Craigdarroch Castle is a former private residence of the wealthy and influential Dunsmuir family of Victoria, British Columbia. Craigdarroch Castle was once the most spectacular residence in the province. It is now a museum and historic landmark and reportedly the home to ghosts.
Craigdarroch Castle was touched by gloom and mourning before it was ever occupied. It was built by Robert Dunsmuir, a poor Scottish immigrant who arrived in Victoria in 1851 with his wife Joan and family, determined to build himself a great fortune. At first the family lived in a windowless log cabin, and Dunsmuir labored away for dismal wages. He pursued his ambition zealously and, true to his vow, soon built a business empire, raking in money in coal. Though once a poor worker himself, he exploited other poor workers and lavished money on politicians to buy their favours. His critics called him a greedy capitalist, “King Grab.”
Dunsmuir shrugged off the criticism. He wanted everyone to know how rich and powerful he had become. There was no better way to put that on display than by building the most impressive home in the entire province. In 1887, construction began on Craigdarroch Castle, designed by architect Warren William Heywood. Tragically, Heywood died of an enlarged heart just four months into the project.
More tragedy followed. Dunsmuir himself was never to occupy his grand home. In April 1889, he went to bed with a cold. He was renowned for his health and vigor, and no one suspected that he would never leave his bed. Four days later, he was in a coma. Within two more days, he was dead.
Several months later, in September, Dunsmuir’s second daughter, Agnes, died in a typhoid epidemic that swept through the town of Nanaimo, where she lived with her husband and family. Her husband, James Harvey, never regained his health and died the following year.
In the summer of 1890, Craigdarroch Castle was ready for occupancy. It had four floors plus a tower and an 87- step staircase leading to a fourth-floor ballroom the size of a three-bedroom house. Dunsmuir had spared no expense acquiring the finest oak, walnut, mahogany, cedar, granite, marble, and sandstone. Exquisite stained glass and ceiling paintings decorated the castle.
Widow Joan moved in with her three unmarried daughters and Agnes’s orphaned children. It was not the happy occasion she had once envisioned. Nonetheless, Joan was determined to reign as “Queen Joan” the socialite. She reigned until her death in October 1908. Many thought the era of excessive displays of wealth was over, but son Robert had yet to erect an even grander home, HATLEY CASTLE.
Craigdarroch was now a liability, too big and expensive to appeal to most buyers. Eventually it was sold and its contents were auctioned off. After World War I, it became Craig Darroch Military Hospital for veterans. The hospital was moved to another facility in 1921, and the castle was taken over by Victoria College. By 1946, the college was severely overcrowded, and the castle was condemned as a fire hazard. Students were moved out, and the school board turned it into an administrative facility.
The school board moved out in 1967, leaving behind a deteriorating building with rotting wood, crumbling stonework, and broken stained glass. City officials considered demolishing the once-grand home to make way for a high-rise apartment complex. Instead, it was taken over by the Victoria School of Music, who later turned it over to The Castle Society, who restored it as a historic landmark, its present status.
Ghosts have been experienced since the renovation of Craigdarroch Castle. One worker, resting on his lunch break near the stairway to the ballroom, glimpsed a partial APPARITION of a young woman’s foot in a satin shoe and the length of a ball gown. The startled man watched for several minutes as the shoed foot and part of gown came slowly down the stairs. Perhaps he had witnessed an imprint of the social dancing that went on at Craigdarroch during its Victoria College days.
Visitors both see and sense other apparitions. The ghost of a small girl has been seen in the basement and the invisible presences of suffering soldiers have been felt. Another ghost is a maid dressed in Victorian clothing who walks into a room, looks around, and then vanishes. A phantom man wearing a bowler hat and carrying a walking stick has been seen. One witness who saw the ghost noticed that the following day, a bowler hat and walking stick that had been on stands inside of a glass case in the museum had been knocked off their stands while still in the case.
Other phenomena include cold gusts of air, sounds of ghostly piano music, and the SMELL of burning candles where none are present.
- Christensen, Jo-Anne. Ghost Stories of British Columbia. Toronto: Hounslow Press, 1996.
The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits– Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – September 1, 2007