Government House is the official residence of the BC Lieutenant Governor. It’s a grand historic building with beautiful gardens and views of Victoria.
The grounds at Government House are free to visit most days of the year and the building itself is open to the public on specific dates and for special occasions.
Lieutenant Governor’s House
The Lieutenant Governor is the Queen’s representative to British Columbia and Government House is where he or she lives. It is also where official state meetings take place in Victoria. When the British Royal Family or other foreign dignitaries are in town, Government House is where VIPs are entertained and official events happen.
Location and Hours
Government House is located at 1401 Rockland Avenue in a posh neighbourhood about a 5-minute drive east of downtown Victoria. There are numerous large and beautiful heritage homes in the area, and Craigdarroch Castle is just a 5-minute walk away.
The gardens and grounds at Government House are open daily between sunrise and sunset. Admission is free and there is on-site parking available.
Usually, free hour-long public tours of the Lieutenant Governor’s residence take place once a month on a Saturday between 9:30 and 11 am. However, as of early 2020, there are renovations being done to Government house which means the tours will not be running as it is unsafe for the public to be in a construction zone. It is anticipated that the upgrades will be done in the fall of 2020 and tours will re-commence then. Be sure to check their website about exact details as these approximate dates are subject to change.
For further details including upcoming dates, click House Tours.
Estate Grounds & Gardens
The 36 acres of grounds and gardens at Government House are beautiful and well worth visiting. They aren’t world-famous and amazing, like Butchart Gardens, but they are free and still fairly impressive.
Right in front of Government House, as you enter the property, you’ll see a large garden with lawns, trees, rocks, a small pavilion and a tiny duck pond.
Elsewhere on the grounds there is the Rhododendron Garden that’s in bloom in the late spring, the Victorian Rose Garden that’s especially pretty in the summer, and woodland trails at the back which overlook the water in the distance.
For a map of the gardens click Estate Grounds.
About Government House
The exterior of Government House is made of varying shades of BC granite. It’s a grand-looking stone building. The interior is also impressive, although somewhat dated.
Inside the residence there are portraits of the Royal Family and former Lieutenant Governors on the walls, a ballroom for official events, a fancy dining room with fir paneling and seating for up to 40 guests, and other stately-looking rooms and hallways throughout.
Overnight visitors to Government House over the years have included King George and Queen Elizabeth in 1939, and much more recently, the Royal Couple William and Kate.
History of Government House
The existing Government House was built in 1959. Previous versions of the building were completed in 1859 and 1903 on the same site.
The original structure was known as “Cary Castle” and built initially as a private residence. The second was designed by famous BC architects Francis Rattenbury and Samuel Maclure. Other works of Rattenbury include the Empress Hotel and BC Legislative Buildings. Samuel Maclure also designed Hatley Castle.
Both the original and second generations of Government House were destroyed by fire, in 1899 and 1957 respectively, and the present-day version was built to resemble and in the same modern-Tudor-revival-style of the second.
For the first five or so years of its existence, the original estate building, Cary Castle, was the home of the ultra-wealthy British lawyer, colonial Attorney General and later Victoria politician George Hunter Cary. The property was then sold to the British Crown for use by the colonial Governor of Vancouver Island, and then, very soon after, in 1866, the Governor of the newly-merged and expanded colony of British Columbia.
Ever since 1871, when the colony of BC formally joined the rest of Canada, Government House has been the official residence of the province’s Lieutenant Governor.
About the Lieutenant Governor
The Lieutenant Governor is the Queen’s representative to British Columbia. It’s an appointed position, officially by the Governor General of Canada but on the advice of the elected government, and for a minimum of 5 years but usually more.
The previous and 29th Lieutenant Governor, Judith Guichon, was in the role for around six years beginning in 2012. As of April, 2018, the present and 30th Lieutenant Governor of the province is Janet Austin.
Similar to viceroys in other provinces, the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia has a largely ceremonial role. He or she signs bills into law, hosts official events, and does other official duties as the Queen’s representative.
Tips and Advice
Below are some suggestions and pieces of information to help you make the most out of your visit to Government House.
- TIP # 1: Be sure to explore all the gardens, not just the main ones at the front. You can walk all around the exterior of the residence. On one side, a short walk away from the building, there is the Victorian Rose Garden and a small orchard. At the back there is a small series of trails to explore and a couple of benches to sit at while admiring the view of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
- TIP # 2: Cary Mews is a collection of 19th century structures on the southeast side of the estate. The buildings, including a tea room, are usually open to the public in the summer. As you wander around the property make sure to check them out.
- TIP # 3: Join a tour of the interior of Government House if you can. They are free, interesting and educational. They only take place one Saturday a month, however, so you need to plan in advance. Also, as space is limited and tours have a maximum capacity, arrive early. Click House Tours for times and further details.
- TIP # 4: While in the area, consider going for a walk around the neighbourhood and/or visiting Craigdarroch Castle which is only about half a kilometre away. It’s a residential neighbourhood, but with lots of beautiful homes.
For more information about Government House, see the BC Lieutenant Governor‘s website.
For a list of other places of interest in the city including museums, historical sites and tourist attractions, click Victoria Attractions.
For a list of other gardens in the region, including ones that are free and not free, click Victoria Parks & Gardens.
For a list of events in Victoria throughout the year, check out the Festivals & Events Calendar.