Robert and Joan Dunsmuir didn’t lose their fondness for Scotland and things Scottish after moving to Vancouver Island. But unfortunately, no early family diaries have survived to tell us of the strength of their sentiment for the old country.
Nanaimo and Victoria newspapers offer a glimpse into how the family felt about Robert Burns and Scotland. The January 27, 1875 issue of the Nanaimo Free Press provides a glimpse into activities at the Robert Burns Banquet held two days earlier at the Nanaimo Literary Institute Hall. Over 150 people were in attendance. Robert Dunsmuir was the Master of Ceremonies. After proposing a toast to Her Majesty, The Queen, he offered another toast to the Army and Navy. In his remarks, Dunsmuir said that he had “been in many parts of Scotland where Burns had been and in the house in which he had lived”. Clearly, Robert’s feelings about the poet were strong enough that he felt compelled to visit his house.
Let’s skip ahead to the February 18, 1882 edition of the Daily Colonist. That newspaper reported that Robert and Joan arrived in Victoria by steamer from Nanaimo the previous evening. They were on their way to bonnie Scotland after being away more than 30 years. The evening before they left Nanaimo, the couple was treated to a rousing send-off banquet hosted by the Caledonian Club at the Wellington Hotel (see: http://www.ladysmithhistoricalsociety.ca/2007-034-069/ ). Dunsmuir son-in-law John Bryden, like Robert, an Ayrshire transplant, served as Master of Ceremonies.
The Club’s address to Robert Dunsmuir was reproduced in the Colonist:
“Dear Sir, We the members of the Caledonian Club of Nanaimo, learning that you are about to leave us for a few months on a visit to “Auld Scotland”, resolved to request your presence with us this evening as our honored guest, deeming the present a fitting opportunity for an expression of our high regard and esteem for you, not only as a Scotchman and our honored chief, but as one of the most enterprising citizens of British Columbia. And, we further resolved, that the most appropriate place for such a meeting was in the immediate neighbourhood of that extensive and important coal industry which by your perseverance and good management has brought so much prosperity to this district as to provide employment to so many of our fellow citizens.
During your temporary absence from British Columbia we hope that you and Mrs. Dunsmuir will enjoy good health, that you will have a safe and pleasant voyage and a safe return to the land of your adoption.”
Curiously, the 1909 Auction Catalogue for Craigdarroch Castle does not list any books containing Burns’ writings. I suspect that this is because a family member removed them before the sale.
There is a hint that Dunsmuir read Burns and even chose the name Craigdarroch because the Bard. Burns referred to Craigdarroch house near Moniaive in his 1789 poem, The Whistle – A Ballad. The poem is about a drinking contest in which Alexander Fergusson of Craidarroch comes out as the champion. An ancient whistle was his prize, and today that very whistle is in a private collection in Kilmarnock. Dunsmuir may have even seen it there while growing up.
Despite the paucity of information on the Dunsmuirs and Robert Burns, we can see that they had feelings for him and for the land of their birth. They probably ate haggis too! It is entirely fitting that The Castle Society celebrates Robert Burns Day with style.
Come celebrate with us on Jan 25th: thecastle.ca/pages/events