July 7, 2020 to October 19, 2020 at Courtenay & District Museum

Victoria’s Craigdarroch Castle has long been dedicated to telling the stories of the Dunsmuir family and other Castle residents over the years. Now it’s created a singular show about a particular character and sent it on the road to the Courtenay and District Museum.

Finding a Voice: Gender, Sexuality and Music Through the Work of Elinor Dunsmuir offers new insight into the family and the times through the story and music of the coal baron’s talented granddaughter.

Elinor was a granddaughter of the Dunsmuir patriarch Robert and his wife, Joan. She was the sixth child (and fifth of eight surviving daughters) of Robert’s eldest son James and his wife, Laura. She grew up with everything but was a square peg in British Columbia society of the day. Despite her intelligence, there was no role for her in the family business. She studied music in Europe and became an accomplished musician and composer.

Elinor chose to march to her own drummer, cutting her hair short, wearing men’s clothes, smoking cigars and developing a taste for drink and gambling. Her circle in Europe accepted her homosexuality and she became known in the casinos as la riche canadienne. Poor health and dwindling finances ultimately brought her back to Victoria, where she lived at Hatley Castle with her mother, Laura. Elinor died of a stroke in 1938 at 52.

“Tying into broader issues around social change and identity, the exhibition will look at Elinor’s works from a musicological perspective, as well as using Elinor’s life as a framework to explore how her experience — as both a woman and a member of the LGBTQ2 community — shaped her life and her experience as a composer,” says exhibition curator Danielle MacKenzie.

The Museum is OPEN Tuesday – Saturday, 10:00 am to 4:00 pm

This is what’s new at our museum:

  • An occupancy limit of ten at a time. Consider calling ahead if you have a group of 4 or more.
  • Hand sanitizing stations are available on entrance and throughout the building.
  • Masks are suggested and available.
  • Archival services are limited at this time but inquiries by phone are welcome.

We also cleaned spaces, moved exhibits and collections, overhauled the gift shop and worked with contractors and city staff to redo floors and surfaces. Come and celebrate all this newness with us!

Our thanks go out to the City of Courtenay and all funders and donors for continuing to support the museum through this transition and into this re-opening phase.