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Victoria’s Craigdarroch Castle shows its Christmas style

Standing knee-deep in decorations stored in a basement work room of Victoria’s only castle, Sherry Kerr formulates a plan.

Now in her 16th year decorating Craigdarroch Castle for Christmas, she doesn’t start with sketches, drawing instead on instinct, experience and creativity.

“I’m very creative so I’m able to put that to use and this is my bliss,” Kerr says. “I actually don’t plan. I walk into the room and get a feeling. I go downstairs and I just start grabbing (things) and it starts to flow.”

A national historic site, Craigdarroch Castle was built by coal baron Robert Dunsmuir (who died before itwas finished) and now gives glimpses into privileged life in the 1890s. His sons finished overseeing the work, with one of them, James, also commissioning Greater Victoria’s other castle Hatley in Colwood. (Some sources describe the Fairmont Empress Hotel as also being a castle.)

READ MORE: Ghosts, secret passageways and Hollywood: Greater Victoria castle has it all

Adding holiday flair to the former home of the widow Dunsmuir and her youngest daughters is a winter highlight for Kerr. Immediately diving into research, she found little information available on how the castle was treated for the holidays.

“So I decorated in keeping with the Victorian theme,” she says.

The drawing room is filled with toys of the Victorian age, all set out at kid level for the youngest visitors to enjoy. (Christine van Reeuwyk/News Staff)

The first few years were done to the hilt, with chandeliers, doors and halls dripping in garland and every room decorated. Even the paintings were swathed in fabric in a Victorian decor style. Over the years that has cut down to the key rooms, such as the dining room, breakfast room and, of course, the drawing room.

It’s likely more in keeping with what the original family would have done, Kerr said.

Mantels heavily swathed in garlands provided her first big challenge. Since it’s historic, she can’t use sneaky nails, little screws or adhesive strips.

READ MORE: Victoria’s Craigdarroch Castle reveals restored Dunsmuir-era kitchen

Layering greenery, fabric, ivy, feathers and more, she’d find things falling all the time.

She overcame that using heavy fishing weights, flattened on the sides and lined with protective felt.

The eyelets on the weights provide an anchor for attaching layers upon layers of festive garlands.

“Absolutely everything has to be secure … it’s layers and layers of stuff,” she said. “You look at it and you don’t know what goes into those layers.”

She loves every bit of it. “I’m always sad when I’m done.”

From entryway to tower, the rails are hung with artfully twined greenery and red ribbon. (Christine van Reeuwyk/News Staff)

If there’s a least favourite part, it’s probably the railings from the ground floor to the tip of the tower bedecked in greenery intertwined artfully with red ribbon.

The “painstaking” work, while stunning at the end, means two days hunched over weaving ribbon into four floors worth of garland.

But it’s worth it. There’s the reward of a beautiful display, and kudos from guests.

Her design ideas, done on the fly for well over a decade now, are often the inspiration for visitors from around the world who offer praise and snap images to duplicate the decor at home.

The Christmas meal is set in the breakfast room at Craigdarroch Castle in Victoria. (Christine van Reeuwyk/News Staff)

If you go:

Craigdarroch Castle in Victoria is decked out for Christmas. (Christine van Reeuwyk/News Staff)
Designer Sherry Kerr adds a final touch to the mantel in the entryway at Victoria’s Craigdarroch Castle. (Christine van Reeuwyk/News Staff)

Christine van Reeuwyk

About the Author: Christine van Reeuwyk

I'm dedicated to serving the community of Oak Bay as a senior journalist with the Greater Victoria news team.
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