Heritage Register

1401 Rockland Avenue (ex-Belcher St)
Oakley; Stoneleigh; Bleak House; Cary Castle; Government House

Built 1859-60; 1899-1903; 1957-58
National Historic Site 2002

Architects: Frederick Walter Green;
John Wright & George Sanders;
Samuel Maclure & Francis Mawson Rattenbury;
BC Dept. of Public Works: Chief Architect Clive Campbell

Alfred Wood, 1909 (porte cochère)
Contractors: William Fuller (1859-60;
Richard Drake (1899-1903)

1401 Rockland


The formal title of this imposing property is The Estate of the Lieutenant-Governor, Victoria, British Columbia; it was designated a National Historic Site in 2002. This estate has been the home of BC’s Lieutenant- Governors since BC joined Confederation in 1871. The site was a rocky outcrop overlooking Ross Bay at the far eastern end of the growing city. The first building on this site burned to the ground three months after construction in 1852. The history of the mansion, however, falls into three distinct phases, punctuated by two more fires.

Phase 1: Nothing remains of the 1859-60 building except auxiliary structures behind and below the residence. F.W. Green designed the stone Cary Castle, constructed by William Fuller, for George Hunter Cary, the first attorneygeneral in 1860. However, the eccentric Cary had little time to enjoy his “folly” before suffering financial ruin. He sold the drafty castle to Elizabeth Miles (1462 Rockland Av), who sold it in 1864 to the colonial government for $19,000. In 1866 the colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia were amalgamated and Cary Castle became the first Government House. Architects Wright & Sanders designed additions and alterations for Gov. Arthur Edward Kennedy. One critic called the result “vaguely reminiscent of a semi-ruined Scottish border castle.” The windswept grounds badly needed development but this was not an easy project. In 1876 when Canadian Gov.-Gen. Lord Dufferin visited Victoria with his wife, they stayed at Government House. The Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava later described in a letter the “nice garden (that) has been made; the drawback to it is the want of water. Every drop, both for house and garden, has to be brought in barrels.” She was less impressed with the view of the Olympic mountain range, saying that it was “a little wanting in variety of outline, but extremely high...” Princess Louise, daughter of Queen Victoria, stayed at Government House for three months in 1882. She is said to have described the area as being “halfway between heaven and Balmoral.” Many additions, alterations and repairs were made over the years to a building that was notoriously cold and damp. The roof leaked, the plumbing was problematic and the house had possibly not been well constructed. There were several minor fires, one when a coal-oil chandelier crashed to the floor while being lit. Another fire in 1888 could have resulted in a major disaster, but for the prompt arrival of the City’s new fire engine in exactly four minutes, including time to hitch up the horses. However, in May 1899 Cary Castle did burn down, except for the ballroom and conservatory photos page 112. Lt.-Gov. Dr. Thomas R. McInnes and his family lost all their personal effects. Gyppeswyk, 1040 Moss St, Rockland, was rented for $50 per month as a temporary vice-regal residence.

Phase 2: After rancorous debate, Samuel Maclure and Francis Rattenbury were commissioned to collaborate on a second Government House. Rattenbury was primarily responsible for the shell, and Maclure for the interior and later the landscaping. However, Maclure became ill and Rattenbury completed the project in 1903. The $75,000 mansion had several jettied, half-timbered gables and shingled gables, multiple roof-lines and many bays, a square crenellated stone tower with arrow slits, a round, shingled and crenellated corner tower, and banks of tall windows, many with art glass. The final cost was well over the budgeted $44,000 and the government had carried only $12,000 in insurance on Cary Castle. Both Rattenbury and the new Lt.-Gov. Sir Henri-Gustave Joly de Lotbinière came in for much criticism of their joint extravagance on the structure. In 1909 Lt.-Gov. James Dunsmuir (1525 Shasta Pl, Rockland) added a stone porte-cochère to the front of the building. His new house, Hatley Park, had one, and he felt that Government House deserved a similar embellishment. It was designed by architect Alfred Wood and cost $3,429. An ugly incident took place in 1915 when Frank Barnard (1462 Rockland Av) was Lt.-Gov. His wife Martha Loewen was of German birth, and a mob tried to attack Government House after a German submarine sank the Lusitania. Fortunately, the iron fence and gate, installed a few years earlier, saved the Barnards and Government House from harm.

Phase 3: A fire on April 15, 1957 that destroyed the 1899-03 house was thought to have been caused by hot ashes from the coal cooking range, still in use in the basement. The wind was high and the fire began in the early hours of the morning. Only the 1909 porte-cochère survived the inferno, along with the contents of the wine cellar, some china and linen, and Lt.-Gov. Frank Ross’s wife’s jewellery. There was controversy over the design of a new Government House or indeed if it should be replaced at all. The Rosses, who lived in the Empress Hotel during the re-building, favoured a house that would look as similar as possible to the previous one and these were the directions given to the BC Dept of Public Works and Provincial Chief Architect, Clive Dickens Campbell. Rebuilding began the end of that year but the project was delayed by a long strike and the new Government House was not ready for occupation until April 1959. Costing $1.6-million, including furnishings, it was built on the same T-shaped footprint as its predecessor. Unfortunately, the architects’ names are omitted from the plaque celebrating the new building. The three-storey, hip-roofed mansion has six small dormers on the main roof and three dominant front-facing gables. Small pent roofs over the windows on the main floor connect the gables. The 1909 crenellated porte-cochère has dressed sandstone quoins on buttresses and Tudor arches. There is a tall stained-glass window over the porte-cochère which extends to the apex of the central gable. The structure is of steel-reinforced concrete, clad in grey and coloured Haddington Island stone, and the windows are metal framed. The chimneys are stone on the front and brick on the rear. The rear or south façade, which dominates the precipitous site, has a large, curved, two-storey bay between two gabled wings.

1401 Rockland, stable

Of the service buildings, the stable is thought to be the oldest building of its type in western Canada, built in 1872 to replace the original Cary Castle stables. A restoration project in 2003 included seismic upgrading and some reconstruction to restore its original appearance. As well as still providing stabling for visiting horses, the building contains a display of historic tack and a meeting room.

Other estate buildings include a former jail, stable boy’s quarters, coal shed and root cellar, all from 1865, and a laundry from 1903. Butterworth Cottage, built in 1871-72, was at first a poultry house, then part of it was converted to a cottage for the gardener, Butterworth. Stabilization and renovation work on the cottage was done in 2008 to honour BC’s 150th anniversary. There is a later gardener’s cottage (1471, now 1401A Rockland Av, 1908) and coachman’s quarters (1929), now converted to garage and apartment: wide gables, heavy brackets, balcony and a jerkinhead roof give a Chalet effect.

The 36 acres of beautiful gardens surrounding the building are open daily to the public. The gardens, ponds and rare Garry oak ecosystem are visited by over 30,000 people each year; the grounds are maintained by a team of volunteer gardeners. Government House itself is not open to the general public, except on special occasions. The mansion is, however, the setting for many ceremonies, receptions and other events during the year.


• Map of Victoria's Heritage Register Properties

• Rockland History

• Rockland Heritage Register

• This Old House, Victoria's Heritage Neighbourhoods,
Volume Three: Rockland, Burnside, Harris Green,
Hillside-Quadra, North Park & Oaklands

House GrantsHeritage HousesResources & PublicationsNews & EventsBuilding CommunityAbout