By: Nikki Simon
November 11th 2020
As you enter Craigdarroch Castle, your eyes fall upon a massive fireplace adorned with elegant carvings; among these are the words "Welcome ever smiles, and farewell goes out sighing." A quote by William Shakespeare that, I like to imagine, would have brought comfort to soldiers arriving at the manor for the first time.
Located in Victoria, Craigdarroch Castle was built between 1887 and 1890 by Robert and Joan Dunsmuir; by the time the Great War broke out in 1914, the castle was under the control of The Bank of Montreal and by the end of the war, foreclosure proceedings had begun on the property.
On November 11th, 1918, Armistice was signed. However, while the war was over, there were new problems that needed to be contended back home. Military hospitals across Europe were shutting down. Their occupants were sent back to their respective countries where overcrowding and strained resources in existing hospitals became a real source of concern. Within Canada, it became the job of the Department of Soldiers Civil Reestablishment or DSCR to find solutions to these problems.
Here is where it became fortuitous that Craigdarroch was lying unused. The DSCR, aided by the Military Hospitals Commission Command, headed, coincidentally, by Colonel James Swan Harvey, the Dunsmuir's grandson, negotiated with The Bank of Montreal. Successfully, in January of 1919, they procured Craigdarroch Castle to house the overflow of wounded soldiers pouring back into Canada.
Craigdarroch Castle was specifically designated to house those soldiers deemed "long-treatment cases or incurables." However, it also came to provide medical treatment and therapy to veterans living in the area. The castle contained 110 beds, organized with the floors above the third containing the wards, and the basement containing the gymnasium and hydrotherapeutic equipment. The capital supplied furnishings and other extras and creature comforts were donated by charitable organizations such as the Red Cross and Victoria Purple Star Lodge.
The castle was finished its transformation and officially opened as a hospital on September 25th, 1919, by the Prince of Wales. By then, the castle was outfitted with all the amenities needed to comfort these soldiers, give them aid, and prepare them to enter society once again. The DSCR wanted the castle to provide a home-like environment to to these men; as such, it was full of distractions. Inside were books, plants, a gramophone and both a pool and snooker table; while outside, patients were supplied with a tennis court, a large vegetable garden and a brand new vocational building. Aside from being welcome comfort to soldiers who had known little more than the horror of war for the past years, these amenities served a practical purpose. Activities such as pool and tennis helped regain hand-eye coordination; reading and gardening were therapeutic and focusing. Most importantly, the vocational building allowed for curative treatment through occupation and taught skills useful for reintegration into society; inside the vocational building were located a machine shop, woodworking room, basket room, and paint shop. Occasionally, items made by soldiers were sold off; profits were then either given to the patient or placed into a communal "amusement" fund.
Sadly, it was just over a year later that it was announced that Craiddarroch Military Hospital would close. The hospital's fate could be blamed on The Bank of Montreal increasing the cost of rent on the castle. Still, it can also be seen as an inevitability; at this time, military hospitals all across Canada were starting to close with a lack of patients.
At the beginning of 1921, only sixteen months after its opening, Craigdarroch closed its doors for good.
During this short time, hundreds of soldiers lived and found treatment within the halls of Craigdarroch. Of the soldiers that passed through the castle's corridors, most were able to move past their memories and experiences of the Great War, successfully living out the rest of their lives. Heartbreakingly, there were six who did not. Here we will remember the names of those six men.
William John Reed (100402) - Died October 8th, 1919 of throat cancer, 43 years old. Place of interment unknown.
Corporal James Kneale (517773) - Died December 27th, 1919, of lung cancer, 43 years old. Place of interment unknown.
John Sixsmith (60557) - Died September 20th, 1920 of a stroke, 53 years old. Now interred at the Naval Cemetery in Esquimalt.
Frederick William Millar (506803) - Died on October 22th 1920, of cancer of the larynx, 44 years old. Now interred at Ross Bay Cemetery in Victoria.
Private William Annandale Taylor (S-152) - Died on November 24th, 1920, of respiratory paralysis, 44 years old. Now interred at Ross Bay Cemetery in Victoria.
Charles William Kneale (509747) - Died on December 20th, 1920, of cirrhosis of the liver, 58 years old. Now interred at Ross Bay Cemetery in Victoria.
I can only imagine how these men felt living within the vast meandering manor that is Craigdarroch Castle. Situated high on the landscape with its moody elegance and stained glass windows colouring the sun as it spills across the floors. Craigdarroch Military Hospital provided life and repair, a welcome respite after a hard journey. Though it was only for a short time, those who stayed there and their families will always welcome its contribution to Canada.
Craigdarroch Military Hospital: A Canadian War Story by: Bruce Davies
Craigdarroch Castle Now Soldiers' Home. (1919, September 7). The Daily Colonist, p. 8.
Davies, B. (2016). Craigdarroch Military Hospital: A Canadian War Story. Victoria, British Columbia: Craigdarroch Castle Historical Museum Society.