Like many locals, I drive by Craigdarroch Castle on a daily basis, always intrigued and curious, but too busy to stop and be a tourist in my own town. When the invitation came to watch a screening of a documentary about the castle, with reception to follow at the equally intriguing Union Club, I couldn’t wait to seize the opportunity. I am so glad I did.
The documentary begins with a glimpse in to the history of the Dunsmuir family, a rags-to-riches story that resulted in one of B.C.’s wealthiest families. Originally from Scotland, Robert Dunsmuir is in Canada on contract with the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1850. Five years later, he independently discovers Vancouver Island’s richest coal stream to become Victoria’s Coal Baron. In the following years, Robert acts as a government representative and branches in to other industries such as iron, sandstone and real-estate. His sons help with the family business and his son James eventually becomes Lieutenant Governor of B.C. and even builds his own castle, Hatley Castle, now home to Royal Roads University. Construction on Robert’s Craigdarroch began in 1887, though Robert would not see it in completion as he passed away in 1989, a year before it was finished. The castle stayed in the Dunsmuir family until Roberts’ widow passed in 1908.
Since the time of the Dunsmuirs, Craigdarroch has played many roles in Victoria history. First serving as a military hospital for many years, then a home to Victoria College, which eventually developed into the University of Victoria. The school district used the castle for administration offices and the Victoria Conservatory of Music found a home there for a short while as well. Now it has been restored and returned to its original splendor and is open to the public for viewing and events.
Through the use of commentary, interviews and, my personal favourite, old images of Victoria, the documentary painted a vivid picture of every stage of the Castles’ long life. It also provided ample information on the development of Victoria as a growing city. Craigdarroch Castle is open to the public daily from 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and the documentary, Victoria’s Castle, will be available for purchase mid-June. Be sure to check out the Castles’ website for special events, tour information and more.