Craigdarroch Castle is no stranger to the film industry. The Victoria landmark and National Historic Site of Canada has been used in big screen films Little Women (1994), Spooky House (2000) and Cats & Dogs (2001). Now, the castle itself is the star of the show.
The documentary Victoria’s Castle, directed and produced by Castle Society board member Robin Adair, tells not only the story of coal baron Robert Dunsmuir and his wife Joan, it also tells the story of what happened in the 39 rooms, four floors and more than 20,000 square feet of the castle after it was raffled off (seriously) to Solomon Cameron, who in turn lost the castle to the Bank of Montreal when he defaulted on some loans.
Today, the castle belongs to the Craigdarroch Castle Historical Museum Society, who bring more than 150,000 people through the castle each year and has been working tirelessly to restore the space to its former grandeur since 1959.
Adair came up with the idea to create a short documentary to promote the castle and, just six short months later, the society premiered the 52-minute film to a packed house at the Vic Theatre.
Screenings will also be offered in May and June inside the castle and the society hopes to use it as an educational tool at schools and community halls throughout the city.
“We wanted to remind the community that a lot of the things that happened in the community happened around the castle,” says John Hughes, executive director of the castle society.
“We hope the movie will help build a stronger local connection. This movie is very much the story of Victoria, not just the Dunsmuirs.”
After Cameron lost the castle, it was turned into a military hospital and heavily renovated by the federal Department of Soldiers Civil Re-establishment in September 1919.
Then the rooms that housed recuperating veterans were renovated again and became home to the Victoria College (1921-1944), precursor to the University of Victoria, where Pierre Burton was a student (he even carved his name into one of the 2,162 oak panels that adorn the walls). After enrolment at the college got too large for the space, the Victoria School Board (who purchased the building in 1929) moved their offices into the castle, where they stayed until the Victoria Conservatory of Music took residence in 1969. Ten years later, Craigdarroch Castle became the ever-evolving museum Victoria knows today (The Society purchased the building for $1 in the early ’90s).
Victoria’s Castle was made with current HD video, archival video, images from the Royal BC Museum, the City of Victoria and the National Archives and re-enactments.
“This isn’t a tourism piece, it’s very much a history documentary,” says Hughes. “We want to broaden the scope of the conversations about Victoria’s history and the castle and the community can help tell those stories. There’s a lot of oral history about the castle and it would be really exciting to hear some of those stories.”
Screenings of Victoria’s Castle are being offered as an enhanced tour starting May 18, and running May 20, 28, June 1 and 8. Admission is free for members or general admission plus $5. Doors open at 6:15 p.m., and the film begins at 7 p.m. Watch the trailer here: youtube.com/watch?v=Tm5rXnfLOzQ. M