If you want to admire Victorian architecture at its finest, then look no further than the 25,000sqft Craigdarroch Castle. A National Historic Site, Craigdarroch Castle is blessed with a rich history. Victoria’s first castle began construction in the 1800’s by Robert Dunsmuir, an affluent coal baron who died just 17 months before its completion in 1890. It was left to his family consisting of widow Joan Dunsmuir and their children. After the Dunsmuir era, the castle experienced numerous changes of hands thanks to a history of bankruptcy, a division of the land and a raffle.
Today, the Craigdarroch Castle is now a popular attraction and museum with over 150,000 visitors a year. It contains 39 elegantly constructed rooms, each boasting numerous historical artifacts including a Steinway Baby Grand Piano and a Sir John A MacDonald engraving. Encouraged to take self-guided tours throughout the magnificent rooms and eloquent mansion grounds, visitors have no trouble discovering why the castle was the most expensive residence of its time. Over $500,000 was spent on construction, an exorbitant amount of money during the 1800s.
The Craigdarroch Castle is located in a quiet, unassuming neighbourhood of Victoria surrounded by residential houses and a beautiful, lush yard. As you turn the corner, its impressive brick façade, bright roof and chimney stacks come into view, enticing visitors to come and explore. It is one of two castles in Victoria, a surprising number considering how young Canada is as a country. While it’s small compared to the formidable fortresses of Europe and the UK, the Craigdarroch Castle still has no problem transporting visitors back in time. The interior style is rich in wood and detailed stained glass, casting a warm, welcoming glow to the age-old furnishings. It’s all too easy to picture the Great Gatsby-esque parties the wealthy enjoyed in their original 28-acres of gardens, and the lavish furnishing inside the various rooms of all four stories of the castle give hints to the rich comforts they enjoyed. Rumour has it, they might even still be enjoying those comforts. The castle is said to be haunted by members of the family, as well as cleaning staff, and numerous visitors have heard giggles and the sound of footsteps on the impressive oak staircase.
The holiday season is one of the best times to visit the Craigdarroch Castle. Each of the four floors is decked out with Christmas ribbons, bows and dripping in enough gold and sparkle to make the Dunsmuir’s proud. It takes nearly six weeks to get the castle looking Christmas ready, and live music of jolly Christmas jigs fill the house as you explore. Endearing rows of wreaths line the outside, and with a dusting of snow, the whole place looks downright magical. To top it off, renditions of A Christmas Carol take place in this perfect setting. Nothing is more enchanting during the holidays than a trip to the Craigdarroch Castle. The building is now owned by the Craigdarroch Castle Historical Museum Society – a non-profit – and is kept alive through membership and visitor admission.