A Castle With No King

Canada #8 Craigdorrach Castle, Victoria BC

When Robert and Joan Dunsmuir began construction of their palatial mansion in 1887, they probably didn’t intend it to be known as a castle. But with its prominent position high above the city of Victoria, its imposing towers and ornamented gables, Craigdorrach Castle seems the perfect name for this imposing building.

Originally from Scotland, Robert Dunsmuir had several successful businesses in the second half of the nineteenth century. The fortune he made through coal, railways, shipping and timber was reflected in the lavish interior of the castle, including intricately detailed woodwork, beautiful stained glass windows and the latest modern conveniences of the time.

From the rooms on the fourth floor, including the tower high in the roof of the castle, the family enjoyed expansive views across Victoria and the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the Olympus Mountains in Washington State, USA.

Robert Dunsmuir never enjoyed the final result of his prosperity; he died in 1890 before the house was completed. Joan lived there with three of her daughters and two grandchildren until her death in 1908. Then the castle became a military hospital before being used as the site of Victoria College, the forerunner of the University of Victoria. After a third reincarnation as the Victoria Conservatory of Music, the castle was preserved as a museum.

First opening to the public in 1969, Craigdorrach Castle is now a Designated National House Historic Site. Every year, more than 140,000 people come to see the castle, experiencing for themselves the luxurious surroundings Robert Dunsmuir never did.

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40 thoughts on “A Castle With No King

  1. I am not a big fan of transplanted architectural styles, and I don’t like the Gothic pointy-ness or the rough-faced stone that is too even and well laid out to look natural or appealing. When we lived in Edinburgh there were mini-versions of this kind of house in the streets near us. It brings out a desire to think of phrases like ‘dark and forbidding’ and to imagine they are just the kind of place for the setting of Stevenson’s ‘Kidnapped’

    Architecture aside, this has taught me something – that the Puget Sound is the international border between Canada and the USA. I never knew. It adds a piquancy to the idea of looking out from Seattle on one side or Vancouver Island on the other.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had the thought while we were there that I wouldn’t fancy walking around inside at night with just candles for light. That would be a bit creepy.
      Yes, we were intrigued to learn that the border goes across the sea between the mainland and the islands. Coming from Australia, where we are so isolated, it was interesting to be able to see another country across the water. On our ferry ride between Vancouver and Victoria, the route actually crosses over and back again.

      Liked by 1 person

    • That’s the reason the family didn’t keep it after Joan died. It was far too expensive to maintain and also to heat in winter. Such extravagance and, in the end, it wasn’t wanted. At least now, it provides employment and also enjoyment for those who visit.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Beautiful. Of course windows are wonderful with sun streaming through. Perfect views. Really like second photo looking up with all the polished wood. Too bad Robert didnโ€™t see his home completed. Imagine being a child in that home. So many secret places. Did you have time to visit Washington State during this trip?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It must have been so interesting to explore this old house. As a person who has done a bit of leadlight in the past, I was particularly interested to see those photos…much more intricate than any of my efforts.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: A Loo With a View – The Canadian Edition | The Eternal Traveller

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