What to do now - Garden-Inspired Travel

Visit Victoria's Hatley park

By
Laura Langston
Photography by
Jeff Friesen

Stroll through a 260-hectare Edwardian estate - with a Canadian twist

He was a wealthy coal baron, a former B.C. premier and lieutenant-governor, a larger-than-life character who was known to tell workmen "Money doesn't matter; just build what I want."

What James Dunsmuir wanted, and what he got, was Hatley Park-a 260-hectare Edwardian estate about 15 kilometres west of Victoria. When it was finished in 1908, the luxurious, $4-million Scottish castle was considered the finest residence in Canada. But just as much praise was heaped on the grounds, which featured everything a coal baron's family could want: formal and informal gardens, lakes, pastures for livestock, a dairy and a smokehouse, greenhouses supplying fresh vegetables and a glass conservatory overflowing with exotics. In its heyday, 100 men maintained the gardens and grounds, including a crew whose only job was to rake the 10 kilometres of gravel roads.

Today, many of those roads have been paved, and the livestock, smokehouse and glass conservatory are gone, but the home and the gardens retain most of their former glory.

A visit is like being plunked into the middle of one of the finest English estates-with a Canadian twist. Surrounded on three sides by forest with the ocean in front, Hatley Park boasts six hectares of cultivated gardens and 180 hectares of forest and trails.

Credit for maintaining the grounds and castle must go to the Canadian military, which purchased the estate from the family in 1940 and established Royal Roads Military College. When the college closed in 1995, the government stepped in to create Royal Roads University. Not long after, Hatley Park, or Royal Roads as it's often called, was designated a National Historic Site.

With only a small sign marking the entrance, it's possible to drive by the stone wall on Sooke Road without realizing the scope of what lies beyond. But more than 50,000 people find their way here every year to see a wide variety of plants, garden styles and many rare heritage trees.

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