It’s funny how many people I came across in Victoria who live there yet haven’t been to Craigdarroch Castle. After all, this Canadian National Historic Site sits atop Fort Street, a brisk 20-minute walk up from Victoria’s landmark harbour.
On my recent trip, I decided that a visit to the 39-room castle was in order. While city tours do include this attraction as part of a package, I opted to go solo and make my way to Craigdarroch for a self-guided visit.
Constructed between 1887 and 1890, Craigdarroch Castle was built for coal magnate Robert Dunsmuir. Craigdarroch refers to “rocky, oak place” in Gaelic. Dunsmuir wanted to show off his wealth by building this massive Victorian mansion on the top of the city, using internationally-sourced building components.
Spanish mahogany, Hawaiian koa, and other exotic woods such as walnut, rosewood, jarra and oak are all used throughout the 21 acre estate, now diminished to a city-respectable 1.75 acre lot. Back in the day, visitors to the castle could enjoy walking along several paths, a stream, and meadow.
The curious door is actually made from curved wood; you’ll notice this one-of-a-kind door the moment you walk inside the castle.
Looking up inside the entrance leads your eyes to an imposing staircase and beautiful stained glass windows, some of the finest in North America.
Robert Dunsmuir was originally from Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, born into a family of coal masters (renting mines from land-owning aristocracy). His future wife Joanna was born in the same town. They married in 1847; at that time, Joanna shortened her name to to Joan Olive.
They took a three year leave to work for Hudson’s Bay Company, sailing from Scotland around Cape Horn to Vancouver Island in a voyage that lasted 214 days. There’s a long, interesting story that leads in so many directions, including the Castle’s later use as a military hospital for WWI veterans, Victoria College, and the Victoria Conservatory of Music. The saddest tale is that Robert died over a year before the castle’s completion, never able to enjoy the fruits of his labour.
When the Conservatory finally vacated in the late 1970’s, the Castle was converted into a historic house museum. The Craigdarroch Castle Historical Museum Society purchased the property from the City of Victoria, and currently maintains a staff of 14 with well over 100 volunteers, continually serving to restore this precious landmark.
As you walk through the rooms, there’s so many details to admire, from the lighting to the windows. Victorian-era furnishings and costumes add to the atmosphere, while a few rooms remain bare and ready for restoration.
Luckily, the Castle receives over 150,000 visitors annually, helping to cover costs. Craigdarroch Castle is located at 1050 Joan Crescent in Victoria.