Imagine a time when ladies in beautiful flowing dresses and ornate bonnets gracefully sipped tea while dapper gentlemen with watch chains at their waists retired to the parlour to discuss politics and negotiate business deals.  Poetic images of fancy dinner parties alive with chatter, garden picnics under ruffled parasols and children huddled together by the dim light of the oil lamp while stories of great adventure are read aloud.  A simple time that warranted appreciation of all things elaborate and grand.  A time when comfort was often barely achievable and opulence was reserved for the very few.

These surely must have been the visions that danced in the day dreams of Mrs. Agnes McKenzie as she and her family and eighteen farm hands made their way from Scotland aboard the Norman Morison in the winter of 1853.  Led to believe that their palace awaited, they arrived only to find a timber foundation and little else.  Forced to make camp through the winter in the newly created Fort Victoria along with their six children, the McKenzies finally moved into their dream house in May, 1856, and went on to have two more children.

But what would possibly make a family travel in treacherous seas to a place only seen in their imaginations? To really appreciate this story, we have to go back to the very beginning.  Not just the beginning of Victoria or Vancouver Island as we know it today, but back to the people who wrote it as they went about their lives.

Today we continue our series with TLC The Land Conservancy of BC at Craigflower Manor.  A grand house that has survived one hundred and fifty years of various owners and tenants, and managed to elude the wrecking ball to finally achieve its rightful place as a National Historic site.

Craigflower Manor - Victoria, BC, Canada

Craigflower Manor – Victoria, BC, Canada

The nine hundred acre farm was purchased by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1850 from the Coast Salish People near the village site of Kosapsom for 52 pounds and 10 shillings as part of the effort to establish British claim to Vancouver Island by building farms and transporting colonists to manage them.  Kenneth McKenzie was the first bailiff of Craigflower farm, and under his stern watch the farm prospered for the first ten years, blossoming into a self-sustainable community with many dwellings and outbuildings such as a sawmill, a flour mill, a blacksmith, a brick kiln, a slaughterhouse, a general store and a school which will be featured in an upcoming blog.  The manor was built to emulate Mr. McKenzie’s family home in Scotland, Renton Hall, in Georgian type architecture.

Craigflower Manor - Victoria, BC, Canada

Craigflower Manor – Victoria, BC, Canada

This unique door can stand on its own merits simply by the design and beauty of it, but there is also a story behind this piece of art.  In the early days of colonization, iron was an expensive and scarce commodity used to forge the tools and implements that helped to carve out the communities that exist today.  To use it for decoration such as this would only have been accessible to the very wealthy and would have surely been the reason for such embellishment.  This stately manor was one of only two 2 storey houses in the area at the time, the other, now long gone, belonged to governor James Douglas, one of the most prolific people in terms of colonial history on Vancouver Island.

Craigflower Manor - Victoria, BC, Canada

Craigflower Manor – Victoria, BC, Canada

This incredible fruiting tree is undoubtedly feeling its age as it requires just a little help to stand up!  You just can’t help but wonder who sat under it, perhaps sharing a picnic lunch, or stealing a little kiss or maybe even stuttering out a nervous marriage proposal?  I’m sure if this tree could talk, it would have many stories to tell.

Craigflower Manor - Victoria, BC, Canada

Craigflower Manor – Victoria, BC, Canada

This wonderfully crooked window just beckons you to press your nose against it to see what’s hiding behind.  No doubt there were many times the tiny faces of the McKenzie children appeared, looking out at the rain that is typical for much of the year, and wishing for the warm sun to return and fill their days with fishing and hiking and other such activities.

Craigflower Manor - Victoria, BC, Canada

Craigflower Manor – Victoria, BC, Canada

The manor is undergoing renovations due to an unfortunate fire, but there are some rooms that are finished.  This office, complete with a very sturdy safe, is just off the music room.  The wallpaper has been carefully recreated to reflect the style of the time.

Craigflower Manor - Victoria, BC, Canada

Craigflower Manor – Victoria, BC, Canada

This room surely would have been one of the busiest at the time, with the responsibility of running such a huge farm.  You can almost picture finely dressed men, discussing issues of the day and negotiating business deals that came to shape the land.

Craigflower Manor - Victoria, BC, Canada

Craigflower Manor – Victoria, BC, Canada

Though these office items all have a very functional purpose, they somehow also manage to decorate the desk and reflect a lifestyle that was left far behind as their ship set sail to the harsh and often unforgiving shores of their new home.

Craigflower Manor - Victoria, BC, Canada

Craigflower Manor – Victoria, BC, Canada

As we leave the office, we are greeted by the cheerful decor of this elegant little music room.  With a wonderful spot to sit by the window and let the sunshine warm your face as you sip your tea and the rich tones of the organ swirling around the room, there would be few other places that would be so inviting.

Craigflower Manor - Victoria, BC, Canada

Craigflower Manor – Victoria, BC, Canada

One can only imagine the parties that were born around this lovely old organ.  No doubt it was the busiest room at Christmas time!

Craigflower Manor - Victoria, BC, Canada

Craigflower Manor – Victoria, BC, Canada

As we leave the house, we walk around the manor to the expansive backyard.  Mother Nature has decorated this weathered little shack with wild roses, adding to the charm of this very special place.

Craigflower Manor - Victoria, BC, Canada

Craigflower Manor – Victoria, BC, Canada

A little worse for wear, I just cannot help but think that the best tasting bread came from this old oven.  Or perhaps some freshly caught salmon, grilled to perfection.  In any case, I’m sure it was the centre of attention more than once as hungry guests waited for the words “it’s done!”

Craigflower Manor - Victoria, BC, Canada

Craigflower Manor – Victoria, BC, Canada

Today there is a beautiful working garden in the corner of the yard, but back when the McKenzies lived here, they were responsible for providing crops and products to be used at the newly built Fort Victoria, as well as the Royal Navy at nearby Esquimalt.  In fact, they even supplied the Russians in Alaska.

Craigflower Manor - Victoria, BC, Canada

Craigflower Manor – Victoria, BC, Canada

It was important to the British that the farm was completely self sufficient, as they did not want colonization to become a financial burden to their citizens.  In 1854, the Hudson’s Bay Company transferred the land at Craigflower, as well as three other farms, to the Puget Sound Agricultural Company who were mandated to operate them.  Craigflower was the most successful of the four farms, under McKenzie’s watch, for the first ten years.

Craigflower Manor - Victoria, BC, Canada

Craigflower Manor – Victoria, BC, Canada

As we make our way down the hill, there are still a few outbuildings that dot the property and add points of interest.

Craigflower Manor - Victoria, BC, Canada

Craigflower Manor – Victoria, BC, Canada

This fabulous storage shed may not serve a terribly elegant job, but that is certainly not evident by the ornate and detailed embellishment on the door.

Craigflower Manor - Victoria, BC, Canada

Craigflower Manor – Victoria, BC, Canada

Finally, this rickety fence caught our eye as we left the property.  Rich and weathered textures give it a real flair all of its own, and we couldn’t help but think it was definitely built for a utilitarian purpose rather than for decoration.  But then beauty, as we all know, is in the eye of the beholder!

The McKenzies left Craigflower farm in 1865 to move to another farm on Vancouver Island and the manor began an interesting history of its own.  It was used as a vacation spot for boarders and summer visitors, leased to various farming families, and served as a nature sanctuary and summer camp for young ladies among other things.  After the Hudson’s Bay Company sold the property, the new owner leased parts of it for a service station, motel and burger restaurant until the 1960’s when new owners lived in it and opened it up to the public.  Eventually the provincial government acquired it and restored it and in 1967 it was declared a National Historic site.  Now managed by TLC, visitors now can visit and tour the manor, and are encouraged to spend time in the yard having picnics or relaxing and just enjoying the atmosphere.  If you are planning a visit to Victoria, this is a must-see, and of course, TLC members enjoy free admission.

Thank you so much for spending some time with us at Craigflower manor, we always appreciate your visit!  More detailed information about the history and story of the house and farm can be found here and here.  And of course you can become a member of TLC The Land Conservancy for pennies a day and enjoy knowing that you are part of saving wonderful places like Craigflower Manor by clicking here.

Please leave us your thoughts and comments, as we always love to hear them!  Thanks again for popping by, until next time!

Warmly,

Mrs. Toad




  1. Simple elegant beauty, well captured and discussed. Just another typically wonderful post here at the Hollow.

  2. I’m such a fan of visiting old places, and even more so when they’ve been restored so well. I’m always impressed by the craftsmanship that was used to enhance even the simplest things ie: a door, what a marvelous look inside a storied place. Very well done! Thanks so much for sharing it with us.

    • avatar Mrs. Toad says:

      Thank you for taking the time to comment today Howard. The folks at TLC take the restorations very seriously. Every detail is carefully considered right down to having the original wallpaper print reprinted. They really provide an accurate experience at all of their sites. Thanks so much for your visit today!

  3. It’s great to still have places to go. Craigflower Manor is (and has been for some time) on my visiting list, but now more urgently so. The story makes for a nice and interesting read and the photos show the Manor and its many aspects beautifully. Can’t wait to check it out.

    • avatar Mrs. Toad says:

      Thanks so much for popping by Joseph, it’s always so nice to see you! I would absolutely encourage you to take a visit to the Manor and the school house, you will not be disappointed! It’s just such a magical place with such an interesting story. Maybe we’ll bump into you there, that would be great!

  4. avatar Mrs. Mudpuppy says:

    You’ve really done an excellent job of capturing the beauty and majesty of this site! It is a treasure and so glad it is under protection as sites such as this are slowly fading away. Great post Mrs. Toad!

    • avatar Mrs. Toad says:

      Thank you so much for your wonderful comments Mrs. Mudpuppy! We certainly enjoyed touring this wonderful place with you and Mr. Mudpuppy that sunny afternoon. The only thing that makes these places better is to share them with good friends!

  5. avatar LensScaper says:

    Well written, Mrs Toad – imaginative story telling interwoven with history and the usual excellent images. What more could a man wish for to accompany the first coffee of the day.

    • avatar Mrs. Toad says:

      Thank you Andy, I must admit I am fascinated by these places and their unique stories as well. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. avatar Len Saltiel says:

    Another wonderful visit into the past Mrs Toad. You weave such an interesting story around the great images that I almost imagine being there watching the past unfold.

    • avatar Mrs. Toad says:

      Thank you Len, that’s really what we aim for. It is such fun to visit these places that we just can’t wait to share them with all of you. Thanks for your great comments, we really appreciate them!

  7. avatar Jim Nix says:

    nice work Toad! I love that organ closeup and the tight shot of the desk too, well done!

    • avatar Mrs. Toad says:

      Thank you Jim, the organ and the old safe were real highlights for us as well. Thanks for taking the time to comment today!

  8. avatar Edith Levy says:

    Your posts keep transporting us to a time gone by. Love it and the images are wonderful as usual.

    • avatar Mrs. Toad says:

      Thank you Edith, we are big fans of the local history here and it just brings us so much joy to be able to share these great places with you all. Thank you for your comments!

  9. This is quite special. I love the detail in the building, the intricate ironwork on the doors and even the slightly warped window. What brings these buildings to life though, is the loving nature in which they have been restored and furnished. And of course the loving nature they have been photographed and written about

    • avatar Mrs. Toad says:

      You know Chris, we’ve been past that beautiful door a million times as we went about our busy lives and had no idea how special it truly is until we visited this wonderful old manor. Just goes to show how we sometimes miss things that are right under our noses! Thanks for popping by today.

  10. Nice shots – really like the interior images, we all like to see a safe!

    • avatar Mrs. Toad says:

      Thank you Mark, we cannot wait to get some more shots of the interior once it is finished being renovated. Thanks for stopping by!

  11. The first thing that caught my eye in the opening image was that amazing door! I love all the detail shots you guys captured. It’s so wonderful that TLC sees to it that places like this are preserved. And it’s great that you and Mr. Toad are there to document it as well. Thanks for sharing this wonderful place with us!

    • avatar Mrs. Toad says:

      Thank you so much for your wonderful comments Michael, it really means a lot to us. I really love that door as well, it really sets the tone for this beautiful place. We’re looking forward to sharing the rest of the inside with everyone once the reno’s are complete.

  12. avatar ehpem says:

    Another very fine post of a special part of Victoria’s colonial history. That fire was a real shame, but fortunately was quite well contained and not too much was lost. I am glad to hear the restoration is progressing.

    • avatar Mrs. Toad says:

      Thank you Ehpem for your kind comments! Thankfully not too much was damaged in the fire, but it will take some time and care to repair the arbutus handrail on the staircase, apparently it is quite unusual to use this type of wood and it had to made in sections originally.