Sunday, January 25, 2015

A Family Outing to Dundurn Castle

This year my husband and I have resolved to get out and about and see more of what our area of Ontario has to offer.  We quite often head into Toronto for some excitement, but we have realized there is just as much to see the Halton and Hamilton regions near our home. 
This weekend we drove 20 minutes to Hamilton, Ontario, to visit a historic home built in the 1800s, Dundurn Castle.   
The sky was grey and cold, but nothing was going to dampen our enthusiasm!!
Here is the front view of the house.  Pretty impressive, eh? 
It's  built facing towards the city of Hamilton and backs onto Hamilton Harbour. 
For some historical context:
We passed the Castle's Dovecote on our way to by our entrance tickets.  The kids had never seen a dovecote and wondered why they existed.  A quick google on our phone and we found out that....
"A dovecote is a structure intended to house pigeons or doves. Dovecotes may be free-standing structures in a variety of shapes, or built into the end of a house or barn. They generally contain pigeonholes for the birds to nest. Pigeons and doves were an important food source historically in Western Europe and were kept for their eggs, flesh, and dung."
Inside the house we were chaperoned by a very knowledgeable guide named Victoria (named after the Queen!), dressed in a traditional costume circa 1855. 
The first room we visited was the formal Drawing Room.  Very pretty and very feminine.
My daughter was very disappointed to hear that children were traditionally not allowed in this room. It was a place of quiet and repose where grown-ups could talk  politics and religion without the interruption of children. 
She just wanted to spend more time in this gorgeous pink place!!
Although I, too, am a lover of pink, it was the ceiling plaster that caught my eye!
Back in the hallway, we walked across this original Victorian tile work.  Each colour is placed in the floor like a stone quilt, adding to the rich effect of the décor. 
(I'm a sucker for floors, too.  Hubby always laughs when I take photos of floor coverings!)
Continuing down the hall, this luxurious staircase came into view. 
Very dramatic. Very rich-looking.   
Dundurn cost $175 000 to build back in 1830s. In today's money that's about $39 million. 
Not bad for 18 000 square feet of living space.  :)
Because my husband and I are both classically trained musicians, musical instruments always catch our eye.  All three kids are now taking piano lessons too, and even they longed to try out this 100-year-old box grand piano. 
Around the corner, we were lead into the men's Smoking Room where the table was set for a game of cards and a glass of claret.  Hubby wanted to become part of this scene!!

And the dining room! Seating for 40 and plenty of glitter from the huge chandelier and  the gold and crystal candlesticks. 

After viewing the more formal, "upstairs" parts of the castle, we made the journey down into the basement of the house to see how the other half lived while caring for and serving the uppercrust. 
See those bells - just like Downton Abbey.  Ring one from upstairs and someone will come running, "At your service" of course!

Obviously, the servants were preparing for a large event. Under that net basket is the biggest cake I've seen in awhile!
As a special treat, because we were such well-behaved visitors, our guide took us into some "unfinished" rooms.  They are hoping to finish and re-stage a few more areas of the castle for public consumption. 
At this point only 42 of the 72 rooms in the house are viewable by paying patrons and they are hoping to up that by a few more rooms by summer 2015. 
The first step in redecorating a room to look circa 1855 is to hang wallpaper that is appropriate for the time.  The wallpaper being hung in these three unused bedrooms are actually reprints of small samples they found under layers of panelling and paint in each room. 

Here is a photo of the original wallpaper in situ and the expensive reprint the museum has had  made to rehang in the refurbishment. 

And at the end of our visit.....
A family photo in front of the big wooden entry door!
 (Family minus me, of course!)
(Yep. Camden has stick.  He always has a stick.  He found this one upon arrival, put it somewhere "safe" while we were inside and found it again when we came out.  Such dedication to a stick!)

On the grounds of the castle there is a small Military Museum that has many "hands-on" displays.  We headed there next to try out some uniforms from the war of 1812, a cannon and some checkers (played by soldiers in between battles!)
A little less serious than the house, a lot of fun for the kids (and my hubby!)

In closing, some interesting facts about Dundurn:
~ Dundurn Castle was famous across the country for its grand entertainments and massive balls.
~  Sir John A. MacDonald (Canada's first Prime Minister)  and King Edward VII are among those who stayed at Dundurn Castle to name a few.
~ The Duchess of Cornwall, Camilla Parker-Bowles is the Royal Patron of Dundurn Castle

I hope you enjoyed our little foray into Victorian-era history.  The kids said they really enjoyed the outing - especially the traditional shortbread cookies they were given by the "Cook" in the basement of the castle!
Come back soon!


  1. Wow, what a great day you had! It can be really fun going around old houses, particularly if you have an interesting guide. Glad you had a good time xx

    1. Yes! There aren't a lot of historical properties around here (not like in the UK!) but we hope to visit as many as we can over the next year! The kids seemed to enjoy it - and we hope to raise some cultured, well-educated-in-history kids! It was interesting to hear them compare this huge home to the ones we viewed on our recent trip to France. It's not very often 6, 8 and 10 year olds get to make those comparisons form real-life experience!!

  2. Now then Bronwyn, you know how much I LOVE LOVE LOVE places like this. The dove cote is amazing - my son wanted one (on a smaller scale) but doves can be so messy! I could quite easily live in that pink room, just snuggled on the sofa, reading and taking notes. I also have to say that I love the fact that you took photos of the tiles and the cornicing, these details are always so beautiful to look at. Thank you for taking us on this tour xx

    1. Thanks for coming along! There is lots to see around here - and we plan on visiting a lot of similar places in the near future. Lots of tile and plaster pictures coming up!! By the way, would your son settle for a big birdhouse instead??

  3. Oh my goodness this is such a fun outing! What a great day!

    1. It was the perfect way to combat a cold, gray day! The kids are already asking what we are doing next weekend!!

  4. What wonderful memories and experiences you are giving your kids! Your son reminds me of Emma. She still, at 13, often looks for a stick or some piece of nature!

    1. 13?? I thought Camden might grow out of this stage before then. Oh well. If it makes him happy...... :) Hopefully our children will look back at these outings with fond memories - and maybe take the same trips with their own kids!


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