“It’s just like Downton Abbey!” I kept exclaiming as I explored the many lavish rooms of Hamilton’s Dundurn Castle.
Having been completed just four years before construction started on the present-day incarnation of Highclere Castle — the real-life English estate that houses the fictional Crawley family and their servants, in the hit ITV/PBS period drama Downton Abbey — in an era when the grandeur of such stately residences was in fashion, the two buildings share many of the same features and functionality.
But, though Dundurn does have connections to British aristocracy — Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, is patron of the Ontario castle, which was home to her great, great, great grandfather — it has a place all to itself in the story of Canada’s past.
The house was built from 1832 to 1835 by Sir Allan Napier MacNab. Named for his ancestral home in Scotland, MacNab built the 72 room mansion in what was then the countryside of Hamilton for $175,000, incorporating the latest technologies in gas lighting and running water.
MacNab was a veteran of the 1812 war and built his home over an existing military encampment on the site. He entered politics after a successful career as a lawyer, serving as the Prime Minister of the Province of Canada from 1854 to 1856. The family welcomed Sir John A. Macdonald and King Edward VII to Dundurn Castle during its most prominent phase.
After most of the family passed or moved to England, the City of Hamilton purchased Dundurn in 1900 for $50,000 and began restoring it as a tourist attraction. A functioning vegetable garden still exists today and the Hamilton Military Museum is also located on the property.
Just like Highclere Castle, Dundurn has a number of opulently decorated rooms serving a variety of functions, such as the family room, where the MacNab daughters would gather to play piano or games with their parents, a pink formal sitting area for the ladies, a grand dining hall with space for a lavish dessert table, and a library, smoking room and study where the master of the house could host male guests or retreat to do business.
There is also a magnificent wood staircase on the ground level, likely descended by MacNab’s daughter, Sophia, during her wedding at Dundurn. It is very reminiscent of the third season scene in Downton Abbey when Lady Mary descends Downton’s staircase on her way to her own wedding.
The décor at Dundurn is either original to the house, artwork from the same period or an accurate duplication. The wallpaper in MacNab’s bedroom, for example, was created to match the original wallpaper, which was discovered under the carpet during the restoration process.
Where the upstairs is built to be a fantastical showpiece, the downstairs is much more functional. Rooms for storing preserves, bottles of wine and making beer line a hallway leading to the servants’ dining room, where they gathered for three meals daily, consisting mainly of stews.
The cook’s bedroom is next to the kitchen, where, in addition to the three meals she would prepare for the servants, she would cook the family’s four daily meals, including afternoon tea, and transfer them to a small elevator for the butler to collect upstairs and serve to the family.
Rooms for laundry, firewood and an ice pit can also be found downstairs.
This National Historic Site of Canada is a fascinating step back to a very different time and a very different way of living, whether you are a southern Ontario resident who wants to experience a little bit of Downton Abbey close to home or a history buff who just wants to take in a piece of Canadian history.
Dundurn Castle is open year-round to visitors, with guided tours Tuesday through Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. For more information, visit hamilton.ca/dundurn.
A new survey from Booking.com has revealed Canadians love unique accommodations on holiday, so it’s no shock that the Bearberry Guest Ranch in Sundre, Alta. was named in the same poll as the most epic accommodations in all of Canada.
“Canadians are intrepid travellers, and with that comes a savvy instinct for epic experiences married with practicality,” said Paul Hennessy, chief marketing officer for Booking.com. “It’s no surprise that the Bearberry Guest Ranch has been rated by Canadians as the most epic accommodation in Canada.”
At Bearberry Guest Ranch, guests channel their inner outdoors person with horseback riding, whitewater rafting, fishing or hiking. Up to 30 travellers can visit at a time, staying in rooms ranging from a private guest house with corral for your horses to suites in the main lodge.
“With over 300 acres of stunning property along the Bearberry Creek and a mouthwatering breakfast every morning, it’s the perfect combination of wilderness and the comfort of home,” said Hennessy. “With a 9.7 Booking.com approval rating, Bearberry definitely sets the bar high for other B&B accommodations.”
In the Booking.com poll, 86% of Canadian respondents said they hoped to stay somewhere a little unexpected on their travels in the future, with 30% choosing a castle, 15% wanting to stay at a theme hotel, 12% wanting to stay on a boat and 8% hoping for a farm stay.
For more epic accommodations in Canada, visit booking.com/epic.
The itinerary for the week-long MasterChef cruise of the Caribbean has been revealed, and it includes plenty of opportunities to interact with fan favourite contestants like Christina Ha and Alexander Weiss, as well as MasterChef judge Graham Elliot.
The seven-day voyage will sail from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Nov. 8, 2014 and Elliot, plus past winners Ha and Luca Manfe, as well as MasterChef Junior victor Weiss, will be aboard. The winner of the current season of FOX’s hit cooking competition, to be revealed on Sept. 15, will also take part in the cruise.
The luxurious Holland America MS Westerdam will be the vessel for the cruise, which will stop at several ports of call, including Puerto Rico, Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas. The ship will return to Fort Lauderdale on Nov. 15.
It has now been revealed that guests can look forward to on-board programming that will include Mystery Box challenges, cocktail parties, meet and greets, and demonstrations. Events include:
- Christine Ha’s Mac-n-Cheese at Sea Competition – Ha will judge the first-ever Mac-n-Cheese at Sea competition where guests will compete to create their best version of the classic dish.
- Blind Taste Test with Graham Elliot – A few willing audience members will have the opportunity to test their taste buds with a challenge led by Elliot.
- Tag Team Sushi – Get a front-row seat to the famous Sushi Tag Team Challenge featuring the MasterChef Stars.
- Master the Macaroon with Alexander – Learn to master Weiss’ signature dessert.
- Designer Pasta – Learn how to make authentic, homemade pasta with a demonstration from Manfe.
- Craft Cocktails – Create craft cocktails with the MasterChef season 5 winner.
“MasterChef fans and food lovers alike are in for an incredible journey with hours of original live programming that both entertains and instructs,” said Vivi Zigler, president of MasterChef’s production company, Shine America, in a statement. “Guests will get to live the MasterChef experience with some of the most skilled and beloved talent from the series, while also honing their own culinary skills.”
Fares for the cruise start at $1,442 per person. For more information or to book your ticket on the MasterChef cruise, visit masterchefcruise.com.
Canadians’ biggest summertime regret is that they don’t travel more, according to a new poll from Travelocity.ca.
In a survey of more than 1,500 Canadians, 32% of us said we wanted to travel more this summer having missed out on the opportunity to do so last year. Eighty-three per cent of Canadians said they didn’t travel on long weekends last summer, while 26% said they couldn’t get out of town to visit friends or family and 35% couldn’t take a week or more off work.
“After a particularly harsh winter, we want Canadians to start planning their summer travel now,” Stuart Morris, general manager of Travelocity.ca, said in a statement. “The data clearly shows how quickly summer can slip away and that Canadians regret not making the most of our fleeting summer season.”
Fifty-six per cent of those surveyed said money was just too tight to travel, while 16% said they couldn’t take the time off work.
Find more info, plus Travelocity’s regional breakdown, on the graphic below.
The prestigious Blue Flag program is celebrating its 10th year with a record number of Canadian beaches and marinas being awarded eco-certification this summer.
Blue Flag is a globally recognized program that certifies beaches based on four categories: water quality, environmental management, environmental education, and safety and services.
“No matter where you go, when you see a Blue Flag flying, you know you are at one of the best beaches or marinas in the world – one that is clean, has excellent facilities, and meets high safety and environmental standards,” Brett Tryon, Blue Flag Canada Program Manager, said in a statement.
Canada’s first Blue Flags were flown in 2005 at four Toronto beaches. This summer, 24 beaches and four marinas across Canada, including newcomers Winnipeg Beach in Manitoba and Ontario beaches Canatara Park in Sarnia and Waubuno Beach in Parry Sound, are being awarded Blue Flags.
“Canada is known for its vast and beautiful shorelines,” Tryon said. “As more communities receive the Blue Flag, it is a testament to their desire and hard work to improve the health of our watersheds and coastal habitats and protect them for future generations.”
So which beaches should you plan to visit this summer? Find the 24 beaches and four marinas that received Blue Flag certification for summer 2014 on the map below.
· West Grand Beach (Grand Beach Provincial Park)
· Winnipeg Beach (Winnipeg Beach Provincial Park)
· Birch Cove Beach (Dartmouth)
· Halifax Waterfront (Halifax)
· Bayfield Main Beach and Bluewater Marina (Municipality of Bluewater)
· Bluffer’s Park Beach, Centre Island Beach, Cherry Beach, Gibraltar Point Beach, Hanlan’s Point Beach, Kew-Balmy Beach, Ward’s Island Beach and Woodbine Beach (Toronto)
· Canatara Park Beach (Sarnia)
· Grand Bend Beach, Grand Bend Marina and Port Franks Marina (Municipality of Lambton Shores)
· Port Stanley Main Beach (Municipality of Central Elgin)
· Sauble Beach (Town of South Bruce Peninsula)
· Station Beach (Kincardine)
· Wasaga Beach areas 1, 2 and 5 (Wasaga Beach Provincial Park)
· Waubuno Beach (Parry Sound)
· Plage de l’Est, Plage de l’Ouest, and Plage des Cantons (Ville de Magog)