Dundurn Castle is located in Hamilton Ontario and is a National Historic Site of Canada. Built for Alan Napier McNab in the neoclassical style by architect Robert Charles Wetherell, the mansion consists of over seventy rooms covering an area of 18,000 sq. ft. The mansion was modelled and named after his family home at the head of Loch Earn, Perthshire, Scotland. He called the mansion Dundurn which means "fort on the water".
The house was also appointed with the newest in technology which included running water and gas lighting. The house was decorated with oak panelling, and crystal chandeliers. The McNabs hosted lavish parties and meetings at Dundurn Castle which attracted many influential people from Canada and Britain including the Prince of Wales who visited Dundurn Castle in 1860.
A plaque outside Dundurn Castle erected by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada reads:
This villa was completed in 1835 for Allan Napier MacNab. Incorporating an existing farmhouse, it was designed by the local architect, Robert Wetherell, as a statement of its owner's place in Hamilton society. The house features an eclectic blend of classical and Italianate motifs, French windows, broad verandahs and a panoramic view of Burlington Bay. With its outbuildings and grounds, Dundurn Castle stands as an important example of the Picturesque Movement in Canada. After years in private hands, the property was purchased by the city and from 1964 to 1967 restored to its former splendour.
The Italian Villa or Italianate style was introduced in Britain in the early 1800's and further developed by one of Britain's greatest architects, the Regency neo-classicist John Nash, the architect of Buckingham Palace. The style soon gained popularity among the elite in Britain and eventually took hold in the British colonies. From the late 1840s to 1890 it achieved huge popularity in the United States, where it was promoted by the architect Alexander Jackson Davis. Wealthy landowners designed magnificent homes and estates in the Italianate style with extras like follies, grottos and fountains to decorate the landscape.
The Italianate style was modeled after the medieval farmhouses of the Italian countryside. These farmhouses were irregularly shaped and seemed to fit naturally into their rustic settings. The most outstanding feature of the Italianate Villa style is the square tower, topped with a bracketed cornice. As the style evolved from the Italianate Villa to the Italianate form, the square tower and irregular massing were not always present, but other elements of the style continued such as tall, narrow windows and columned porticoes or porches, sometimes extending across the full width of the front façade.
To fully understand Dundurn Castle it is important to understand it's creator, Sir Allan Napier MacNab. Sir Allan Napier MacNab, 1st Baronet was born February 19th 1798 in Newark (Niagara-on-the-Lake) to Allan MacNab and Anne Napier; daughter of Capt. Peter William Napier, the commissioner of the Port and Harbour of Quebec.
Alan McNab Sr. was born in Scotland on a small property called Dundurn at the head of Loch Earn. The senior McNab belonged to The Black Watch, the oldest highland regiment in Canada. During the Revolutionary War he served as lieutenant of cavalry in the Queen's Rangers under the command of Governor Simcoe and it is said that during his time as a soldier received over a dozen wounds.
Alan Napier was just a young boy of fourteen when he took up arms against the Americans. He would see fighting at Sackett's Harbor. He was present at the Burning of Black Rock and Buffalo and was present at Sir George Prevost's defeat at Plattsburg. After the war McNab studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1824. MacNab was married twice, first to Elizabeth Brooke, who died in 1826. Together they had two children, a son Robert born in 1822 and a daughter Anne Jane born in 1825.
His second marriage was to Mary Stuart. Two daughters resulted from this marriage, Sophia Mary born in 1832 and Minnie (Mary Stuart), born in 1834. The couple's eldest daughter Sophia, Countess of Albemarle was born at Hamilton, Ontario. Sophia married William Keppel, 7th Earl of Albemarle, at Dundurn Castle, Hamilton on November 15th 1855. McNab's only son Robert from his first marriage was killed in a hunting accident in May 1834.
Allan Napier McNab was a lawyer, politician and entrepreneur but his enormous accumulation of wealth was through land speculation. The property known as Burlington Heights where McNab built Dundurn Castle in 1835 was purchased from Richard Beasley, an early settler to the Hamilton area. McNab liked the location of Beasley's original brick house and built his estate around it's foundation.
By 1829, Alan Napier had begun a parliamentary career representing the County of Wentworth, a seat he occupied during three Parliaments. While speaker of the Legislative Assembly he formed a militia known as "Men of Gore" a reference to the district of which Hamilton and Wentworth formed part of. Alan McNab was also instrumental in the formation of the Great Western Railway.
In 1837 when McNab became aware of the Mackenzie Rebellion he called his militia to meet at Dundurn and after securing two schooners he set off across the bay and landed in Toronto in time to lead his loyalists against the rebels at Montgomery's Tavern on Yonge Street, about four miles north of the city. The rebels were quickly put to flight with thirty-six killed and fourteen wounded. Mackenzie fled and a bounty was placed on his head. In December 1837 Colonel McNab seized the steamer "Caroline", a rebel owned ship used to convey men and supplies to their headquarters at Navy Island. After setting the schooner on fire he sent it adrift down the Niagara River and over Niagara Falls. In recognition of his services during the Rebellion McNab was Knighted.
Sir Allan Napier MacNab, 1st Baronet would eventually become Premier of the Province of Canada from 1854 - 1860 before Canadian Confederation. He would pass away at Dundurn Castle on the 8th of August, 1862. The City of Hamilton acquired the property in 1900 and in the late 1960s, it was restored as a Centennial project.
Today Dundurn Castle is operated as a museum by the City of Hamilton. For a small fee costumed interpreters take visitors through a one-hour tour of the home, illustrating the daily life of the McNab family and their servants in the mid nineteenth century.
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