On the third floor of Craigdarroch Castle, we find a feature not often associated with the 1890’s: a primitive intercom, then called "speaking tubes". A dumbwaiter, a small manually operated lift, allows items to be transported between basement, kitchen, and upper floors. There’s also a laundry chute in the third floor hall, terminating in the basement laundry room. Beyond these "modern" amenities, the castle had gas and electric lighting, indoor plumbing, central heating, telephones, and even a burglar alarm system! Not too shabby for the turn of the century.
Joan Dunsmuir, three daughters, and two grandchildren began living in Craigdarroch in 1890. Lavishly furnished bedrooms and sitting rooms belonging to family and more modest servants’ quarters are found on the second and third floors.
But it’s on the fourth floor that you’ll discover the crowning jewel of Craigdarroch, its tower. Rounded doors fit perfectly in circular walls. The spectacular views include downtown Victoria, James Bay, and further out, Mt. Douglas, Mt. Tolmie, and Little Saanich Mountain. Colorful imported English tiles decorate the tower floor. Talk about feeling "above it all"!
Much of the fourth floor is a wide-open dance hall, with an 1879 Steinway piano which visitors with musical ability are invited to play. The self-guided tour takes you up all four floors on one side of the castle, and back down again on the other. Second and third floors house fully and partially restored rooms, as well as public washrooms and volunteer offices.
Specialized rooms are encountered on the first floor on the way out. In front of me, a (presumably) Canadian host was explaining some of the rooms to his foreign guest. "This is the smoking room"… "a room, just for smoking - ?" "Yes, and only for men. And this, is the breakfast room…" "You mean, this room, only for breakfast???" "Yes, the larger dining room was upstairs…" Though opulent and elegant, it does seem a bit redundant.
Exit is through the museum store, formerly the kitchen. As Bob was finishing up his tour inside, I wandered around the historic structure and thought about the castle, its creators and inhabitants. Robert Dunsmuir, self-made laird and entrepreneur, didn’t live to see Craigdarroch’s completion. Its architect, Warren Williams, died only four months after construction began.
Joan Dunsmuir, who lived at Craigdarroch until her death in 1908, reportedly had a strained relationship with her husband already years before his death, and ongoing conflicts and legal issues with her two sons. Delaying marrying his divorced mistress for 20 years due to his mother’s disapproval and financial clout, younger son Alex died only 6 weeks after finally wedding his lover. Older son James eventually became premier of British Columbia, but due to conflict with his mother over Alex’s will, they never spoke to one another again.
Craigdarroch is not handicap accessible.
Open daily 10AM to 4:30PM. Extended hours June 15 – Labor Day 9AM to 7PM.
Rates: $11.50CD adults, $10.75CD seniors, $7.50CD students, $3.50CD age 6-18, free 5 and under.