Keys to the castle

New documentary explores history of Craigdarroch Castle

A camera crew cranes to the top of Craigdarroch Castle during the shooting of Victoria’s Castle

They set out to tell the story of a building, but instead the Craigdarroch Castle Historical Museum Society found itself immersed in the history of a region, its people and a community.

Victoria’s Castle is a new documentary produced to capture the history of the landmark and provide more historical context for the roughly 150,000 visitors that come through its doors each year.

The film’s director, Robin Adair, who is also a society board member, set out initially to produce a 10 minute film on the castle, but as he dug into its history and began to unearth archival materials, he knew he needed room to let it breathe.

“We uncovered all this fantastic stuff, so the thing started to really balloon and it turned into this opus,” Adair said. “There’s lots of things that surprised me. It seemed like every day there was some new thing that was uncovered that I hadn’t expected.”

Clocking in at just under an hour, the final film is a Ken Burns-style doc (think voiceovers and pans of photographs), but with some reenactment and a local feel. Interview footage is also incorporated, featuring notable figures associated with the castle’s history, including historian Pierre Burton, who graduated from Victoria College in 1937, and James K. Nesbitt, a journalist who founded the historical society in 1959, ensuring the site’s preservation.

The film tells the story of the castle’s creation, along with its role in the community over the years, after serving as a home to the Dunsmuirs. The castle has stood as a military hospital, one of the original locations of Victoria College (the future UVic), school board offices and the Victoria Conservatory of Music.

“Everything ties into a greater sense of community. It’s not just about the castle, it’s really about Victoria and our collective history,” said Elisabeth Hazell, manager of operations and development. “This documentary, in particular, is a really excellent way for those who are interested in learning more about the city to do so.”

Hazell did some of the voiceover work on the film and also acted in a couple of the reenactment scenes. She plays a Dunsmuir daughter in one scene, and a secretary during a scene set in the school board era of the castle. Dressed in costumes on loan from Langham Court Theatre, Hazell said it was a new and rewarding experience to be in the castle and dressed as those who lived there would have.

“It’s very different from … walking around as an authority figure, to actually be in the space and be in costume.”

As with Hazell’s experience, the documentary is intended to inspire viewers to see both the castle and Victoria as a whole in a new light and help them to tap into the stories and history of the area.

“People say, ‘Oh well, in Europe they have real history, in Canada we don’t really have history,’” Adair said. “It’s because we don’t know our history. To do this is a chance to really, for the first time for a lot of people, hear what was really going on 150 years ago.”

Next up is reediting the film to multiple lengths for various purposes, such as online promos and school screenings. The full-length movie is being screened Fridays at 7 p.m. at the castle, 1050 Joan Cr., until June 8 and likely beyond, if demand calls for it.