The Craigdarroch Castle is a massive home located in Victoria, BC. It was built as a private family residence but is now a tourist attraction. In this post, we will re-visit the history of the building and of the family that built it and learn of the ghost that resides there still.
Is Craigdarroch Castle haunted? The History
The Craigdarroch Castle was built between 1887 and 1890 for a Scottish immigrant named Robert Dunsmuir. Mr. Dunsmuir had gained his fortune through Vancouver Island coal. The castle is a Victorian Style mansion built atop a hill overlooking the City of Victoria. It spans four floors and has stained glass windows, intricate woodwork, and beautiful furniture of the era.
Robert Dunsmuir was born on August 31, 1825, in Scotland and passed away on April 12, 1889, in Victoria, BC.
Robert Dunsmuir was born into a coal family and at the age of 16 years, he entered the mines to apprentice with his uncle, Boyd Gilmour. Gilmour was overman for the Hudson’s Bay Company coal-mine by present-day Port Hardy, BC.
In 1851 Robert Dunsmuir indentured himself to the same company and brought his wife and three children to Canada. In 1855 Dunsmuir refused to join a strike with the other miners and as a result, he earned his free-miner’s licence to work on an abandoned HBC shaft. Dunsmuir’s fortune began to take shape when he accepted a position with the Vancouver Coal Mining and Land Company around 1862. While working for VCMLC Robert Dunsmuir did clandestine explorations for coal in the area surrounding Nanaimo, BC. He discovered the Wellington seam in 1869 and laid claim to it. Mr. Dunsmuir then obtained capital from a group of naval officers and insisted on half the shares plus full control over all operations due to his expertise in coal mining. His new venture was incorporated as Dunsmuir, Diggle Limited and by 1878 they were producing more coal than VCMLC was. By 1883 Robert Dunsmuir has acquired another colliery that was working the Wellington seam, and as he kept up with technological advances he also had managed to buy all the shares of the non-family members of his business partnership.
Robert Dunsmuir did not just work in the coal industry, he was also the man that helped the railway to be completed. On August 13, 1886, the “last spike” was driven in by the Prime Minister of Canada, Sir John A. MacDonald. “By September trains were running into Victoria along lines laid from Esquimalt across Indian lands Dunsmuir had managed to have expropriated for his use.” (1982, Daniel T. Gallacher, Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol 11)
Dunsmuir’s wealth also came from real estate on Vancouver Island, an iron foundry, a theatre in Victoria, agricultural land, and mainland diking. He was a shrewd businessman for sure. In the deal, he made with the Federal Government, for the completion of the railway Dunsmuir was granted a subsidy of $750,000 in cash and two million acres of land.
The land grant came with “all coal, coal oil, ores, stones, clay, marble, slates, mines, minerals, and substances whatsoever in, on or under the lands so to be granted.” Dunsmuir received all foreshore rights for the lands, all mining privileges including the right to mine under adjacent seabeds and the retention of all coal and other minerals taken from the land. As the contractor of the railway, he was able to cut and use whatever timber was needed to build structures along the line. Part of the reason for the vast wealth that Robert Dunsmuir acquired was due to the fact that he employed large numbers of Oriental workers in his mining operations and paid them half of what he paid caucasian workers. He also paid all of his employees’ one-third less than his competitors paid their workers.
Upon Robert Dunsmuir death in 1889 brought strife to the family, for although he had made a promise to his sons he had not changed his will that left his entire estate and business holdings to his wife Joan. The sons spent years convincing their mother to give them the title to the San Fransisco company and then to sell them the Wellington Colliery. When son Alex passed away six weeks after getting married another quarrel over a will began. This quarrel pitted Joan and her daughters against the remaining son, James. Imagine the ridiculousness of this wealthy family fighting over more money. Joan passed away in 1908 after not speaking to James for years. Joan had left Craigdarroch Castle and her estate to her remaining unwed daughters and her three orphaned grandchildren. It ceased to be a family home for the Dunsmuirs from that time forward.
When we visited Craigdarroch Castle in late 2015 I asked an employee if the home was haunted. The lady responded that she had never seen a ghost there but when it comes to closing time and only a staff member or two were in the building it would feel very large, cold, and spooky. The lady stated that she does not like to be alone in the home. I could understand that completely as it is a grand home and it could take a few minutes to get to an exit.
Other people have reported seeing a woman dressed in a ball gown walking down the grand main staircase. It is assumed that this lady is Joan Dunsmuir.
People have also reported that they have seen a woman wearing a black dress. Again it has been assumed that this is Joan Dunsmuir. A young girl has been seen in the basement and is thought to be another member of the Dunsmuir family. I have also read that this young girl has been seen standing by a top floor window at the closing time of the castle.
Others have experienced sudden and intense changes in temperature and have smelt candle wax coming from the upstairs rooms. People have also heard piano music coming from the unoccupied main dining room. This has occurred even when a piano was not present in the castle.
Many people have reported feeling a definite drop in temperature while in the viewing area of Joan Dunsmuir’s bedroom. Some have even felt that they were being pushed away from the area by an unseen force.
Whether you believe in the paranormal or not it is worth your time and money to visit and tour the Craigdarroch Castle when in Victoria, BC. The history alone makes the visit worthwhile. The battles among the family members over wealth just add to the allure. The Dunsmuir family was large and their stories are interesting. Take a look and maybe you will discover a lurking spirit, but at the very least you will get to see a beautifully elegant home and get to imagine how the Dunsmuir spent their time when there.
If you have been to the castle please let us know if you felt a presence or not. We are curious to hear your take on it. So…is Craigdarroch castle haunted? What are your thoughts?
The Other Half