Craigdarroch Castle is a Designated National Historic Site and coined ‘Canada’s Castle’. Being from Ireland and with all the castles that we have in the country, I just knew I had to visit this place.
Craigdarroch Castle was built for Robert Dunsmuir, a Scottish immigrant coal baron. The castle was finally completed in 1890. Robert and his wife Joan had two sons, eight daughters and one child who passed away in infancy. Robert, unfortunately, passed away before the completion of the castle. His death caused much strife among his family as he had verbally promised his two sons that the castle would be left to them, but instead, he left his entire Estate and business holdings to Joan. The only people to ever live in the original 28-acre estate were his wife Joan, three of their daughters and two orphaned grandchildren.
Joan passed away in 1908 and left her Estate to her five surviving daughters, one son-in-law, and three of her grandchildren. In order to split the proceeds between the nine of them, the contents of the castle were sold in a three day auction. Since Joan’s death, the castle has been a military hospital, Victoria College, offices for the Victorian School Board, and the Victorian Conservatory of Music. Today it’s the Craigdarroch Castle Historic House Museum.
During the 1880s and 1890s, there was a revival of the Romanesque style of architecture. Robert commissioned architect Warren Heywood Williams of Portland, Oregon to design Craigdarroch Castle. Williams’s colleague Arthur L. Smith completed the project when he passed away. What became known as the “Richardsonian Romanesque” style can be seen throughout the castle. 11th and 12th century southern French, Spanish and Italian Romanesque characteristics are incorporated into this style.
From the outside, the castle reminded me of a fairytale castle with the turrets, almost ‘Walt Disneyesque’. Walking around I felt an air of mystery about the place, not in a spooky way, but that there was a lot to explore, even beyond what the public was allowed to see. I found it sad that the contents had been auctioned off but was delighted to discover that some pieces of furniture were original to the house, like the table and chairs in the dining room. I loved the grandness and opulence of it, it reminded me of Kylemore Abbey in Connemara. I kept imagining what it must have been like to live and work there, with the hustle and bustle of entertaining and holding dances and how everything had to be just so. Downton Abbey sprung to mind also. It was nice to view the servants’ rooms at the top to learn what life was like for them. I was in awe of the work that the conservationists and restorers put into maintaining the building. What sticks for me from the visit is the frame in the dance hall with the beautiful fans and the dance cards with gentlemen’s’ names written on them. There was stiff competition among ladies to get as many names on their card as they could by the end of the night.
Need To Know
The castle is situated at 1050 Joan Crescent, Victoria, B.C. V8S 3L5. From Downtown Victoria it’s about a 35 minute walk. The castle is open daily from 10am – 4.30pm with extended opening hours from 15th June to 6th September, 9am to 7pm. Admission is $13.95 per adult. Once you’ve paid you’ll receive two leaflets, one a map and the other a history of the castle and you’ll be asked to clean your shoes on the shoe cleaner before entering the main hall. Once you enter the main hall there’s a guide waiting to welcome you. They will give a brief explanation of the castle and what’s permitted and not permitted. The tour is self-guided but there are volunteers dotted around the place if you have any questions. They’re super friendly and very knowledgeable. Oh, and photographs are allowed.
Craigdarroch was a fascinating castle for me in terms of history and architecture. Have you been to Craigdarroch Castle? If you have, what did you think of it?