Vancouver Island has a rich history, one that has been driven by British Columbia’s deposits of gold and coal, as well as its huge forests and abundant fish. The island’s first colony is credited to John Meares, who set up a fur-trading post in 1788 on the west coast of Vancouver Island. But the initial surge of immigrants was spurred by the gold rush of 1858. The island’s coastal woodlands drew loggers, and by the 1860s, the timber industry at the southern end of Vancouver Island was booming.
Here are the three historical destinations that provide glimpses into Vancouver Island’s colorful past.
In a quiet residential neighborhood a short walk from Inner Harbour is the spectacular Craigdarroch Castle. Designed by architect Warren H. Williams, it presents an array of stylistic elements: Romanesque revival, Jacobean and Scottish Baronial. Built in the late 1880s for coal tycoon Robert Dunsmuir, it offers visitors a vivid glimpse of how the affluent lived toward the end of the Victorian era. The exterior was designed to flaunt Dunsmuir’s wealth and social status, and the interior décor had the same objective. (Dunsmuir passed away a few months before the house was finished, but his wife lived in the castle until her death, in 1908.)
Upon entry, visitors are asked to use a shoe cleaner machine. They are then free to explore the four floors of the castle at their own pace. The palatial interiors feature stained-glass windows, original furnishings, intricate red cedar woodwork, wrought-iron detailing, pink-granite columns and no fewer than 17 fireplaces. In the dance hall is an antique Collard & Collard piano, which “visitors with musical ability” may play on. We especially loved the drawing room with its hand-painted ceiling. From the tower, the panoramic views of Victoria, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the snowcapped Olympic Mountains were indeed magnificent.
Those with mobility limitations should note that the mansion lacks ramps and elevators.
1050 Joan Crescent, Victoria. Tel. (250) 592-5323
Kinsol Trestle is one of the tallest freestanding timber trestle structures in the world. Nestled within the forests of the Cowichan Valley, it is a historically significant relic of the region’s industrial past. Designed by qualified engineers but built by local loggers and farmers, the trestle was begun in 1911 with funding from the Canadian Northern Pacific Railway. It was completed in 1920. This hybrid structure with six levels of trestlework and eight parallel-chord trusses stands 144 feet above the Koksilah River and spans a 617-foot-long canyon. As the forestry industry expanded, the trestle provided a means for giant old-growth cedars and firs to be hauled from Victoria to Nootka Sound. The last train crossed the bridge in 1979. In 2010, rehabilitation work was undertaken by Cowichan Valley’s regional district, and a year later, the trestle was officially opened to cyclists, hikers and equestrians.
2869 Glen Eagles Road, Shawnigan Lake. (250) 746-2620
Writer, painter and environmentalist Emily Carr was little-known in her lifetime but is now recognized as one of Canada’s most influential artists. Her work represents a lifelong appreciation of British Columbia’s natural landscapes and indigenous peoples.
In her written work “The Book of Small,” Carr describes how her childhood home and its environs had an impact on her formative years. Her parents arrived in Victoria via California in 1863. Having become a successful wholesale merchant, Carr’s father commissioned leading architect John Wright to build a grand home in Victoria’s quiet, leafy James Bay district next to Beacon Hill Park and just a short walk from the shoreline. Wright designed an elegant, bright-yellow, gingerbread-style house in which the Carrs lived with their nine children. The house was formally recognized as a National Historic Site of Canada in 1964.
Inside, we admired the lovely pottery that Carr created, the antiquities she collected and the reproductions of her paintings (most of the originals are housed in the Vancouver Art Gallery). Unusual for her time, Carr would undertake daring journeys into British Columbia’s wilderness to visit remote First Nations villages. These trips inspired her paintings of totem poles and tribal symbols, as well as those of the region’s forests.
The museum is open from May to September.
Emily Carr House
207 Government Street, Victoria. (250) 383-5843