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Real-life ‘Downton Abbey’ countess explains Canadian connection

Lady Fiona Carnarvon

(CBC News) – Fans of the show Downton Abbey, set in the early 1900s, may miss the series after this Sunday’s show finale, but the real ‘Downton Abbey,’ lives on.

The show is set on a property in the south part of England that the Carnarvon family has owned and lived in for over a thousand years.

“Highclere has been in business for 1,300 years and we’re still in business as a family business,” said the eighth Countess of Carnarvon, Lady Fiona Carnarvon.

The Carnarvons open their home to the public about 90 days a year and give tours of the castle.

The TV series does not show all parts of the Highclere property — the estate in real-life is much bigger, says Carnarvon.

“There are 200 to 300 rooms in that castle and there’s a thousand acres of parkland and 4,000 or 5,000 acres of farm and woodland around it.”

Lady Carnarvon is in downtown Vancouver Friday afternoon to havehigh tea at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver.

A Canadian connection

Generations of Carnarvons took on a variety of roles over the years and at one point, they played a big part in Canada’s confederation.

In fact, the fourth Earl of Carnarvon was Secretary of State for the colonies and helped Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister, create an independent Canada.

The documents were drawn up in Carnarvon’s home, Highclere.

“The Canadian constitution was written by Lord Carnarvon … at Highclere,” said Carnarvon.

“He and John A. Macdonald became good friends and obviously it led to the first of July, 1867.”

Carnarvon says she found a diary where Macdonald described Highclere as a “swell place.”

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