Official residence and office
Since 1865, three Government Houses have stood on the estate. The first, known as Cary Castle, was built in 1859 and was purchased as the residence of the Governor of Vancouver Island six years later. In 1871, when British Columbia joined Confederation, Cary Castle became Government House; however, this original house was destroyed by fire in 1899. Acclaimed architects Francis Rattenbury and Samuel Maclure designed a second Government House, officially opened in 1903 and tragically, it too was destroyed by fire in 1957. The current house opened in 1959 and closely resembles the Rattenbury-Maclure designed building. The property, now officially known as the Estate of the Lieutenant Governor, is a designated National Historic Site.
Since its founding, the Government House Foundation has provided important support to enhance Government House, including multiple stained-glass windows, a Steinway grand piano played at hundreds of events each year and the renovation of multiple suites in the residence.
The Government House grounds encompass 14.6 hectares, including 8.9 hectares of rare Garry oak ecosystem and 5.7 hectares of formal gardens. The formal gardens are lovingly maintained by scores of dedicated volunteers, the Friends of Government House Gardens Society. In 2022, the Government House Gardens was named one of Canada’s 100 Garden Moments by the Canadian Garden Council.
The grounds are a well-utilized, much-treasured green space for the community. With occasional exceptions, the grounds are open daily from sunrise to sunset, free of charge. One need not look very far to see the number of Foundation initiatives that have enhanced the beauty and enjoyment of this National Historic Site for all visitors, including the revitalization of the gardens, officially opened by Her Majesty in 1994; the accessible pathways throughout the gardens; the rehabilitation of the Cary Castle Mews; the bandshell, the statue of Sir James Douglas, the “father” of British Columbia; and the pole Hosaqami, a symbol of reconciliation among our people. These Foundation projects have helped highlight the history, culture and achievements of our people and established Government House as the ceremonial home of all British Columbians.
Cary Castle Mews
The Cary Castle Mews consists of a cluster of wooden service buildings, including stables, carriage house, gaol, root cellar, wash house and poultry barn, which have been used as support buildings to Government House since their construction in the 1870s.
The Foundation supported the restoration and revitalization of the Mews buildings which now serve as a tea room, costume museum and interpretive center.
When it is open during the summer season, Rudi’s Tea Room – named for Rudolph (Rudi) Hoenson, a philanthropist and longtime supporter of Government House – offers a delicious selection of sweets and savouries.