This Week in History


Hamilton's Own Castle

For the week of Monday June 16, 2008

On June 17, 1967, the newly restored Dundurn Castle in Hamilton, Ontario, was opened to the public. The estate, completed in 1835, represented Sir Allan Napier MacNab’s dream of building a smaller version of his grandfather’s original Dundurn Castle in Scotland.

Dundurn Castle
Dundurn Castle
© Parks Canada / J. Butterill / 1995
Allan MacNab was born in Niagara-on-the-Lake in 1798, moving to Hamilton from York in 1826 to begin his career as a lawyer. MacNab would spend his life in the Canadian public eye as a lawyer and a politician, and for the contributions he made to the city of Hamilton. MacNab would help establish the area’s first railway and bank and he represented the riding for 30 years in Parliament. In 1837, Queen Victoria knighted him for his support of the royalist cause in the Upper Canada Rebellion. MacNab lived his life striving to reach a high social level, expressing his social status through possessions, such as Dundurn Castle.

MacNab bought the land in Burlington Heights that would become Dundurn in 1833 from John Solomon Cartwright. Colonel Richard Beasley’s former colonial house on the property formed the core of what would become Dundurn. Construction on the house, designed by English architect Robert Wetherall, was begun in 1834. The 50-acre estate included an apple orchard, peach and oak trees, and a view of Burlington Bay. Besides the scenic location, the land had historical value, having been occupied by troops during the War of 1812.

Dundurn Castle interior
Dundurn Castle interior
© Parks Canada / J. Butterill / 1995

Dundurn Castle was more than just an elaborate mansion.  It represented a new approach to architecture introduced to Canada during the early 19th century. The Picturesque Movement aimed to enhance the beauty of the natural landscape by incorporating existing natural formations with architectural features introduced into the design.

The Dundurn estate is designed in a way to highlight the natural magnificence of the site.  For example, the ground floor is built with large, French windows in order to maintain a clear, uninterrupted view of the estate at all times. As well, the grounds are designed with paths and buildings arranged to guide the visitor a specific way to notice areas determined to be of particular beauty.

In 1889, Dundurn was sold to the City of Hamilton to become a park and a museum. In the 1960s, the City of Hamilton undertook restoring the castle, reopening it to the public in 1967. In 1984, Dundurn Castle was designated a National Historic Site as a fine example of the Picturesque landscape in Canada.

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