AKA: Craigdarroch Castle, Victoria, BC, Canada

Structure Type: built works - dwellings - houses

Designers: Williams and Smith, Architects (firm); Williams, Warren Heywood, Architect (firm); Arthur L. Smith (architect); David Lochhead Williams (architect); Warren Heywood Williams (architect)

Dates: constructed 1887-1890

4 stories, total floor area: 20,000 sq. ft.

1050 Joan Crescent
Rockland, Victoria, BC Canada V8S 3L5

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Robert Dunsmuir (1825-1889) built his "bonanza castle" on a wooded, 28-acre estate in Victoria, BC, Canada. Dunsmuir, born in Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, UK, emigrated to Canada in 1855. He received a governmental license to search for coal on Vancouver Island, BC, and by 1869 had discovered an extremely rich deposit near Nanaimo, BC. Robert and his sons, James and Alexander, began by the 1870s to diversify family holdings, moving into railroads and shipping to transport their coal, as well as a host of other interests in quarries, lumber, ironwork, and real estate. James Dunsmuir supervised coal mining operations in Nanaimo, and Alexander reestablished himself in San Francisco, CA, overseeing a growing shipping business. By 1885, Robert Dunsmuir, who by this time, was the wealthiest man in BC, turned his attention to the construction of a mansion, Craigdarroch, in Victoria. For its design, he commissioned Warren Heywood Williams of Portland, OR, who was erecting the Victoria headquarters of the Bank of British Columbia in 1885. Apparently, Robert Dunsmuir was impressed with Williams and his work. Construction of Craigdarroch Castle began in 1887, but Warren H. Williams died unexpectedly in 1888, forcing an employee, the little-known Arthur L. Smith, and Williams's younger son, Portland architect, David L. Williams (1866-1937), to finish the building. Unfortunately for Robert Dunsmuir, he died before Craigdarroch's completion, but his wife, Joan and three of their eight daughters lived in the home until 1908, when Joan died. The two sons, Alex and James contested a will that left Robert's entire estate to his wife, triggering a long family dispute over assets. When Joan died, another family schism broke, this time between some of the Dunsmuir daughters and James. The daughters sold the mansion just after 1908 to a real estate developers, Solomon Cameron and Parker Clarke, who sub-divided the property. Cameron default on his debts in acquiring the property, and the Bank of Montreal repossesed it in 1917. As it was war-time, the Bank leased the property to the Canadian Government's Department of Soldiers Civil Re-establishment, an agency that remodeled the house into a military hospital for returning veterans in 09/1919. Victoria College, a local institution that had recently closed in 1915 after it lost its affiliation with McGill University, re-opened first in a former high school, and later in the soon-to-closed military hospital. The college also remodeled the hospital's interior for its purposes and used the building from 1921-1946. Victoria College also leased Craigdarroch, first from the Bank of Montreal and, after 1929, from the Victoria School Board. Following World War II, enrollment skyrocketed at the college, overcrowding the Dunsmuir House to such an extent that other quarters had to be found. The school board again remodeled the building when it moved its administrative offices there in 1946. The Craigdarroch Castle Historical Museum Society was formed in 1979, and this group began the long process of restoring the original interior of the Dunsmuir House.

The web site for Craigdarroch Castle described the elaborate range of materials and fittings that the architects specified. In addition to red slate for the roof tiles from a New England quarry, the house also had a fine collection of stained glass, probably fabricated in the US. Typical of Northwest mansions, however, this dwelling displayed an exceptional array of woods used in paneling, wainscoting and other interior detailing; the Craigdarroch Castle Historical Museum Society noted this luxurious diverse mix: "The interior oak panelling was fabricated by the A.H. Andrews Co. of Chicago from white oak probably felled on land owned by the subsidiary Andrews Lumber Company in Arkansas. These pre-fabricated elements (including stairs, doors, window frames, and 2182 panels) were shipped from Chicago to Victoria in five railcars in the summer of 1890, and installed in the house. Other woods used in the house included: Spanish mahogany (in the Library); western red cedar (in the Porte Cochere Entrance); cherry (in the Breakfast Room and used for the window sashes throughout the house); Hawaiian koa (in the drawing room floor); and multi-patterned parquetry throughout the house incorporate exotic woods such as walnut, jarra, rosewood, maple, holly, and oak." (See "The Castle,"Accessed 01/14/2011.) The residence's rusticated stone and medieval, castle-like appearance underscored the power and permanence of the Dunsmuir Family; the luxurious array of materials used on the interior emphasized its wealth and taste. The house cost in excess of $500,000, had 20,000 square feet of space containing 39 rooms and 35 fireplaces. (See Rockland Neighbourhood Association, "Rockland Heritage Walking Tour,"Accessed 01/14/2011.)

Craigdarroch underwent three large remodelings when the house became a military hospital (c. 1918-1919), a college (1921), and an school administration building (1946).

The house faced demolition in 1959, but a preservation effort was mounted to save the landmark.

PCAD id: 16041