Hatley Castle is s Spectacular former residence of the wealthy and prestigious James Dunsmuir, former premier and lieutenant-governor of British Columbia. Hatley Castle, now part of Royal Roads University in Victoria, has a haunted history. Several Ghosts have been reported there, including an unconfirmed account of a suicide. ( See : Suicide in Ghost Lore )
Hatley Castle was built on blood and trauma. James Dunsmuir was the son of coal baron Robert Dunsmuir and his wife, Joan (see Craigdarroch Castle). He spent less than three years as premier, resigning in 1902. In 1906, he was appointed lieutenant-governor, a mostly ceremonial post. He retired from political life in 1909.
While he was premier, James’s younger brother, Alex, died at age 46. Alex suffered from alcoholism and most likely died of alcohol poisoning, but the official cause was meningitis. Alex left his portion of the Dunsmuir fortune to James. Their widowed mother, Joan, was outraged, believing the money should go to her instead. She was supported by her daughters, who relied upon her extravagant financial gifts. In November 1901, Joan sued James to have Alex’s money reverted to her. James resisted, and an intense five-year legal battle ensued, dividing the family forever and consuming huge sums of money. In the end, the will was upheld and James received Alex’s money.
James immediately commissioned architect Samuel Maclure to design a grand retirement home that would be bigger and more luxurious than his parents’ showpiece home in Victoria, Craigdarroch Castle. Perhaps he wanted a bit of revenge as well—a one-upmanship for the nasty legal fight. In addition, his wife, Laura, aspired to greatness as the province’s leading socialite and hostess. He told the contractors to spare no expense.
When finished at a staggering cost of $4 million, the home truly was the most spectacular residence in the entire province: A massive, medieval castle with Tudor additions, giving the appearance of the antiquity found in the countryside of England. There were 22 bedrooms, nine baths, and a huge ballroom on the third floor. Dunsmuir christened it Hatley Park, for the estate included 600 acres of parkland and gardens. He hired a staff of 100 to look after the place.
James and Laura moved in in 1908 and enjoyed their luxury, throwing lavish parties for the elite. Their lives were touched by tragedy, however, when their son was killed overseas during World War I.
James died in 1920, and Laura continued to live in the mansion until her own death in 1937. The stock market crash of 1929 wiped out most of the Dunsmuir money and during the Great Depression Laura struggled to keep the household going. A frequent guest at the castle was Hollywood actress Tallulah Bankhead, who became close friends with granddaughter Dola, a party girl.
After Laura’s death, the family heirs put the house up for sale, but it was too expensive. It sat vacant for nearly four years, minimally maintained by a small staff.
In 1940, the Department of Defense bought the home for $75,000 and turned it into Royal Roads Military College to train naval officers. In 1994, the military college closed due to budget cuts, and the school reopened as a civilian institution, Royal Roads University, offering degrees in business, technology, and environmental management.
Haunting phenomena were reported soon after the death of Laura. A maid told her superior that she felt watched by an unseen presence. She became so disturbed that soon she was not able to enter certain rooms in the castle.
Stories abounded as soon as the home became a military college. A ghostly woman thought to be Laura was reported by cadets who slept in the former ballroom on the top floor of the castle. They were awakened by a transparent little old woman who pulled down their blankets. It is thought that Laura was drawn to the cadets out of sorrow over losing her son in World War I; perhaps she was looking for him. Laura’s ghost remained active during the entire history of the military college. One cadet reported that he woke up to find the ghost tugging hard on his leg. He engaged in a tugging match with her until he pulled so hard that she vanished. Cadets reported strange sensations when working late at night on the second and third floors, as though they were caught in freezing cobwebs.
According to lore, a maid of Laura’s was jilted by her lover and killed herself by jumping from a third-floor window. Her ghost is said to drift around the castle. No known records validate the story.
Paranormal investigators have experienced a shadowy figure (see Shadow People) and a gray mist on stairs. Staff members who have worked late at night on the third floor have heard mysterious noises, such as doors being opened or closed.
- Belyk, Robert C. Ghosts: True Tales of Eerie Encounters. Victoria, B.C.: Horsdal & Schubart, 2002.
- Christensen, Jo-Anne. Ghost Stories of British Columbia. Toronto: Hounslow Press, 1996.
- McCulloch, Sandra. “Things Go Bump in the Night at Hatley Castle.” Times Colonist, October 12, 2006, p. B2.
The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits– Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – September 1, 2007
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