CANADA

Victoria, BC

A Victorian Christmas at Craigdarroch Castle

Jason Stevens, who performs A Christmas Carol at Craigdarroch Castle in Victoria, B.C.

Jason Stevens’ one-man show of the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol has become part of the December events at Craigdarroch Castle in Victoria, B.C., where Christmas in late-Victorian times is celebrated. He stands next to the richly trimmed tree in the castle’s Drawing Room.
JOHN MASTERS/Meridian Writers’ Group

IN THE ATTIC room of a dour Victorian mansion, a man steps from the shadows. He wears a black scarf and black, half-finger gloves. “Marley was dead,” he intones.

So begins Jason Stevens’ recital of the Charles Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol, in which the ghost of Jacob Marley comes to Ebenezer Scrooge, his longtime business partner, and teaches him to mend his bitter ways. The setting is appropriate: late-Victorian Craigdarroch Castle, an opulently appointed, 39-room baronial home of oak and granite built by Robert Dunsmuir on the proceeds from the coal mines he owned. Dunsmuir was, says the Encyclopedia of British Columbia, “the richest man in B.C. and also one of its most detested, primarily because of the ruthless labour practices at his mines.” A man, then, after Scrooge’s own cold heart.

Jason Stevens, in orating the novel, takes a page from Dickens’ book. The author often gave readings, both at home in England and in America. From late November 1867 to late April 1868, for example, Dickens spoke 76 times in Boston, New York and across the northeast United States, packing halls with a thousand or more eager listeners.

Stevens’ crowds are more modest, between 10 and 40 people. But, like Dickens, Stevens doesn’t just read aloud: he works from a script that highlights some parts of the story and ignores others, and he plays 16 characters. The whole book, he says, would take 3 1/2 hours to do. He tells the tale in an hour, but you’ll be hard-pressed to know what he’s left out.

An actor by trade, Stevens began his Yuletide show at Craigdarroch in 2012. “It’s developing a following,” he says. “We have people who come from Seattle and make it part of their Christmas.”

A Christmas Carol deepens the already thick Victorian Christmas atmosphere at the castle, which includes Christmas carol sing-alongs in the Drawing Room. It, like the rest of the castle, is decked out each December as it would have been in the Dunsmuirs’ day, giving visitors a sense of how the holiday was celebrated among the wealthiest of British Empire colonials.

Six weeks are needed to set up the decorations, says Craigdarroch’s Laura Torbet, and what’s displayed is lavish and “very accurate. This family was known for going above and beyond.”

Mantelpieces and fireplaces throughout the castle are wreathed in ribbons, green holly and red berries. There are Christmas trees on all four floors, but the main attraction is the one in the Drawing Room, richly trimmed and surrounded by dolls, train sets and other toys. The candles on the tree are now electrically lit, but in the 1890s the branches would have twinkled with dozens of open flames. The effect must have been beautiful. In case anything went wrong, a maid stood by with a bucket of water.

Joan Dunsmuir and her 10 children lived in Craigdarroch from its completion in 1890 until Joan’s death in 1908. Robert, however, never got to enjoy it: he died, aged 63, in 1889. Perhaps if he’d had a Jacob Marley...

 

ACCESS

For more information on Craigdarroch Castle visit its website at www.thecastle.ca.

For information on Victoria visit the Tourism Victoria website at www.tourismvictoria.com.