An Archival Moment: Hatley Castle tour

Jenny Seeman
Hatley Park Visitors

As a university administration building, Hatley Castle is a busy place, but it is not just the activity in each of the offices that keeps the building alive. The spectacular ground floor rooms are frequently used for lectures, presentations, meetings, meals, weddings, and many other functions. How were the rooms used in the past? Has there been much structural change in castle? These are just an example of questions that are frequently asked about the castle space.

When the castle was designed in 1908, it was meant to be a private home: for James Dunsmuir, coal baron, former premier and ex-Lieutenant Governor, a refuge from the world of business and politics, and for his wife, Laura, a place to entertain and accommodate her large family and staff. When the Dunsmuir family moved here in 1910, it was the largest private residence on the west coast.

In the grand hall, the stone fireplace is carved from rose‐colored sandstone brought from Flagstaff, Arizona. It is the first of seven wood‐burning fireplaces found on the castle’s first floor; all of which are designed to be inefficient: the building is actually heated by a steam‐based central heating system, which was originally coal-fired. Beyond the grand fireplace is the drawing room. This room would have seen most of the formal and informal entertainment offered by the household. The room is 1200 square feet with 16 foot ceilings - the size of a modest three-bedroom home!

In the west wing of the building are the living room or library, James’ smoking room, the billiard room, and a study. Originally, a frieze of horses, painted by Jacob Semeyn, ran along the walls of this wing. As designated by the male and female busts at the entrance to the house, this wing could be considered the ‘masculine’ side of the house. When Royal Roads was a military college, these rooms were used as: a senior mess bar and reception area, the commandant’s office, the senior mess recreation area, and the commandant’s secretary’s office respectively. The east wing of the building was mostly a staff area. The dining room has two entrances, one of which leads directly to the kitchens and servants’ area. The Dunsmuir’s trusted butler, William Packe, who joined their service when they lived at Government House, had a room in this wing, as did the footman, John Jamieson.

When the Dunsmuir family moved into the house in 1910, only six of ten children were still living at home; the four older children were already married. Dola, the youngest daughter, born in 1903, was the only child that required a nursery regime and had the bedroom in the south-east corner of the second floor, which is now meeting room #209. This bedroom was connected to the nurse’s bedroom facing east. During the military era, these rooms were initially used as a dental office and sick bay and later became office spaces. Two more bedrooms, a sewing room and a linen room made up the second floor east wing.

The main bedroom in the centre of the house had a bed chamber of 480 square feet with a separate dressing room on the right hand side and a boudoir on the left. In larger Victorian homes, a boudoir was a lady’s private sitting room and would have included a daybed or ‘fainting couch’. By the Edwardian era and particularly in grand North American homes, the room was more commonly used as a dressing room. The layout of these male and female dressing areas again nicely mirrors the male and female busts at the entrance to the home. The fireplace in the main bedroom was in an interesting position. With closets placed behind, an extended flue was required to join the main chimney stack in the centre of the house. When the Department of National Defence bought the property, this suite became the college library and it remained here until 1974 when the current Coronel Memorial Library was built. The fireplace and the closets behind were removed to make the room larger. The area now houses the finance department.

The west wing of the second floor had four more bedrooms and a dressing room. There were five bathrooms on this floor. The room in the south west corner, now the Presidents’ office was likely the best guest bedroom. It was attached to its own private dressing room which itself connected to a bathroom. An original bathtub is still in place in this bathroom.

A cozy little spot once existed on the minstrel’s gallery, which is the space in between the first and second floors; on the right hand side as you go up the stairs is a small winding staircase up to the third floor, and on the left was a rounded nook with a banquette, or built in seating area, for intimate conversations. During the military era, this corner space was converted to the hall porter’s office and a Dutch-door was installed, which allowed the top half to swing open and the bottom to stay closed. A skilled carpenter was employed to make all the modifications during the castle’s conversion to a naval college. Bespoke fittings such as the Dutch door and the bar in the former library were carefully designed and hand made in an attempt to respect and retain the character of the former Dunsmuir home.

On the third floor there were 10 more bedrooms. Again, the east wing would have accommodated staff, whereas the west wing, also known as the bachelor wing, had larger bedrooms which served as additional guest rooms. When family visited with grandchildren in tow, they would have occupied this area. There were also two more bathrooms on this floor. The second largest bedroom in the house, which is now an executive boardroom, was once Elinor’s suite. Like the main bedroom below, the beautiful white marble fireplace required an extended flue to reach the central chimney stack. As a naval college, this room was used by the ‘ship’s officer’ and later became an orderly room, or administration office. The closet space behind the fireplace was removed during the military era providing a more open space in the hallway. The bedrooms on this floor were converted to offices and cabins for cadets before the Grant building was constructed and would have accommodated four cadets per room. The north-west corner of the building, where the Advancement Office is currently located in room #322, was designated as an unfinished space on Maclure’s original plans. A rough shiplap floor would have made the space suitable for storage but it is quite likely that this was used as additional bedroom space.

A stairway used to exist in the central hallway to access the tower. Although this room was designed as a ballroom, it was seldom used as such and was likely used as additional storage space or as a staff work room. Certainly, for visiting grandchildren it would have made a terrific hideout and play area! For Royal Roads Military College, this area served variously as stores, a chapel and sacristy, and office cubicles.

Included here are the original floor plan sketches by Samuel Maclure. If you have any questions or comments about the castle layout or how rooms have changed over the years, please contact Jenny Seeman in the archives by email or on extension 4122.