The moment you cruise into BC’s capital city, you can tell Victoria is a town with a strong historical presence. Everything from the dome-topped Parliament Buildings to the 110-year-old Fairmont Empress, will transport you to a bygone era. To get a feel for what life was like for Victoria’s early settlers, set aside time to check out the city’s historic homes. Local heritage enthusiast and author of “Glorious Victorian Homes: 150 Years of Architectural History in British Columbia’s Capital,” Nick Russell, gushes:

“Visitors who come here have to get out of their cars and off their bicycles and walk because there’s some great walking all around the city.”

Grab your walking shoes and use our guide to explore Victoria’s most fascinating heritage homes – time machine not required!

Craigdarroch Castle

Craigdarroch Castle - Tracy O
Craigdarroch Castle has been meticulously restored, giving visitors a glimpse of privileged life in the 1890s. Credit: Flickr user Tracy O.

Boasting 39 rooms and more than four stories (20,000 square feet of interior space!), the opulent Craigdarroch Castle is worth the 30-minute walk from Victoria’s Inner Harbor. Built for wealthy Scottish industrialist Robert Dunsmuir and faithfully restored to its 1890s luster, the attention to detail throughout the castle is astounding. Be sure to check out everything from its stained-glass windows to the elegant Victorian-era furnishings.

Ross Bay Villa

Ross Bay Villa - Victoria Daily Photo
Stop by Saturdays between 11 and 2 for a peek behind that historical fence, or if you’d like to stroll through the beautiful garden. Credit: Victoria Daily Photo

Head southeast along the tree-lined streets of Victoria’s Fairfield neighborhood to explore the quaint Ross Bay Villa. Completed in 1865, the ornate cottage is one of only about a dozen or so houses remaining from the era. A dedicated group of local volunteers saved the home from demolition in the late 1990s and restored it to its original charm. A volunteer with the Ross Bay Villa Society himself, Russell adds, “One volunteer expert has identified 120 different wallpaper patterns in the house.”

Helmcken House

Helmcken House - Admiral Inn
Dr. Helmcken was the first speaker of the assembly in British Columbia and first president of the Canadian Medical Association. Credit: Admiral Inn

Created for Dr. John Sebastian Helmcken, one of BC’s first physicians, Helmcken House has the distinction of being one of the oldest houses in Victoria still on its original foundation. A stone’s throw from the Royal BC Museum, the historic log cabin is less than 10 minutes on foot from our Victoria Clipper terminal. (Inside tip: Don’t miss the chance to take a peek at the contents of Dr. Helmcken’s original 19th-century medical kit!)

Wentworth Villa

Wentworth Villa - Tourism Victoria
At the time of its construction, Wentworth Villa was one of the largest family residences in Victoria. Credit: Tourism Victoria

Hang a right on Fort Street to visit the elegant Wentworth Villa. Designed by Victoria’s first professional architects, John Wright and George Sanders, Wentworth Villa has some serious curb appeal. With a coral-hued paint job, intricately carved wood trim and second-floor balcony, the villa is anything but understated. (Inside tip: Plan a visit during the summer months to catch a glimpse of the blanket of white wisteria planted along the villa’s façade.)

Emily Carr House

Emily Carr - Wesley & Brandon Rosenblum
The house is a National and Provincial Historic Site dedicated to the art, writings and life of renowned Canadian icon, Emily Carr. Credit: Wesley & Brandon Rosenblum

Just outside of Beacon Hill Park, you’ll find the childhood home of Victoria’s most celebrated artist, Emily Carr. This stately home offers crisp, 19th-century architectural detailing, complete with enormous arched front windows and pillars framing the front door. Be sure to spend some time exploring the vibrant front yard. Packed with foliage and flora, the garden’s hues echo the vivid color palettes of the artist herself.

Point Ellice House

Point Ellice House - Tourism Victoria
The garden at Point Ellice House was designed to frame and highlight the architectural details of the home. Credit: Tourism Victoria

Stroll up Government Street and take a left onto Bay Street to visit the waterfront oasis of Point Ellice House. This Gothic Revival style home was sold to the Province of British Columbia with nearly all of its 108 years’ worth of family possessions.

Step inside and check out the impressive collection of furniture, dishes, pictures, artwork and musical instruments. (Inside tip: Want to give your feet a break? Hop on an adorable Victoria Harbour Ferry and cruise right up to the dock out front!)

Hatley Castle

Hatley Castle - Shiva Shenoy
Hatley Castle’s extensive grounds have formal gardens, former farmland, and trails through mature stands of first- and second-growth forest. Credit: Shive Shenoy

Completed in 1908 for the wealthy Dunsmuir family, Hatley Castle presently serves as the administrative headquarters for Royal Roads University. With its substantial masonry work, Tudor-style windows and imposing stone turret, the castle’s impressive exterior is matched only by the lavishness of its interior.

Wander through room after room of oak-paneled walls and custom-made chandeliers and you’ll feel like a member of the 1900’s elite yourself! (Inside tip: Marvel movie fans may recognize this stately structure from blockbusters such as X-Men: The Last Stand and Deadpool!)

With all the innovative personalities in Victoria – from experimental chefs and chic boutique owners to inventive craft brewers and visionary wildlife photographers – it’s possible to glaze over the rich history on which the city was built. Yet after a visit to the homes of these historic figures, it’s unmistakable that Victoria cherishes its past as much as it embraces its future. Russell states:

“You don’t want to overdo words like ‘glorious’ and ‘beautiful’ but we’re very lucky where we live.”


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Featured image: Tourism Victoria

Contributing Author: Keith Norbury