Previous Changing Exhibit

983.781 Emily Elinor Dunsmuir by Ernest Castelein. Dated 1924.
Courtesy of Craigdarroch Castle

2012.7.1.63 Elinor Dunsmuir in theatrical costume.
Courtesy of Craigdarroch Castle

Finding a Voice:

Gender, Sexuality and Music Through the Work of Elinor Dunsmuir

July 7, 2020 to October 19, 2020

An exhibition by Craigdarroch Castle

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.

Craigdarroch Castle is grateful for Government of Canada funding through the Access to Heritage Component of the Museums Assistance Program. For more information, visit