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Following a soft opening in the summer, the caretakers of Craigdarroch Castle officially unveil the first phase of their kitchen restorations
The house party is almost always in the kitchen, so it was party time at Craigdarroch Castle yesterday when its restored Dunsmuir-era scullery—if you can call the kitchen of a 25,000-square-foot castle such a thing—was unveiled.
“I feel like I’ve just been invited to the ultimate kitchen party,” chuckled Tourism Minister Lana Popham, whose government funded $288,000 toward the restoration.
The kitchen, if you know the castle, is where the gift shop used to be until 2017, when enthusiastic, ready-to-spend visitors were directed to a newly built wing of an adjacent building.
“A lot of people look at the kitchen as the heart of the home,” John Hughes, Craigdarroch Castle’s executive director, tells Capital Daily.
No photos were available to follow the schematic design of the circa-1890s kitchen, so a painstaking restoration process involving carefully matching nail holes and other carpentry forensics was used to piece together what the kitchen looked like: where walls, sinks and pipes were when widow Joan Dunsmuir (husband Robert died before castle construction was completed in 1890) and her children—and their servants—meandered within the room.
“So if you have nail holes, and then a gap, that’s a doorway,” said Hughes, explaining that because the castle is a national historic site, they couldn’t just guess where the walls were.
“You don’t want to fool your visitors into thinking what they’re seeing is correct,” Hughes said.
Reno work to the kitchen included the restoration and replacement of shutters, the installation of high-calibre wood wainscoting and mouldings around windows and doors, the repair and painting of plaster surfaces, and the installation of nondescript flooring.
Visitors entering the 250-square-foot kitchen immediately will notice the lush and shiny, brown western red cedar wainscotting along the walls, which are predominately taupe in their original colour (not the paint itself, that’s two blends of Sherwin-Williams, Hughes tells Capital Daily).
When those visitors gaze upward, they’ll see the ceiling 14 feet above, painted a light green, while window trim, including the shutters are made of attractive American ash. There's cherry and more glorious cedar in the pantry.
The Dunsmuirs—Joan, her three unmarried daughters and two orphaned grandchildren—sure had some sweet digs.
Four large windows pour daylight into the room, which back in the day opened and combined with a double-door system, enabled servants and cooks to confine aromas to the kitchen, because Hughes says, Victorians didn’t like to have kitchen smells emanate throughout the house.
The kitchen project has been a long time in the making for the passionate people who work at the castle. The idea became a plan with the gift shop moving a few metres away six years ago. That plan sustained speed bumps even pre-COVID, and came to fruition two years after Craigdarroch Castle got the provincial heritage infrastructure funding.
Surveys conducted on castle visitors spoke loudly, as 86% polled said they wanted to see the kitchen to learn more about the servant’s activities and food preparation in the Dunsmuir era, Hughes said.
“They want to see food,” Hughes tells Capital Daily. “So one of the things we want to do is figure out how we interpret that food question: do we look at what pots on the stove looked like, what does a dish with eels in it look like?”
Interestingly, nothing of historical note—other than a wall that wasn’t known to have existed, “Surprise, we’ve got an extra room” Hughes laughed—was discovered during the restoration process, he said.
With Phase 1 of the restoration complete, Hughes already is thinking ahead to Phase 2, which he says he’d like to see completed by tourism high season.
Depending on the yields of fundraising, those second-phase additions may include appliances of the day, sinks and pots, which as Hughes put it, “help tell the story and engage our visitors.”
Which way they go will depend on how much money they have to play with, Hughes told Capital Daily.
That’s Moira Dann’s department.
Dann is president of the Craigdarroch Castle Historical Museum Society, and she’s been around the philanthropic block.
“In my fundraising life in the past, I’ve discovered if you say ‘give me a lot of money just to keep the doors open’, it’s not good,” Dann tells Capital Daily.
“But if you say ‘we want to do this thing in the kitchen, and we want to do it between now and next July and then it will open and this will be the actual product, what do you say?’ That kind of thing is easier to raise money for,” says Dann, whose book Craigdarroch Castle in 21 Treasures chronicles one of this city’s most famous landmarks, and certainly its most awesome castle.
“So that’s what I’ll be looking for.”
Sounds like Phase 2 and a possible Phase 3 of renos will be interactive, just as Phase 1 is, with visitors encouraged to touch the items they see on the prep table which sits near the centre of the room: various kitchen tools, such as a large ladle, whisks, a silver serving dish, and an engaging, albeit strikingly heavy copper pot.
“If you think of a cook that has to move these things around, on an eight- or nine-hour shift, making meals and prepping, it gives people a sense of just what was involved physically to cook a meal at that time,” Hughes says, capturing succinctly what this is all about: seeing, feeling, touching the past.