Victoria-based writer Moira Dann has all the time been fascinated by Confederation-era social historical past. As the present president of Craigdarroch Fort Museum Society’s board, she has change into intimately accustomed to the numerous objects Victoria’s bonanza fortress has to supply visiting friends. Though in the present day’s guests are relegated to reserving a time prematurely and all excursions are self-guided because of COVID-19 restrictions, Dann and others are eagerly ready to return in droves, squeezing previous unknown attendees to get a glimpse of one thing glamorous from a bygone period.
In Craigdarroch Fort in 21 Treasures (accessible April 20), Dann whisks readers by the numerous rooms of Robert and Joan Dunsmuir’s Fort — no elbowing essential — regaling readers with the bounty of treasures collected over the a long time, together with stained-glass home windows, an historical intercom system and pianos, like those talked about right here.
Some may say it’s preposterous to suppose an outline of a large story repository resembling Craigdarroch Fort may be lowered to not even two dozen objects. …
Why twenty-one objects? The quantity could seem a bit arbitrary, however it comes from the need to fluctuate the story of the fortress’s nineteenth-century beginnings and carry it ahead to the present century for up to date readers and for future generations, with every object used as a hook on which to hold a narrative and provide some context and tangential data.
Craigdarroch Fort homes extra than simply the tales of the delivery, railway, and coal baron (and western Canada’s richest man, for a time) Robert Dunsmuir, his spouse, Joan, and the fractious, fractured household he left behind. It additionally cradles the tales of the maimed and shell-shocked males despatched house by the Empire after the Nice Conflict and cared for from 1919 to 1921 at Craigdarroch Navy Hospital, in addition to these of Victoria School, the Victoria Conservatory of Music, the Victoria college board, and the efforts of the Craigdarroch Fort Historic Museum Society.
It’s a assortment that permits us a peek into the lives of various folks in a unique time and offers us a little bit of context for our lives within the twenty-ﬁrst century. The objects vary from world-class stained glass to tatting shuttles to a younger officer’s sabretache and spurs that talk of the army expectations of younger males within the early twentieth century. Tales of sophistication distinction are revealed by the examination of radiator brushes utilized by servants and the story of a piano ordered by one Dunsmuir brother and in the end delivered to a different brother in one other metropolis.
These objects can set our imaginations alight. Imagining an earlier time helps us create a greater now and picture a greater future.
FROM CLASSIC STEINWAY TO MELODEON: CRAIGDARROCH KEYBOARDS
Music was usually heard at Craigdarroch Fort. The Dunsmuir household loved listening to it in addition to making it. It was a characteristic after they entertained within the drawing room or simply hung out there collectively as a household, and definitely after they hosted huge occasions within the dance corridor on the highest ground.
These occasions—such because the night in 1894 when it’s mentioned 110 Victorians danced, and for which there’s a gold-coloured dance card with its personal golden pencil —have been among the many few socially sanctioned locations the place younger women and men might collect to fulfill, dance, and “courtroom,” with an eye fixed towards matrimony. There have been additionally elaborate occasions held when a few of the Dunsmuir daughters got here out and made their debut and have been formally offered to society.
There are three pianos (amongst 4 keyboard devices) in Craigdarroch Fort. Every has a narrative, however the jewel within the crown is the Steinway grand piano within the drawing room. Referred to as an “artwork case” Steinway, the instrument has loved common, if not steady, use over the past century. The time period refers back to the elaborate designs that make the piano distinctive. The Dunsmuir artwork case options floral swags and depictions of musical devices and notation together with bouquets.
This piano ended up with a unique member of the Dunsmuir household from the one who commissioned it from the Steinway manufacturing facility in New York Metropolis in 1898. It was Robert and Joan’s youthful son, Alexander Dunsmuir, who made the acquisition for the grand California house he was constructing. When he purchased it, he was in New York with the girl he referred to as his spouse however had but to marry, to go to his stepdaughter, the actress Edna Hopper. However it wasn’t lengthy earlier than Alexander’s life was taken by the alcoholism that had lengthy undermined his well being. He died on January 31, 1900, in New York Metropolis on his honeymoon, and his spouse, Josephine, died of most cancers quickly after.
His property went in its entirety to his brother, James, so the piano was shipped to Victoria through Toronto from the Steinway facility in New York. It was a centrepiece at Burleith, the house of James and Laura Dunsmuir, after which it moved with them to Authorities Home when James turned lieutenant-governor in 1906. It later accompanied them to Hatley Fort when the household moved there in 1910. The best beneficiary of the instrument was Elinor Dunsmuir, the fifth-eldest daughter and seventh of James and Laura’s surviving twelve youngsters.
Elinor (or Elk, as she was recognized within the household) was a giant expertise and really sensible, however the social constraints on girls of the day didn’t allow her to be a part of the enterprise or to do a lot else apart from search a great marriage. It’s believed Elinor was homosexual, so the marry-well-and-have-heirs route didn’t go well with her. Her musical expertise supplied her a means out—expertise she expressed on this piano. She spent a lot of her maturity in Europe, finding out and composing music for the stage and the ballet, and labored alongside greats resembling Noël Coward. She additionally had a style for playing and did quite a lot of it in Monte Carlo.
The piano was utilized in efficiency of and to file a few of Elinor’s music in 2018, for a recording titled “La Riche Canadienne” (as Elinor was recognized in Monte Carlo).
The piano was auctioned off for $500 in 1939 after Laura Dunsmuir died. James and Laura’s daughter, Muriel Dunsmuir, purchased it again in 1953. It modified fingers a number of extra instances earlier than discovering its eternally house on the fortress in 1985.
In some ways, much more exceptional than the New York–crafted Steinway within the drawing room is the upright piano within the third-floor billiard room. Its pedigree is strictly native, with its steel body having been forged at Albion Iron Works, partly owned by the Dunsmuir patriarch, Robert, and located on Authorities Road. The piano builders have been Charles Goodwin and G.W. Jordan, whose agency had a brief life; they have been thought to have crafted solely 13 pianos. This Goodwin and Jordan piano is believed to be one in every of only a few nonetheless extant. It got here to Craigdarroch within the late 1800s.
Its different declare to fame is its possession by Martha Harris, daughter of Sir James and Woman Amelia Douglas. Mrs. Harris left behind the colourful correspondence she had together with her father when she was in class in England. Later, after her dad and mom died, she wrote a ebook, during which she shared the tales her Métis mom had instructed her when Harris was a teen.
The third piano is the Collard & Collard within the fourth-floor dance corridor that guests are welcome to play.
One other keyboard value noting is the melodeon within the dance corridor. It got here to Victoria from California in 1875, introduced by Theophilus Elford, who established the Shawnigan Lake Lumber Firm. The instrument was his wedding ceremony present to his bride, Lillie Louisa Robertson, with whom he had six youngsters. Lillie died within the Level Ellice Bridge collapse with their daughter, Grace Constance. The bridge collapsed on Might 26, 1896, when a streetcar carrying 143 passengers on their solution to celebrations of Queen Victoria’s birthday fell into the Gorge Waterway. Fifty-five folks died. An investigation discovered each the Consolidated Electrical Railway Firm and the Victoria Metropolis Council answerable for the accident, because the bridge was not constructed to deal with the heavy weight of a streetcar and inspection methods undermined the construction.
A melodeon is a sort of reed organ that was well-liked within the latter a part of the nineteenth century and into the 20 th. A key-board wind instrument, it makes sound by drawing air (its suction created by a foot-pump bellows) over reeds. It’s the suction that makes it totally different from a harmonium, which pumps air by reeds to make sound.
The ebook launch for Craigdarroch Fort in 21 Treasures on Thursday, April 22, can be hosted, nearly, by Craigdarroch Fort. Go to www.thecastle.ca for more information.
Excerpted with permission from Craigdarroch Fort in 21 Treasures by Moira Dann 2021, TouchWood Editions. Copyright © 2021 Moira Dann.