Craigdarroch Castle on Vancouver Island is truly a Victorian experience. It serves as an excellent example of a "bonanza castle," which is a name for the massive homes built for entrepreneurs that became rich during the industrial age. In the case of Craigdarroch Castle, the entrepreneur was Robert Dunsmuir who was an immigrant from Scotland that had built his wealth on coal from Vancouver Island. Built between the years of 1887 and 1890, the legendary mansion was constructed atop a hill that overlooks the City of Victoria.
The Victorian mansion acted as an announcement to the rest of the world that Dunsmuir was the most important and richest man in Western Canada. In 1889, Robert Dunsmuir passed away, leaving his castle to his wife. Joan continued to live in Craigdarroch Castle until she died in 1908. The massive fortune that once belonged to the Dunsmuir family is on display among the four floors of the estate, featuring stunning stained-glass windows, beautiful furnishings of the Victorian-era, and elaborate woodwork.
The Romanesque revival period was happening during the 1880's and 1890's, a movement that influenced many architects during that time. H.H. Richardson, an American architect, was leading the charge of this revival. This style later was called "Richardsonian Romanesque," and is noticeable throughout the entire construction of Craigdarroch Castle. This style incorporates characteristics of Italian Romanesque, Spanish and southern French styles from the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The style emphasizes strong, round-headed "Romanesque" arches, as well as cylindrical towers, and recessed entrances.
The group responsible for the preservation of Craigdarroch Castle is the Castle Society, an organization founded over fifty years ago. The vision of the society was that the preservation of the Victorian mansion would one day be assured, as well as that the home would be turned into a public museum. The 1959 Constitution of the Castle Society included a few clauses that described the policy of artifact collection for Craigdarroch. One such clause stated: “the gathering of furniture and bric-a-brac, and other historic objects for the Castle rooms, so that they may appear as much as possible as they were from 1890 to 1908 when Mrs. Robert Dunsmuir occupied the Castle.” Another stated: “The gathering of photographs and paintings, for the Castle rooms, of the Dunsmuir family, and of Victoria during that era.”
For over thirty years, the Castle Society has been working on the restoration of the Victorian-style Craigdarroch Castle in an effort to return it to its former splendor, and the process is still going on today. The restoration process has involved the help of numerous dedicated people and countless hours of works by those who believe in the importance of preserving the beautiful castle as a monument to the history of Canada. The conservation of Craigdarroch Castle is by no means a simple task.
Historic photographs of both the Victorian mansion and the landscape surrounding it provide extremely valuable insight into how the estate looked during the time that Robert Dunsmuir and his wife Joan resided there. Restoring the interiors of the mansion to how they originally looked was particularly difficult, as only one photograph showing the interiors from that time survived.
1050 Joan Crescent, Victoria, British Columbia, Phone: 250-592-5323