Description of Historic Place
Dundurn Castle National Historic Site of Canada is an early-19th-century estate in Hamilton, Ontario. Located on Burlington Heights, between Hamilton Harbour and the low-lying land known as Cootes Paradise, Dundurn Castle’s associated buildings and structures are set in a picturesque, park-like estate of 13 hectares overlooking Burlington Bay. The main residence, a large building in the Italianate style, is surrounded by subsidiary buildings constructed during the 19th century. These include a dovecot, a two-storey pavilion for cockfighting (the Cockpit), a gardener’s cottage, a gatehouse (Battery Lodge), and a stable (MacInnes Stable). The site also features 19th-century entrance gates (Rolph Gates) and a 20th-century pavilion (Park Pavilion). Official recognition refers to the 13-hectare property, its buildings and structures including its landscape features.
Dundurn Castle was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1984 because:
-it is a rare surviving example of a picturesque estate in Canada exhibiting a remarkable degree of integrity.
In terms of exterior design, plan and landscape setting, Dundurn represents the most comprehensive statement of the Picturesque values of Canadian architecture. Its heritage value lies in the picturesque qualities of the landscape and buildings and in their association with Sir Alan Napier MacNab, prominent politician and businessman, for whom it was built between 1834 and 1835. Developed over the course of the 19th century, Dundurn Castle remains a complete surviving example of a 19th-century picturesque estate in Canada. The estate integrates an Italianate style main house, a series of Gothic Revival and classically styled outbuildings, natural landscape features, remnants of 1812 military earthworks and 18th-century farm buildings, to create a composition that embodies the principles of picturesque design.
The Dundurn estate, originally the property of Richard Beasley who erected a two-storey brick residence on the site in 1800, was purchased by John Solomon Cartwright of Kingston in 1832. The following year Cartwright sold the property to MacNab, who began construction of his “castle” in 1834. When completed in 1835 it surpassed in scale, lavishness and sophistication of design anything previously known to the young colony. Designed by Hamilton architect Robert Wetherell, the main house is an eclectic blend of Classical and Italianate motifs, set in a sweeping landscape with panoramic views of the adjacent bay. MacNab and resident master gardener William Reid continued to develop the landscape over their lifetimes, often enlisting the aid of professional landscape and building architects. The classical portico was added in 1855 to designs by Hamilton architect Frederick Rastrick. Subsequent owners added other elements, such as the stone stable. The estate retains its formal gardens, informal park-like areas, and natural undisturbed slopes and ravines, evoking the desired picturesque effects of variety, suspense, surprise, irregular outline and contrast.
Sources: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, June 1984; November 1991; Commemorative Integrity Statement, 1999.
Key elements contributing to the heritage value of the site include:
-the dramatic setting above Burlington Bay;
-the evolutionary character of the estate with its integration of military earthworks, Aboriginal land forms and ruins;
-the park-like grounds with the house as centrepiece;
-the considered placement of buildings to create a series of planned views;
-the contrast between natural and man-made elements, evident in the densely wooded north slope of the Heights, the English-style parkland character of the south and west lawns with scattered specimen trees, and the terracing of the manicured north lawn;
-the curvilinear carriageways and footpaths, particularly the approach from the southeast gate, through a series of controlled views and vistas to the house;
-the choice and placement of trees;
-the use of Italianate, Gothic, Classical and Regency architectural styles;
-the integration of the original MacNab buildings as part of a whole, including:
-Dundurn Castle, the building’s integrity; the brick construction covered in stucco, its irregular massing and footprint, its picturesque design, two and three storey towers with shallow pyramidal roofs crowned by finials, French windows, modillion style brackets under the parapet, the roof level balustrade, the lively roofline with prominent chimneys, the prominent Doric portico on its south side, the porches and terraces; the north loggia that functions as a transitional “room” between the house and grounds, the configuration and decoration of the interior and the surviving original materials and finishes that reflect the MacNab period;
-its early use of the Italianate style in North America;
-the Dovecot, including its prominent location on the former York road, its picturesque design function as a tower in the landscape, and its overall architectural integrity;
-the Cockpit, including the front and rear elevations that resemble a temple of neo-classical design; the symmetrical octagonal plan, cupola and the use of stucco; the siting at the edge of the natural embankment; the views to and from the Castle, entrance driveway and the Bay; the Picturesque effect of the building in the landscape; and its rarity as a purpose built cock-fighting arena;
-St. Mary’s Lodge, including its eclectic blend of Regency and Gothic style architecture, its intended function and location as part of the Picturesque design philosophy and its original intended function as a dower house;
-the Gardener’s Cottage, including its vernacular classical brick design that contrasts with other estate buildings; its siting near the kitchen garden and the entrance drive;
-the Battery Lodge, including its integrity, general appearance, and scale; bay windows, chimney, and use of stucco; its association with a military earthwork; its function as the original gate house, a defining element of a Picturesque estate; and its continuing relationship to York road, the carriageway and estate “park”;
-the Rolph Gates in their surviving original material and design;
-archaeological remnants of aboriginal occupation, former military earthworks, estate building foundations, garden beds, footpaths, carriageways, fencing, and hedge lines;
-the views to and from the buildings, particularly from the Castle and the Cockpit to Burlington Bay.