The Government House

The Government House has had a long history, although the building that stands there today is not the same as it has always been. In fact, there were two structures before the current “house,” both of which succumbed to fire. While an interesting part of Victoria, B.C.’s history and government, the Government House is first and foremost the office and official residence of the Lieutenant Government of British Columbia. It is also the ceremonial home of all British Columbians and is the offered accommodation to distinguished guests such as heads of state, or members of the Royal Family.

Photo By: Greg Dean

The original structure was actually more of a castle than a house. Cary Castle, as it was known, was built in 1859, and was the residence of the Governor of Vancouver Island in 1867. Upon British Columbia’s entrance into Confederation in 1871, it became the Government House, adopting its current role. Unfortunately, 28 years later marked the fire that would destroy the castle. In 1903, another Francis Rattenbury building, co-designed by renowned architect Samuel Maclure, graced the Victoria skyline. The only surviving piece of this house from the next fire, which occurred in 1957, was Lieutenant Governor James Dunsmuir’s requested stone porte cochere. The current Government House closely resembles this last design and it officially opened just two years after the fire in May of 1959. Of course, there have been a few upgrades and added amenities since then, such as a swimming pool.

Photo By: Justin Blasi

Considering the house is still the residence and office of the current governor, tours are few and far apart. One Saturday a month is allotted for public tours and only 100 people are allowed per tour. The guides dig into the deep history of the National Historic Site and outline the roles and responsibilities of the Lieutenant Governor.

The Government House is a collection of lavish rooms. The Ballroom boasts dazzling Swiss crystal chandeliers and sconces, with a balcony showing off stunning views of the Juan de Fuca Strait and property’s Terrace Garden. It also has the incredible stained-glass Millennium Windows, which are a complicated, botanical portrayal inspired by British Columbia’s natural beauty. From there, the Dining Room shows off beauty in the natural wood-paneled design from Rattenbury and Macleur. Feeling quite sophisticated, you’ll retire to the drawing room with its elegant fireplace and towering windows, or the Macleur Room, which features handcrafted furniture, a cozy fireplace and a copper-foil ceiling. Last but not least is the Rattenbury Room, which is the Lieutenant Governor’s own dining room. Besides the chandeliers and finery, the finishing aspect of this room is that it is done up with the dining room set of Francis Rattenbury himself.

If you happen to miss the free tour, you can see it virtually online at the official website. You are welcome to visit the Government House’s gardens and grounds at any time from dawn to dusk. The stunning grounds were originally designed in 1911 and offer a breath of fresh air to visitors. Besides the lush gardens, visitors can enjoy the Cary Castle Mews, which consists of a cluster of 19th century service buildings, some of which were repurposed to include an interpretive centre, costume museum and tea house.

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