Dundurn Castle

610 York Blvd.

Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

July 6, 2001

Staying in Milton was a tiring job. I think I lapsed into "vacation-mode". What I mean by that is; when Bob and I were still working when we went on vacation, either alone or with the kids, I felt that we had to go everywhere and do everything. Now that traveling is a permanent part of our lifestyle we try to do things on a more laid-back basis. In other words we might see one thing a day, if we feel like it. Well, when we moved to Milton there were just so many things to see in nearby towns, that my auto-pilot kicked in and I felt that old drive to "go everywhere and see everything." I want to tell you this can get tiring. Well anyway be that as it may, we drove to Hamilton which is only about 20 miles away, to see a place we had read about called Dundurn Castle. Well, if the saying "a man's home is his castle" this was indeed a castle. It was built by Sir Allan Napier MacNab and was designed to reflect the prominence of its owner, which it did splendidly. During the course of our travels we have visited any number of residences, both large and small, but this one was rather impressive. It was built around 1835 using the brick shell of Colonel Richard Beasley's colonial style home as a base. What impressed me was the fact that it had been restored to the year 1855 when MacNab was at the height of his career as a lawyer, landowner, railway magnate and Premier of Canada West. Over forty rooms have been furnished to allow visitors to compare the life of a prominent Victorian family with that of the servants.
Sir Allan MacNab was an important figure in the pre-Confederation history of Canada. He was declared a "boy hero" for his gallant role during the
war of 1812. He was a politician, businessman, land speculator, lawyer, and soldier. He enjoyed a very public life. He was appointed Upper Canada's first Queen's Counsel. MacNab was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1838 for his involvement in the suppression of the Rebellion of 1837. the profits from his extensive land speculation were fed into a variety of projects, including construction of his monument, Dundurn. He was influential in establishing the Gore Bank and in promoting the Great Western Railway. During a political career spanning three decades, he was three times Speaker and, from 1854 to 1856, Premier. For thirty years MacNab represented Hamilton in the Legislature.
I felt that having costumed docents give the tours really enhanced the atmosphere. The young lady, who gave us our tour, pointed out various items of interest around the house. It was interesting to discover that Dundurn was one of the most modern of its time. They had indoor running water, furnished by cisterns in the basement which collected water, which at the time it was needed above-stairs, was pumped (by a
servant on a hand pump in the basement) up to the second floor. Hot water still had to be heated in the basement and carried upstairs by the servants.
In addition to this, Dundurn also had gas lighting throughout. Also, there was a wonderful cast iron stove in the kitchen which was similar to one that might be seen in a large hotel, not an individual residence. While touring the kitchen we were given a taste of shortbread which the cook had just taken out of the over. Wonderful! I'm sure I probably couldn't have done as well on my propane oven with its temperature regulator. In this kitchen the cook fired the oven with a wood fire, which makes it very hard to control the temperature.
One of the things that was pointed out to us was the fact that the servants were treated extremely well by MacNab. As a result of this MacNab was criticized by his peers for giving his servants "airs above their station." As a result they couldn't work for
anyone else, because they would expect too much. Not only did MacNab pay his employees as well as anyone else, they were given one pint of beer with each meal (three per day), plus their quarters were furnished with hand-me-downs from the main house. This included very nice pieces of furniture for the servants hall as well as furnishings for the female servants individual quarters. The butler was the only male servant allowed to sleep in the house, the other male servants were all given quarters above the stables. However, the females had rooms in the basement which were very nicely maintained. In keeping with their modern living they had a large pit in their basement which held ice for the year. It would be cut out of a nearby bay during the winter in blocks, put into the pit, and then insulated with hay or straw. That way they could cut small portions and put them into the various ice boxes in the house. Also, they had a dumbwaiter that was used to lift the cooked food up to the main floor. The butler would take the food from the dumbwaiter and transfer it to the good china and crystal. After the meals the butler would be the one who would be responsible for washing the china and crystal as they didn't entrust it to the scullery maid who worked in the kitchen doing pots, pans, servants dishes, etc. The scullery maid was often a girl of only 10 or 12. She was expected to work 14-16 hours a day, six days a week, for which she was paid about $2 to $4 a month. Girls were often placed into positions such as this by poor families who already had too many mouths to feed at home. Also, she was expected to give all her earnings to her parents. The advantage she had was if she did her job well and was liked she could move up to other, better paid, positions in the household. And as I mentioned before to work for MacNab was a very good position indeed. The Cook was one of the most important positions in the household, the others being the Housekeeper and the Butler. Each had a great deal of authority in their own area.
addition to the kitchen and the female employees sleeping quarters being in the basement, there was also the wine cellar, the brewery, all food storage areas, the laundry, a dairy, and a very large wood vault. They had several devices in the basement which looked like ovens but were used to burn coal to produce heat which came up through vents in the floor of the upper floors. Another "modern" device in the home.
Lady MacNab came down with an illness (which today they think may have been Tuberculosis) and as a result they added a sick room adjacent to her quarters on the second floor.
After we finished touring the castle we went outside and visited the various buildings on the grounds and the lovely formal gardens that were situated between the rear of the house and the bay it overlooked. I really enjoyed the visit to the Castle and would highly recommend it to anyone staying in the area. If you would like more information you can check out their website at: Dundurn Castle
In addition to the lovely castle there is also a Military Museum located on the grounds in an old building that formerly was used to store ammunition. Unfortunately we arrived too late in the day to tour both, so we will leave that for a future trip.

Good Luck! Have Fun! and Stay Safe!