The first time I visited Dundurn Castle in Hamilton Ontario, I was a small child and everything seemed so big and magical – like a fairytale. It was my very own castle where I could pretend to be a princess and to this day it remains one of my absolute favourite places to be in the entire world. I cannot even count the number of times I have walked through the big house on the hill or even just sat outside day dreaming and I may or may not know the tour off by heart but that is about to change. New information has come to light and over the coming months there will be additions to the tour and changes to the existing rooms so I thought I would visit one more time before it all becomes new again.
Dundurn Castle was built in 1832-35 on land that was once known as Burlington Heights, a cliff right on the tip of Lake Ontario. During the War of 1812, the British Army established a military post on the site and it was an important piece of the puzzle in winning the war. Remnants of it’s military past still exist today both on the grounds and within the castle, as it was literally built right on top of their post – and another home. Dundurn was constructed for Sir. Allen Napier MacNab, one of Canada’s first premiers and designed as a Regency style villa but was nicknamed “the castle” by the people of Hamilton because of its grand size. The 18, 000 square foot house has three floors and 72 rooms and was one of the first houses to feature running water and gas lighting.
Dundurn was very unique for it’s time because it sat on a large section of land that also housed, a pigeon coop, a guest house, a garden, a coach house, a cock-fighting ring and a zoo. Today you can visit the guest house and the coach house but they have been turned into a military museum and a gift shop.
The kitchen garden is still in working order with all sorts of flowers and vegetables that the museum uses to cook for it’s guests. The garden is the size of a football field and is tended full time by costumed staff.
Of course, the house itself is the main attraction and rightly so. The stunning mansion is restored to 1855 when Sir. Macnab was at the height of his career and financial status. 42 rooms both upstairs and downstairs are open to the public to showcase how MacNab and his family would have lived at the time. The tour starts on the upper floors showing you the rooms frequently used by the family including the drawing room, the library, smoking room, dining room, butlers quarters and a washroom with a flushing toilet!
After you have been thoroughly immersed in the life of the wealthy, you are taken downstairs – underground – to view the servants quarters, which were actually very nice for the time period. You get to experience 19th century laundry and accommodations before you get to visit the kitchen – my favourite part! One of my favourite memories of visiting Dundurn is getting to have a treat in the kitchen, to this day, staff use period recipes, equipment and ingredients to bake treats to give to the guests. This day we got to sample shortbread as well as currents and raspberries from the garden.
The hour long tour ends after you exit the kitchen and you are left to explore the grounds.
Dundurn Castle has always held a special place in my heart and I am glad I got to document it before the restoration begins. I cannot wait to see the changes they make and if all works out, some day I will be getting married at the big house on the hill.