The estate was designated as the official residence of the governor of the colony of Vancouver Island in 1865. It became the official residence of the Lieutenant Governor after British Columbia joined Confederation in 1871. The estate comprises 14.6 hectares of provincial crown land.
The current grounds were originally designed in 1911 by G.K. Maclean, a landscape architect from Vancouver. After a fire in 1957, Robert Savery, a British-born and educated landscaper, updated the design influenced by the style of traditional English gardens. The west-side landscape until then had only a few plots of hybrid tea roses in a lawn on a natural sloping grade, heavily surrounded by trees. Savery’s new landscape design changed the area’s characteristics and improved conditions for growing roses and herbaceous perennials.
1960s – 1991: The gardens flourished throughout the 1960s and 1970s when up to 17 gardeners worked on the property. The grounds were well-maintained and many of the plants were grown in an on-site greenhouse. However, throughout the 1980s, only one staff gardener remained, and even with regular maintenance by contractors, the gardens deteriorated.
1991 – 2007: Lieutenant Governor David Lam (1988–1995) initiated a garden volunteer program in 1991 (which evolved into the Friends in 1992). He hoped volunteers would maintain the gardens, raise funds, and ensure continued interest and support to enhance the existing gardens. He encouraged volunteers to create new gardens and improve their maintenance for public use and enjoyment.
1995 – 2001: During his term of office, Lieutenant Governor Garde Gardom encouraged increased access. The Government House Foundation, the Province of British Columbia, and private donations funded a wheelchair pathway project to make the gardens more accessible.
2001- 2007: Lieutenant Governor Iona Campagnolo was a volunteer with The Terraces garden team and maintained an area on its southeast side. Ms. Campagnolo opened The Terraces to the public in 2004. She supervised the installation of a vantage point overlooking the Woodlands and a public access pathway through the area.
The estate was designated as a national historic site in 2002 to recognize its long-standing connection with colonial and provincial functions and the remarkable aesthetic qualities of its various landscapes.