Thursday Doors – A Peak into Dundurn’s Questionable Past

…..thanks to Norm for hosting Thursday Doors

Yesterday my granddaughter and I walked over to the park at Dundurn Castle in Hamilton. She no longer calls it the dinosaur park but now uses its actual name ‘Dundurn Castle’.


On the grounds there sits a beautiful small white building with large columns at the entrance. I never gave much thought to what the building was originally used for but when I found out what it might have been potentially used for I was quite shocked. It is referred to as the Cockpit Theatre but according to Wikipedia there is no proof that it was ever used for cockfighting. It is also referred to as a folly, which I had to look up.



  1. lack of good sense; foolishness:
    “an act of sheer folly”
  2. a costly ornamental building with no practical purpose, especially a tower or mock-Gothic ruin built in a large garden or park.
  3. a theatrical revue, typically with glamorous female performers:
    “the Ziegfeld Follies”

According the Tourism Hamilton, “The Cockpit Theatre is the small Neo-classical building overlooking Burlington Bay on the edge of the escarpment estate. It was built by Sir Allan MacNab as a place to entertain business and political friends in an era two hundred years before action films and reality television.  No archaeological evidence has actually shown that the building was ever used for the activity its name suggests.”

Another source gives this description of its original purpose: One of Dundurn Castle’s favored buildings it is actually a folly as its true purpose will forever remain unknown. Most locals refer to it as housing MacNab’s cockfighting ring as he was an avid participant in this long since banned sport. Local lore has underground tunnels leading from it to the main mansion.

Other uses being designated to it include:

  • A Theatre
  • A boathouse
  • A laundry house
  • An Office
  • A chapel for his wife

 It is confusing to me that all accounts try to deny the use of this beautiful building as a cockfighting pit yet its official name is The Cockpit Theatre and as I peaked inside there were placards describing ‘cockfighting’. In fairness to Dundurn Castle I wasn’t able to read the information through the window so maybe they were debunking the myth. Anyway it makes for an interesting story.