Last week I returned to Victoria with the girls for an appointment. While there, I invited some friends to tour Craigdarroch Castle with me. This was our second visit to the castle, but I forgot how big it is—and the sad history of its occupants.
Craigdarroch Castle is an imposing home, located on the top of a hill just outside downtown Victoria. It’s now surrounded by other houses, with only a small parking lot and lawn around it. However, it’s easy to imagine what it would have been like when Robert Dunsmuir first built it there on 28 acres of land in 1889.
One of my favourite parts of the castle is all the woodwork inside. The whole interior is paneled wood. We were cautioned not to touch it as the oil from our hands would darken it. This is a view from just inside the door, looking up the staircases:
There were guides on each floor to answer questions about the history. They also helped the kids find the items in their “eye-spy” brochures. Between my two friends and I, we had eight children under 6 with us. They found almost every item as soon as they stepped in the room, but they had a lot of fun on their “treasure hunt.” Even Jade enjoyed looking at all the displays:
Most rooms in the castle have been restored to the way they looked when the Dunsmuir family lived there. There were bars to give us space to walk and view the rooms, but it was neat to see all the furniture, paintings, dishes, and dresses from that era. Especially the dresses:
One room in the Castle remains in the condition it was in during its university phase. This room has two large easel-type displays, detailing the history of the Dunsmuir family and what happened to the castle after the family left.
Unfortunately, Robert never lived there. He died just before it was completed, so only his wife and children moved in. After his wife died, their eight daughters couldn’t agree on who would own the castle. It was sold off in parcels of land.
The kids all loved climbing up into the tower, which is certainly a highlight of the Castle. From there, you get a stunning view of the surrounding city, even on a rainy day like the one we had:
We took a break from sightseeing to catch the half-hour video on the history of the Castle. Sunshine and her five-year-old friend enjoyed it, but the younger children were soon bored. I took them to a nearby room to play I-Spy. I also tried the keep the toddlers from falling over the brass railings and setting off the alarm.
Then we herded the kids down the servants’ staircase to finish our tour of the castle. I was quite surprised we’d spent almost two hours wandering around there. I had expected the kids would be done in an hour and we’d be heading out to something else.
The castle is bigger than it looks and has much to explore and see, even at the pace which our young children kept. (You gotta be a speed-reader to visit a museum with a group of children under six!)
Kid-friendly: kids five and under are allowed into the castle free (so we only had to pay for Sunshine). The I-Spy brochure helped keep their attention, even for the kids who couldn’t read, as they could look at the picture and then search for the items in the room. The only washrooms are on the second floor.
Baby-friendly: not really. The castle has four floors with eighty-some-odd stairs and no elevators. My friend and I arrived with our toddlers on our backs and were informed that we couldn’t carry kids that way. I had to switch my Ergo to the front to carry Jade, though my friend was allowed to keep her sleeping toddler in his Moby wrap. Thankfully, Jade enjoyed wandering around and even climbing the stairs, but if I’d been there last year when I needed to carry her everywhere, it would have been tiring. There aren’t any baby change tables in the washrooms.
Overall, Craigdarroch Castle provides a fascinating glimpse of Victoria’s early history, from its construction in 1900 through its history as a home, military hospital, university, and now museum.
I received access to Craigdarroch Castle compliments of my Vancouver Tourism Media Pass; all opinions expressed are my own. Photos were taken with my Samsung Galaxy S5.