Saturday, December 22, 2007

craigdarroch castle - 6

craigdarroch - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

It took seven years after Robert Dunsmuir's death before his wife Joan gave up the title of the San Francisco company to her sons James and Alex, and another three before she agreed to sell them the Wellington Colliery.

Finally, in 1900 Alex, who had been living with divorcee Josephine Wallace for 20 years, against his mother's wishes, felt secure enough to marry her. He built Dunsmuir House in Oakland California as a wedding present for her, and they went off to New York on a honeymoon. Six weeks after the wedding, while on his honeymoon, he died.

This began the advent of a whole new family feud. For though Alex had willed some money and real estate to Josephine, the bulk of his money and business interests was left to his brother James. Sometime later Josephine's daughter, the actress Edna Wallace Hopper, determined to cash in on his estate, joined Joan in suing James.

(Click on article to enlarge)

James was premier of British Columbia at the time. A New York Times headline read: "Premier Sued by His Mother."

As a result of the legal action, Joan and James didn't speak for years. When she died in 1908, James, who was then Lieutenant Governor of BC, wasn't expected to attend her funeral. At the last minute he attended anyway and during the service, broke down and wept.

Joan left her estate to her five surviving daughters, one son-in-law and three grandchildren. To divide the proceeds, the contents of the castle were sold in a three-day auction. The 28-acre lot was subdivided and also sold.

It soon became clear there was little interest in buying the castle, so a lottery was devised whereby anyone who purchased a lot would be eligible to win the castle. Solomon Cameron won the draw.

Mr. Cameron never lived in the castle but used it as collateral to finance his business dealings. Ten years later he lost it to the Bank of Montreal.

Here's what became of it after that:

1919 - 1921: Craigdarroch Military hospital
1921 - 1946: Victoria College
1946 - 1968: Victoria School Board
1969 - 1979: Victoria Conservatory of Music
1979 - present: Historic House Museum

Castle building apparently ran in the family, for both of the Dunsmuir boys built mansions of their own:

Alex Dunsmuir's Dunsmuir Mansion, Oakland, California

James Dunsmuir's mansion Hatley Castle in Victoria, British Columbia


As you can tell, the castle and the story of the family that built it intrigue me. Rags to riches stories are always fascinating - but even more fascinating perhaps, are riches to rags stories. The Dunsmuir family's tale is tragic in an almost Shakespearean way with its premature and sudden deaths, a history of alcoholism and its family feuds. It makes for interesting reading - but it also makes me very thankful for my humble townhouse with one fireplace, no wood paneling or stained glass but where we all get along -- at least most of the time.

Information about Craigdarroch Castle and the Dunsmuir family taken from Craigdarroch Castle brochures and internet sources.

People in and around Victoria are invited to Christmas festivities at Craigdarroch. The castle is a beautiful and lively place at Christmas hearkening visitors back to its happiest days.


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