Craigdarroch Castle - A Setting For a Story

In October of 2019, my gothic romance short story “In Through a Dark Maze” was published in Love Among the Thorns: An Anthology of Contemporary Paranormal and Gothic Romance.

In Through a Dark Maze is the story of Ava and Noah, two people who have experienced great loss and who find healing (and each other) through the maze that twines their pasts together.

Since all gothic tales must involve some kind of crumbling manor, I set my story in a 19th-century castle that is located near my home on Vancouver Island, namely, Victoria, BC.  

Rear facade of Craigdarroch Castle showing the ballroom

Craigdarroch Castle was built in the 1880s by Scottish coal baron Robert Dunsmuir as a gift for his wife, Joan. Unfortunately, Robert died before construction was completed and so he never got to live in the home of his dreams. After Joan’s death, the castle had a varied history over the next century. It served as a military hospital, a college, a school board office, and a conservatory of music before becoming the museum and historical site it now is.

Craigdarroch Castle cost upwards of $500,000 to build. It boasts the best materials, including granite from British Columbia and tile from San Francisco. Its grand, white oak staircase was prefabricated in Chicago before being shipped to Victoria. The castle originally stood on 28 acres of land, landscaped into a formal garden. Craigdarroch is over 25,000 square feet and has four massive floors that house 39 rooms.

Stained Glass Windows

The castle contains a rich palette of stained glass, intricate woodwork, and breathtaking stonework. Although the various iterations of the mansion resulted in quite a lot of damage to its interior, many decades of caring restoration have brought the mansion back to the way it was in the peak of its opulence and beauty.

Wood Inlaid Floor
Corinthian Columns

I have adored visiting this castle throughout my life and always marvel at the most recent restorations. This is why I decided to set my story here. But as we know, fiction, even historical fiction, does bend some facts to serve the story, and I have certainly done so. I thought you might find it interesting to see photographs of where the story takes place and learn about certain elements that are different from the reality of the castle and its grounds.

My main character, Ava, is a tribute to the amazing restorers who have worked on the castle over the years. In In Through a Dark Maze (ITADM), Ava is an art restorer and she comes to work on a ceiling mural located in Joan Dunsmuir’s bedroom. In reality, the ceiling mural, which was discovered under layers of paint and restored in the 1990s, is located on the main floor in the drawing room. Here are photographs of the ceiling mural.

Joan’s Bedroom is located on the second floor. Just like in my story, Joan’s bedroom, I’m afraid, isn’t very fancy. It suffered quite a lot of damage during its time as a military hospital and dorm room. Today, the room houses information about the castle and the Dunsmuir family, but you can still see the original fireplace and look out over the terrace to the yard below.

Hubby in Joan's Bedroom

Speaking of the grounds. As I said earlier, the castle sat on 28 acres of beautiful British Columbian land, with a view of Victoria and of Vancouver Island that it is situated on. However, much of the land was sold off, and the castle now has close neighbours. In ITADM, I wanted to preserve some of the land, as I often imagined what the castle would have looked like sitting on a combination of forest and manicured gardens, so I created the maze. No maze actually exists, nor did it ever. I was inspired by the maze had seen in the old Minter Gardens in Chilliwack. I wanted to recreate its presence on the grounds of Craigdarroch Castle, if only in my imagination. Likewise, no little cottage exists on the grounds either. So I’m sorry, but you won’t find a handsome, albeit brooding, gardener lurking there.

The view from Joan's Room with downtown Victoria in the distance

The view of the remaining grounds looking south

In the story, when the power goes out in the castle, Ava runs down the main oak staircase and out the side door. These features are very much features of the castle. Here are views of the staircase, the side door, and the terrace.

The Grand Staircase

The side entrance to the castle

The door from the outside

The terrace

The servant’s bedroom that Ava sleeps in is also a real feature of the castle. In recent years, the museum has opened more of servants’ rooms that had previously been used as offices. The servants’ rooms were located on the second and third floors. Some were set far back in the house, under eaves, but there is one that has been opened up in the central part of the building, where it bordered the bedroom of one of the Dunsmuir daughters. I believe this was so the help could be close to aid the ailing woman.

A servant's room tucked away in a corner of the castle on the third floor. 

In ITADM, Ava looks out at the sweeping views of the grounds below. The higher up you go, the more dizzying the heights. Here’s some pictures of the grounds taking from different levels of the castle.

What I didn’t discuss in my book, was what is located on the third and fourth floor. The third floor, in addition to bedrooms and servants rooms, contains a large billiards room. 

Looking beyond the pool table to the features of the room

A sitting area behind the pool table. The pool table was massive by the way. 

The fourth floor, is a magnificent ballroom. Yep, the whole dang floor is one massive ball room with hardwood floor and bandstand area. Many a fabulous performance was witnessed here, including during its time as a conservatory of music.

A little reception area of the ballroom

The band area. Across from this is a huge dance area

Of course, I can’t end my tour without discussing the main element in any gothic tale: that of the supernatural. In this case, the ghost of Joan Dunsmuir. She features heavily in my story but is there a real ghost of Mrs. Dunsmuir. Is the castle haunted? That aspect of my story is true. Over the years, staff have reported hearing music after hours when no one is there, and objects moving around by themselves. I have personally felt a strange presence in Joan’s room which caused feelings of panic, tingling, and a sense of feeling overwhelmed. This has happened to me on two different occasions. But only in that room. Others have reported seeing a grey figure on the upstairs landing of the staircase. But I invite you to visit the castle and see for yourself. Do you feel anything? Do you believe in ghosts?

I hope my post inspires you to pick up a copy of Love Among the Thorns and read In Through a Dark Maze. May you enjoy it, (as well as all the other fabulous gothic romances in the anthology, written by talented authors). I hope it inspires you to visit Craigdarroch Castle when its safe to travel again. You might even see (or at least feel) the presence of Joan Dunsmuir herself. If not, you can always picture there is a maze, and somewhere, two souls are lovingly pruning it and making it come to life.

For more information on Craigdarroch Castle, please visit

To purchase Love Among the Thorns and read my story, click on the image of Love Among the Thorns in the left-hand sidebar. 


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