Craigdarroch Castle in Victoria
“Travel is the frivolous part of serious lives, and the serious part of frivolous ones.” -Anne Sophie Swetchine
Built by coal baron Robert Dunsmuir between 1887 to 1890, the Craigdarroch Castle is a 20,000 square foot Scottish Baronial mansion in the Rockland area of Victoria. The 39-room mansion with 17 fireplaces was constructed as a family residence for Robert Dunsmuir and his wife Joan. The cost of the Victorian Castle is estimated to have been close to $500,000 when it was built, and included granite from British Columbia, tile from San Francisco, and an oak staircase prefabricated in Chicago. The interior woodwork filled five railway cars from Chicago and cost $32,000. The exterior is constructed of marble, granite, sandstone, terra cotta, and Vermont slate.
It takes 87 steps to reach the top level of the tower where spectacular views of the San Juan Islands, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the Olympic Mountains and Victoria can be seen. When originally constructed Craigdarroch stood in grounds comprising 28 acres of formal gardens. It was designated a National Historic Site of Canada due to its prominence in Victoria.
In 1887, Dunsmuir commissioned Warren H Williams and Arthur L Smith of Portland, Oregon to design the Castle. Williams died four months into the project, but Smith carried on and finished the Castle. Robert Dunsmuir died in 1889, one year before the Craigdarroch’s completion. His sons Alexander and James completed the construction after his death. James Dunsmuir commissioned the construction of Victoria’s second castle, Hatley Castle, located in Colwood.
Upon the death of Joan Dunsmuir, the Craigdarroch estate was sold to land speculator Griffith Hughes for $38,000 who then subdivided the estate into buildings lots. To stimulate sales during a slow real estate market, Griffiths announced that Craigdarroch would be the subject of a raffle, to be won by one of the purchasers of the residential parcels carved from the estate. The winner, Solomon Cameron, mortgaged the Castle to finance speculative ventures that failed, leaving him broke, and in 1919 ownership of Craigdarroch passed to one of Cameron’s creditors, the Bank of Montreal.
The four-story Craigdarroch Castle is known for its stained glass, intricate woodwork and lavish furnishings from the 1890s. Craigdarroch is currently owned by the Craigdarroch Castle Historical Museum Society, which is a private, non-profit society, and is open to the public. Craigdarroch is a popular Victoria tourist attraction receiving more than 150,000 visitors a year.
The Castle has had six main eras of occupation:
- The Dunsmuir era (1890-1908)
- The Military Hospital Era (1919-1921)
- Victoria College Era (1921-1946)
- Victoria School Board Office Era (1946-1968)
- Victoria Conservatory of Music Era (1969-1979)
- Museum Era (1979–Present)
How to Get There
Craigdarroch Castle is a short drive or a leisurely walk from the Inner Harbour in downtown Victoria. Visitors can also make their way to the Castle by taking Bus 11 or Bus 14, getting off at Joan Crescent. There are several city tours that include Craigdarroch Castle in their tour packages. Visitors enter the Castle through the coach entrance where you pay the admission fee.
Museum Gift Shop
The gift shop is located in the mansion’s kitchen. This area originally had two rooms with a hallway leading to the outside door. Traces of the kitchen’s original walls can be seen on the ceiling and there is an illustration of what the kitchen may have looked like. The Society hopes to eventually restore the kitchen.
The gift shop is open seven days a week and can be visited without taking a tour. The shop has a range of gifts, including dolls, postcards, educational games, jewellery, pashmina shawls, toys and much more.
All visitors are asked to use the automatic shoe cleaner before entering the main hall, as it helps preserve the carpet and floors of this magnificent heritage home. Visitors are provided with a floor map (available in seven languages), family history and an introduction as to how to proceed through this historic home. An audio tour is also available. Craigdarroch’s volunteers are located throughout the mansion to provide information and answer questions.
On average, a self guided tour takes 45 minutes to an hour. Flash photography is allowed. The Society provides detailed information on the Dunsmuir Family and visitors are welcome to stay as long as they would like. Visitors are welcome to stop and rest on any of the visitor’s chairs throughout the Castle.
A group tour is a cost-efficient option for groups of 15 or more. With advance notice and minimum group size of 15 (10 for student groups), Craigdarroch provides a reduced admission rate. Group tours also receive an enhanced self-guided tour that allows visitors to enjoy the Castle at their own pace.
Ghosts at Craigdarroch
Craigdarroch Castle is haunted by the ghost of Joan Dunsmuir. For decades, volunteers and visitors have reported seeing objects move and hearing whispers while at Craigdarroch. Many people claim to have taken photographs of Joan and heard her play the piano. If you visit the castle, you may catch a glimpse of Joan and smell her favourite lard tallow candles in her room.
1050 Joan Crescent
Victoria, British Columbia
Telephone: (250) 592-5323
Craigdarroch is open daily from 10:00 AM to 4:30 PM, including statutory holidays.
Extended hours from June 15 to September 6 are 9:00 AM to 7:00 PM.
Craigdarroch Castle is closed December 25, 26 and January 1.
Great story! Unique architecture.
Thanks Amy, it is an interesting story. It is a shame Robert Dunsmuir did not see his home finished. I hope you have an opportunity to visit Victoria and see the castle in person. Have a fabulous day!
Your stories are so exciting. I love that I can learn so much about the area through your posts before traveling there.
Thank you Annie, I am delighted that you enjoyed the story about Craigdarroch Castle. It’s fun researching these amazing places. I learn so much too!
Enjoyed watching the video, fascinating history, thanks.
I agree, the castle’s history is fascinating. It is amazing how many wonderful places are around us, yet we know so little about them.