I recently visited Dundurn castle for about the millionth time. Truth be told I really love Dundurn castle and all of its Victorian splendor. I’m somewhat enchanted by the whole place and how an entire population of people worked to dress, feed, entertain, make a living for themselves and uphold the glamour and stature of the MacNab family.
I’ve been on so many tours of Dundurn that I find myself getting slightly aghast when a tour guide might forget to point out or mention one of the many interesting details of the MacNab home, like the piece of artwork that is made entirely of hair! I love it when a tour guide delves into some of the history of Hamilton and about rivalry between growth and development of Toronto and Hamilton. According to one tour guide it would’ve taken 5 hours by horse and carriage to make the trip between the two cities.
In the picture below you can see what was once used as a bird aviary or really fancy home for pigeons, which was needed to make a MacNab family favourite -pigeon pie. When I was a kid this little stretch of the castle was home to all different kinds of birds kinda like a miniature Dundurn zoo. If I remember correctly it was even home to some gorgeous peacocks and other fowl. Apparently in 1996 when that wing of the castle was being renovated the birds were moved to another location and after the renos they did not return, thus putting an end to 70+ years of the Dundurn Aviary.
This particular visit to Dundurn castle was to check out their beautiful Victorian Christmas decorations with the hopes that it might inspire some of my own yuletide festiveness. The castle’s halls were quite literally decked in boughs of holly.
According to our tour guide the traditional Victorian Christmas tree would look like the one below. Presents were reserved only for the young, where children would pick a number which would correspond to a number written on a present, which was tied to the tree. The presents were small novelty gifts of porcelain soldiers, dolls and other trinkets.
The dining hall was prepped for a feast, which would often contain 12+ courses.
This is where the servants would eat. This room is actually in the basement, which was not as grim as you’d picture a castle basement to be. There was some gorgeous afternoon light pouring in. According to our tour guide the servants at Dundurn castle led relatively good lives in comparison to many, getting paid a fair wage, having good work conditions, and a daily ration of beer and spirits from their own brewery, which was housed in the basement along with a 15 foot hole in the ground where ice was dragged off the lake in the winter and kept for usage all year round.
If this post didn’t make it entirely clear, I am a nerd and have no shame in admitting that I will likely visit Dundurn castle about a million more times.
*Dundurn Castle, 610 York Blvd., Hamilton, 905.546.2872