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Where to next on Vancouver Island: Craigdarroch Castle

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Time:
1hr
Length:
1km

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How to Explore Craigdarroch Castle: A Step-by-Step Guide for Visitors

Nestled in the picturesque city of Victoria, British Columbia, you’ll find the majestic Craigdarroch Castle. Renowned for its unique architecture, the castle was once home to the prominent Dunsmuir family, who were instrumental in shaping the region’s history. Stepping through the doors of this National Historic Site, you’ll be transported back in time to the opulent and fantastic world of the 1890s.

Front entrance of Craigdarroch castle in Victoria

Constructed by coal baron Robert Dunsmuir, the castle showcases an impressive display of wealth and craftsmanship. As you explore the four floors of this extravagant home, you’ll encounter stunning stained glass windows, intricate woodwork, and an outstanding collection of authentic Victorian-era furnishings. The castle’s captivating story extends beyond its beautiful design, revealing the intriguing lives, achievements, and quirks of the Dunsmuir family.

Today, Craigdarroch Castle stands as a cultural icon in Victoria, attracting visitors from around the globe. As you embark on a self-guided tour, you will be immersed in a piece of British Columbia history that is both fascinating and inspiring. So why not take a step back in time and discover the rich heritage of this remarkable Victorian gem?

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Visiting Craigdarroch Castle

When planning your visit to Craigdarroch Castle, you can expect a memorable experience exploring this magnificent Victorian-era mansion. Built by coal baron Robert Dunsmuir, the castle offers a glimpse into privileged life in the 1890s.

Upon arrival, you’ll enter the visitor center, where you can take your time through the gift shop and purchase tickets for the self-guided tour of one of Victoria’s most visited attractions.

Entering through the unique curved front door at the bottom of the tower, you will walk through the beautifully restored rooms and note the intricate stained-glass windows and the incredible woodwork that adorns the interior. From the top floor, you get to walk up to the tower, which provides a stunning view of the surrounding area.

Location/Parking:
The castle is located at 1050 Joan Crescent, Victoria, BC and offers a delightful mix of history and architecture.

Admission/Hours:
Admission to Craigdarroch Castle can be purchased on-site at the visitor center, located in a separate building in front of the Castle. Ticket prices vary based on age and group size, so be sure to check the Castle’s website for the most up-to-date information. Note that the castle is open for self-guided tours Wednesday through Sunday from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, with closures on Mondays and Tuesdays.

While visiting Craigdarroch Castle, immerse yourself in the rich history and striking beauty of one of Victoria’s treasures. Your experience will be both educational and enchanting as you step back in time and marvel at the craftsmanship and elegance of a bygone era.

Looking down at stained glass in the tower at Craigdarroch Castle

Self Guided Tour

When you visit the 25,000 square-foot Craigdarroch Castle, you embark on a self-guided tour that is as enlightening as it is enchanting. The journey begins with an ascent through the mansion’s opulent interiors, showcasing the luxurious woodwork and stained glass that epitomized the lifestyle of the wealthy in the late 1800s.

As you reach the upper levels, you can take in the view of Victoria from the tower,  but the experience doesn’t end there. The tour takes an intriguing turn as you descend the back stairs, delving into the heart of the house.

Here, you step into the world of the servants, with insights into the kitchen and operational areas that kept this grand home running smoothly.

Along your journey, you’ll also encounter rooms that have been transformed over the years to meet the needs of various occupants who followed the Dunsmuirs, each leaving their unique mark on the castle’s rich history. This tour isn’t just a walk through a mansion; it’s a journey through time, narrating the evolution of this magnificent structure.

Tips and Suggestions

Accessibility: Be aware that the castle has limited accessibility, with many stairs and no elevators.

Facilities: There are no washrooms in the Castle so take advantage of the facilities in the visitor centre.

Combine with Other Attractions: Plan your day to include other nearby attractions in the area to make the most of your trip. Local gardens worth visiting in the area at Government House and Abkhazi Garden.

 

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Frequently Asked Questions

How do you pronounce the came Craigdarroch?
Craigdarroch (Craig Derek) is Gaelic, meaning ‘rocky, oak place’

How long does it take to tour the castle?
A tour of Craigdarroch Castle usually takes about an hour to an hour and a half.

Is Craigdarroch Castle accessible for visitors with mobility challenges?
The castle does not have elevators, and there are many stairs to navigate through the four floors. This might pose a challenge for visitors with mobility issues.

Are dogs allowed?
No, not in the house. Only service dogs are admitted.

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Location and Surrounding Area

Craigdarroch Castle is situated in the beautiful city of Victoria, at 1050 Joan Crescent, just a short drive from the bustling downtown area. This elegant Victorian-era mansion stands proudly amidst a posh residential neighbourhood not far from Government House on Rockland Avenue.

As you explore the castle grounds, you’ll be immersed in the charm of Victoria, BC. The castle’s elevated position on the hill provides stunning views of the surrounding city, and on a clear day, you can even catch a glimpse of the distant Olympic Mountains.

The area around the castle is steeped in history, with its tree-lined streets and well-manicured gardens exemplifying the quintessential Victorian aesthetic. A visit to Craigdarroch Castle sees you stepping back in time, as the mansion’s impressive brick façade, bright roof, and chimney stacks transport you to a bygone era.

"Best priced tourist attraction we visited on the island. Being interested in castles, history and all the objects and information available I could have spent a whole day here, but it's still a good value of you simply enjoy walking through an impressive home and seeing how the very wealthy lived."

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History of Craigdarroch Castle

Craigdarroch Castle attracts approximately 100,000 visitors annually and has become one of Victoria’s top attractions. This impressive 25,000-square-foot estate was constructed in 1887 by a wealthy coal baron named Robert Dunsmuir. Sadly, Robert passed away in April 1889, just 17 months before the castle’s completion. The sons took over the responsibility of finishing the magnificent home.

Due to its historical and architectural importance, Craigdarroch Castle has been designated as a National Historic Site. Over the years, the castle served various purposes, ranging from a military hospital to a music conservatory. 

Craigdarroch Castle Timeline:

  • (1887-1890) Construction of Craigdarroch
  • (1890–1908) Occupied by Joan Dunsmuir
  • (1910–1919) Owned by Solomon Cameron
  • (1919–1921) Craigdarroch Military Hospital
  • (1921–1946) Victoria College
  • (1946–1968) Victoria School Board Office
  • (1969–1979) Victoria Conservatory of Music
  • (1979–Present) Craigdarroch Castle Museum 

Craigdarroch Castle Interesting Facts:

  • Craigdarroch means “rocky oak place” in Gaelic
  • There are 17 fireplaces and seven chimney stacks
  • The main walls are brick construction and are faced with sandstone from Dunsmuir’s own quarry
  • The castle is over 25,000 sq.ft. including the basement
  • The oldest son, James Dunsmuir, built Victoria’s second castle Hatley Castle

Architecture and Design

The Craigdarroch Castle, built in what is known as a Richardsonian Romanesque style, the Castle was built during a Romanesque architectural revival, incorporating 11th and 12th-century southern French, Spanish and Italian Romanesque characteristics.

As you explore the castle, you’ll appreciate the luxurious interior, which includes an impressive oak staircase, made pre-fabricated in Chicago and shipped to the site in Victoria, BC.

The castle’s exterior facade is built mainly from sandstone sourced from one of Dunsmauir’s quarries, giving Craigdarroch Castle a strong presence that distinguishes it from its surroundings. Walking through the castle, you’ll notice one of North America’s finest collections of residential stained glass windows.

Family artifacts located in the Sitting Room Craigdarroch Castle

Art and Artefacts

At Craigdarroch Castle, you’ll find an impressive collection of artifacts, many of which relate to the Dunsmuir family who lived in the castle from 1890-1908. As you explore the Castle, you’ll discover the stories these artifacts tell about Victoria’s rich history.

During your visit, you’ll come across stunning pieces of Victorian art and various paintings that provide a glimpse into the life and times of the Dunsmuir family. The elegantly constructed rooms house numerous historical artifacts, such as the exquisite Steinway Baby Grand Piano and a framed Sir John A MacDonald photogravure.

So, as you walk through the magnificent halls of Craigdarroch Castle, immerse yourself in the world of Victorian art and artifacts that provide a unique insight into the lives of the Dunsmuir family and the illustrious history of the Castle.

Restoration of Craigdarroch Castle

The restoration of Craigdarroch Castle has been an ongoing process for over 30 years, involving countless hours from dedicated people who believe in preserving this beautiful monument to Canadian history. As you learn about the restoration efforts, you’ll discover the various organizations and stages involved in bringing the castle back to its original splendour.

The Craigdarroch Castle Historical Museum Society plays a significant role in the conservation and restoration of the castle. This organization is responsible for overseeing the planned restorations and ensuring the integrity of the castle’s historical roots. Engaging in a continuous process, the Historical Museum Society works to conserve and interpret the structure for the benefit of future generations.

One of the challenges faced during the restoration is the extensive past renovations made to accommodate the castle’s various purposes. For instance, the federal Department of Soldiers Civil Re-establishment (DSCR) renovated the premises before opening it as a military hospital in September 1919. These renovations included replacing the original kitchen, reconfiguring internal walls on almost every floor, and installing new sinks, bathrooms, and hydrotherapy facilities. Each stage of Craigdarroch Castle’s history adds complexity to the ongoing restoration efforts.

As you explore the restored rooms and exhibits throughout the castle, take note of the meticulous attention to detail and dedication invested in conserving this important piece of Canadian history. The unwavering commitment by the Craigdarroch Castle Historical Museum Society and numerous supporters ensures that the beauty and significance of Craigdarroch Castle will be appreciated by generations to come.

Interior woodwork Craigdarroch Castle

The Dunsmuir Family

The Dunsmuir family played a significant role in the history of Victoria’s Craigdarroch Castle. As you learn about the castle, you will discover the fascinating tale of this wealthy family in the late 19th century. Their success and achievements were primarily due to the family patriarch, coal baron Robert Dunsmuir.

Craidarroch Castle was to become home to Robert Dunsmuir and his wife, Joan. Their dream home began construction in the 1800s, but unfortunately, Robert died just 17 months before its completion. Despite this tragic event, Joan Dunsmuir, now a widow, worked with her children to finish the magnificent castle.

The Dunsmuir family was quite large, consisting of two sons and eight daughters. As you explore the castle, you will uncover interesting stories about their relationships, achievements, and quirks. The family was known for hosting luxurious parties in the castle, showcasing their wealth and social status.

Joan Dunsmuir lived at Craigdarroch Castle until her death. Afterward, her daughters decided to sell the property. The castle underwent several changes in ownership before becoming the historical site you can visit today.

Exterior view of the historic Craigdarroch Castle during daytime, showcasing its distinct Romanesque architectural features with a stone facade and conical towers against a clear blue sky. The well-manicured front lawn complements the stately appearance of the castle

Craigdarroch’s Various Uses

Over the years, Craigdarroch Castle, located in Victoria, BC, has served multiple purposes. Built between 1887 and 1890, this historic site initially served as a family residence for Joan Dunsmuir after the coal baron Robert Dunsmuir passed away, who was the owner of Vancouver Island Coal.

Following the death of Joan Dunsmuir, her daughters sold the castle to local real estate developers. In the early 1900s, it underwent several transformations, adapting to the ever-changing needs of the community. One of its notable uses was as a military hospital during World War I. This period saw the castle providing medical care and solace to numerous military veterans.

In the 1920s, education became the focus as Craigdarroch Castle transformed into Victoria College. You would have found students planning their futures in the castle’s impressive rooms. The Victoria School Board took resendence of the building, securing its status as an education hub in the community.

By the 1960s, the emphasis on education continued as the Victoria Conservatory of Music moved in. Budding musicians honed their craft within the castle’s magnificent walls, filling the historic site with melodies and artistry.

Today, you can visit Craigdarroch Castle to learn more about its rich history, showcasing its architectural grandeur and the numerous roles it has played throughout the years. The castle serves as a testament to the resilience and adaptability of historic sites.

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FAQ:

How do you pronounce the came Craigdarroch?
Craigdarroch (Craig Derek) is Gaelic, meaning ‘rocky, oak place’

How long does it take to tour the castle?
A tour of Craigdarroch Castle usually takes about an hour to an hour and a half.

Is Craigdarroch Castle accessible for visitors with mobility challenges?
The castle does not have elevators, and there are many stairs to navigate through the four floors. This might pose a challenge for visitors with mobility issues.

Are dogs allowed?
No, not in the house. Only service dogs are admitted.

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Modified: May 17, 2024
Last Visit: November 19, 2023
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