Decking the halls at Dundurn Castle


Visitors flocked to the lavish house of Sir Allan Napier MacNab on Saturday as Dundurn Castle held its annual Christmas tour.

MacNab, premier of Canada before Confederation, died in 1862 at Dundurn. Built of brick and stone in 1835, the house has been preserved and is open to visitors year-round.

As their tour began, visitors sung Christmas carols in the foyer. The banister was decorated with ivory and the entrance to the grand hall sported a telltale mistletoe ornament hanging from the ceiling.

Tour guides dressed in 1800s attire explained the significance of each room, from MacNab’s personal study, which was filled with books, portraits and a stool for him to rest his foot 0n (he had gout), to the dining room that seated 12 and was decorated with Christmas ornaments and a small wreath adjacent to the chandelier.

The kitchen had a spread of food laid out for guests. There was apple pie, haggis, tea, herbal jams and scones.

“The landscape and all of the elements are some of my favourite parts of the castle,” said Phillip Plyton, one of the visitors at Dundurn Castle.  “A lot of them are incorporated into today’s lifestyle but with a modern feel to them.” He pointed out that the servant kitchen had a drying rack made of wood that spanned the entire sink. Drying racks nowadays are made of plastic or metal and are much smaller.

Inside the laundry room were lead irons that were used to press clothes. In the 1800s, there were no Teflon irons so they had to be heated on a wood-burning stove.

The heat didn’t last long, only about five minutes, a tour guide said.

Upstairs, the grand hall was decorated with Christmas ornaments and had a large two-metre tall Christmas tree in the centre. Velvet seats around the perimeter of the room were for women to sit down. In the 1800s, the men had to remain standing until asked to sit by the women.

Life as a servant was demanding and draining work. The average wage of a servant was $2 a month.

“It would be much harder living in the 1800s because there’s more to budget and you don’t have some of the luxuries we have today. But in today’s economy, there’s other challenges as well,” Plyton said.

Visitor Aaron Froese, especially liked the servant quarters because they reminded him of the British TV drama Downton Abbey.

“I really enjoyed how the castle was decorated for the holidays. I was on the tour a few years ago and it was nice to see the decorations,” visitor Rob McElravy said.

Brian Lindsay, a historical interpreter at Dundurn Castle, has conducted numerous tours during the holidays and off-season. This year was his 13th Christmas tour at Dundurn Castle.

Like the guests, he, too, had a favourite room.

“I really like the dining room. I like the way it has an impact on the visitors,” Lindsay said.

“I certainly would love to be a fly on the wall in MacNab’s library. It’s where he had his business and political discussions and I love the ‘mancave’ aspect of it.”

[wzslider lightbox=”true”]