedestal

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The cast and patinated bronze pedestal is characterized by a putto with a bare chest and arms, who supports a pillow on his head. Resting upon the pillow is a flat, multi-angled rectangular top. Notably, instead of traditional legs, the pedestal features an ornate, four-sided shaft, with each of the four feet adorned with a lion head motif. This intricate design adds a touch of classical elegance to the piece. Associated with Robert Dunsmuir and Joan Olive Dunsmuir, the pedestal likely held significant aesthetic and symbolic value within their collection.


Filming At Craigdarroch Castle

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The non-profit organization rents out all or part of the property for various occasions such as weddings, corporate engagements, and historic reenactment gatherings. However, the estate has also been used as a location or background for several movies and television shows, such as:

Books

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A selection of books related to Craigdarroch Castle and its history include: 

  • Craigdarroch Castle in 21 Treasures, by Moira Dann (2021), 144-page paperback book published by TouchWood Editions. ISBN 9781771513487 
  • The Dunsmuir Saga, by Terry Reksten (1991), 290-page paperback book published by Douglas and McIntyre Ltd. ISBN 9781550540703 
  • Glorious Victorian Homes 150 Years of Architectural History in British Columbia's Capital, by Nick Russell (2016), 232-page softcover book published by TouchWood Editions. ISBN 9781771511865 
  • Vancouver Island Scoundrels, Eccentrics and Originals Tales from the Library Vault, by Stephen Ruttan (2014), 192-page softcover book published by TouchWood Editions. ISBN 9781771510721
  • City in Colour Rediscovered Stories of Victoria's Multicultural Past, by May Q. Wong (2018), 352-page softcover book published by TouchWood Editions. ISBN 9781771512855
  • Craigdarroch Castle Canada's Castle, by Craigdarroch Castle (2014), softcover book published by the Craigdarroch Castle Historical Museum Society ISBN 9780993714504
  • Craigdarroch: The Story of Dunsmuir Castle, by Terry Reksten (1987), 110-page paperback book published by Orca Book Publishers ISBN 9781459823846 
  • Craigdarroch Military Hospital, by Bruce Davies (2019), 135-page paperback book published by the Craigdarroch Castle Historical Museum Society ISBN 9780993714511 
  • Through The Gate, by Kay Jordan (2020), 364-page paperback book published by Kay Publishing. ISBN 9781999227906 
  • Victoria's Castles, by Paul G. Chamberlain (2012), 131-page paperback book published by TouchWood Editions. ISBN 9780973431704

See also

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References

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