The Dunsmuir's house

The Dunsmuir's house

Timeless tales: Dunsmuir’s Nanaimo house a symbol of increasing wealth

NANAIMO – Coal baron Robert Dunsmuir lived in three houses in the Harbour City.

It was 1873 and a big, new house had just been constructed in Nanaimo near what is now the corner of Wallace and Albert streets.

The large wooden two-story house sat perched on top of a hill in what is now the city’s downtown core and came complete with big windows, high-pitched roofs, a stunning porch as well as stables for horses and buggies.

At the time, the owner of the property was none other than Robert Dunsmuir, who was just starting to amass a great deal of wealth as coal baron and had no desire to live anywhere near those whom he employed.

Lynne Bowen, a local author who has written numerous books on the Dunsmuirs, said when the house was built it was the nicest residential property in Nanaimo.

When the Dunsmuirs first moved to Nanaimo in 1853, they were by no means wealthy. In fact, the family’s first home was a tiny square-hewn log cabin located on Front Street. In 1858, the Dunsmuirs moved to a log house near Wallace and Albert street. Although the modest house wasn’t anything special for its time, the Dunsmuirs named it Ardoon.

By the early 1870s, Dunsmuir had found coal seams and was becoming incredibly wealthy, something that Bowen said happened as a result of smarts and timing.

“The thing that I always caution people is that there weren’t a lot of people here back then. The guys that were really smart rose to the top fast. They would have several important jobs. They would be inspectors of mines and in legislature,” Bowen said. “Dunsmuir was a man for his time. He was self-made and he was really smart. He was the right man in the right place at the right time.”

In 1872, Ardoon was destroyed and the two-story wood house, also named Ardoon, was constructed and completed in 1873. Little is known about the building, other than that it played host to important people such as the Marquis of Lorne, Canada’s governor general.

Christine Meutzner, archivist at the Nanaimo Community Archives, said the Ardoon house would have been a significant building in Nanaimo but because Dunsmuir wasn’t super wealthy at the time of its construction the house wasn’t made from stone, adding that Dunsmuir likely had no experience with designing buildings and lacked a local architect.

“He is essentially a miner and a businessman,” she said. “He wouldn’t have had that kind of background to get an architect and there wouldn’t have been one here anyway.”

In 1883, the Dunsmuir family moved from Nanaimo to Victoria and into Craigdarroch Castle. Robert Dunsmuir died before its completion.

Ardoon was eventually sold to Nanaimo’s first mayor, Mark Bate. In 1912 the house was destroyed.

Just Posted

Nanaimo author B.S. Thompson has released his debut novel, ‘The Book of Nodd.’ (Photo courtesy Nora Funk)
Nanaimo author invites readers into dangerous world of dreams in debut novel

B.S. Thompson unveils ‘The Book of Nodd’ with online launch June 20

Potters Virginia Dunseith and Ruth Porter present their joint exhibit ‘Dig It’ at Art 10 Gallery until the end of June. (Josef Jacobson/News Bulletin)
Potters show pieces for home and garden at Nanaimo’s Art 10 Gallery

Virginia Dunseith and Ruth Porter’s show ‘Dig It’ on display until end of June

Construction work continues on the City of Nanaimo’s new Fire Station No. 1 on Fitzwilliam Street. (News Bulletin file)
Next phase of borrowing approved as Nanaimo fire hall construction ongoing

City of Nanaimo CAO says construction on Fitzwilliam Street hall on schedule and budget

Nanaimo Fire Rescue firefighters at the scene of a single-vehicle crash on Tenth Street near Southside Drive on Sunday, June 13. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)
Driver OK after crashing vehicle off the side of Nanaimo’s Tenth Street

Crews say wet roads a factor a crash Sunday, June 13

Emergency crews on scene of a two-car crash at the intersection of Cranberry Avenue and the Trans-Canada Highway on Sunday, June 13. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)
Crash blocks Cranberry intersection in Nanaimo, no one injured

Incident blocks both southbound lanes of Trans-Canada Highway

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (31) is scored on by Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez, not pictured, during the second period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Monday, June 14, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Habs fall 4-1 to Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of NHL semifinal series

Match was Montreal’s first game outside of Canada in 2021

Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick, assistant deputy speaker at the B.C. legislature, presides over committee discussions. The legislature is completing its delayed spring session this week, with most MLAs participating by video conference. (Hansard TV)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 infections dip below 100 over weekend

Only 68 new cases recorded Monday, four additional deaths

Gabriola Island artist Sheila Norgate is promoting the Digital Innovation Group’s art impact survey. (File photo)
Vancouver Island artists get behind regional arts impact study

Artists urged to use their stature to help put arts and culture super-region on the map

The BC Ferries website went down for a short while Monday morning following a provincial announcement that recreational travel between health authorities can resume Tuesday. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries’ website crashes in wake of provincial reopening announcement

Website back up now, recreational travel between health regions to resume as of Tuesday

Darren Campbell’s truck (pictured) was stolen when he stopped to check on a car in a ditch on Cowichan Bay Road on Monday morning. (Facebook photo)
Vancouver Island Good Samaritan’s truck stolen in nasty trick

‘Try to be a Good Samaritan and my $20,000 truck gets stolen right under my nose’

The Kamloops Indian Residential School is photographed using a drone in Kamloops, B.C., Monday, June, 14, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former school earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Communities grapple with what to do with former residential and day schools

Some tear them down as a tool to help healing, others repurpose them as tools for moving forward

Creative handmade signs abound at the June 13 Tofino rally for old growth trees. (Nora O’Malley photo)
VIDEO: Tofino stands in solidarity for Fairy Creek Blockades

Over 150 supporters attend rally hosted by Friends of Clayoquot Sound

FILE – Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. watching U.K.’s COVID struggles but don’t think province will see similar pitfalls

Studies show that one dose of vaccine is only 33 per cent effective in preventing B.1.617.2 spread

Most Read