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Between Heaven and Balmoral
A History of Cary Castle British Columbia’s First Government House 1860-1899
by Robert Ratcliffe Taylor


In 1860, Cary Castle was built by George Hunter Cary in Victoria, the bustling Gold Rush capital of Vancouver Island. Cary was the brilliant “Boy Attorney-General,” unethical, unpopular and mentally disturbed—one of the colony’s vivid early characters. In 1865 Governor Arthur Kennedy forced the parsimonious Legislative Assembly to purchase the mansion as Vancouver Island’s Government House. After 1871, it became the vice-regal residence of the new province of British Columbia which it remained until it burned down in 1899. Defectively built and uncomfortable to live in, prone to drafts, fires and water leakage, it nevertheless reflected the character and heritage of Victoria and played an important role in the history of the province and Canada. The venue of elegant social events, as well as personal dramas, the mansion hosted British royalty, governors general, naval officers and local political leaders, and could have become a Canadian historic site. Cary Castle was also a family home for vice-regal couples where babies were born, boys slid down the bannister in the main hall, nasty diseases were endured and the Chinese “help’ was indispensable. Based on personal memoirs and letters, government documents, newspaper articles, photographs and plans, this book recreates how that idiosyncratic mansion looked and even smelled. Professor Martin Segger described Dr. Taylor’s earlier study, The Birdcages. British Columbia’s First Legislative Buildings (Friesen, 2020), as “a significant contribution, [with] fascinating detail, [and] a highly readable writing style.” (Ormsby Review, April 22, 2020) Between Heaven and Balmoral expands the picture of colonial Victoria developed in The Birdcages and will appeal to readers interested in Victoria’s history, especially its early social and architectural development.


Robert Ratcliffe Taylor photo

The author was born and educated in Victoria, BC. After attending Willows School and Oak Bay Junior and Senior High Schools, he studied at the University of Victoria (Victoria College), the University of British Columbia (B.A. History and English; M.A. History), Hamburg University, and Stanford University (Ph.D. History). In St. Catharines, Ontario, he taught European History at Brock University, where he is Professor emeritus. He has published in German architectural history and the history of St. Catharines and Victoria and has co-authored books and articles on the Welland Canals. He was a co-founder of the Welland Canals Preservation Association and founding secretary of the Canadian Canal Society. (He is an Honorary Gongoozler of Port Colborne, Ontario.) He served on St. Catharines’ Local Architecture Conservation Advisory Committee, supported Heritage St Catharines and was active in the Niagara Opera Guild and Torch International. “Retiring” to Victoria, he has worked as a docent at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria and has continued to be interested in the Welland Canals and local and architectural history. Two of his articles on Victoria’s history have won prizes.


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