Meet the man who saved Craigdarroch Castle

James K. Nesbitt, (1908-1981)was a descendant of one of Victoria’s pioneer families, a Daily Colonist newspaperman, and an early champion of the preservation of the city’s history. In recognition of his efforts to preserve and document the city’s historical resources Nesbitt was given Plaque Number One on his brain child, the Parade of Ships, that series of bronze plaques that line the Upper Causeway and overlook the Inner Harbour. Nesbitt and Elizabeth Ruggles pictured to the left. Victoria Archives AC1-M07445

Parade of Ships

Parade of Ships dedication. Daily Colonist

Parade of Ships dedication. Daily Colonist

It was Nesbitt’s vision to establish the Parade of Ships. The official unveiling of the first 24 plaques commemorating historic harbour events took place on 09 June, 1962 in front of the Empress Hotel. The ceremony was officiated by Victoria Alderman A.W. Toone. Some 50 people attended the event.

Since its inception the number of plaques commemorating the vessels, people, and events significant to the harbour’s story has since grown to more than 70. The Victoria Harbour History Society is currently working to bring the stories that lie beneath those bronze to life for the thousands who walk the Upper Causeway each year.

Craigdarroch Castle

Upon the death of Joan Dunsmuir in 1908 Craigdarroch Castle fell into increasingly uncaring institutional hands. Nesbitt was the first to recognize the value in preserving the castle as a significant piece of Victoria’s history. In 1959, he founded the Craigdarroch Castle Preservation Society and gradually mounted a campaign to save the landmark.

The British Columbia Legislature

Since the opening of the Legislature library in 1915 the buildings of the BC Legislature slowly slid into physical decline. Nesbitt was one of the first to speak out about their sorry state. His commitment to preserving the true character of the Buildings began in 1961.

Following that episode, Nesbitt’s supporters, including Provincial Archivist Willard Ireland, were instrumental in convincing the Victoria branch of the B.C. Historical Society to pass a resolution urging the government to set up a legislative committee that would have to be consulted before public buildings could be altered – “particularly the Parliament Buildings…”

Some years later, Nesbitt again did battle to saved the mosaic tiles in the center of the Domical hall. This time, he and provincial Liberal leader David Anderson initiated a public letter writing campaign that convinced the government to retain the tiles and to rope them off from further pedestrian traffic.