Castle of the Week 92 – Casa Loma
It’s a cold winter’s day and you gaze upwards at a majestic 130 foot (40 meter) Scottish tower reaching into the clear blue sky, the view is breathtaking. Looking at the beauty and detail your mind evokes an image of ages past.
You can almost envision a Lord and his Lady walking in the cold winter air and the glory of a bygone age as you gaze at this wonderful landmark that graces the city of Toronto, Canada. Casa Loma’s hilltop location allows for beautiful views of the city and the gardens that cover the estate. Formal, informal and labyrinth gardens grace the grounds and great care has been taken to preserve the beauty of the castle.
Casa Loma was the dream of Sir Henry Mill Pellatt. As a young man he traveled Europe and kept a sketch book in which he made faithful recordings of castles he loved. At 18 he joined the Queen’s Own Rifles and was employed by his father’s stock brokering firm, Pellatt and Pellatt. He met and married Mary Dodgson and was soon on his way to being a successful business man.
Sir Henry was a successful risk taker in business, achieving his fortune by investing in profitable ventures. By starting companies like the Toronto Electric Light Company in 1833, the first Canadian hydro-generating plant at Niagara Falls, to which he and partners won the rights, and purchasing stock in railroad and land companies, he achieved his financial independence.
As a noted military man he gained the rank of Major General in the Queen’s Own Rifles; and his Knighthood in the year 1905 for his service.
As his fortune grew, he realized that he had the means to realize his dream. Sir Henry purchased a 25 acre country estate which, back then, was north of Toronto and had one building, the hunting lodge.
The first thing added by Sir Henry was stables, in which he gave his horses every luxury. With stalls made of mahogany, the horses’ names above the stalls in gold and floors covered with a zigzag pattern of Spanish tile to prevent slippage, the horses lived in style.
Today you can reach the stables by an 800 foot tunnel that connects the stables and the lower floor of the castle at a depth of 18 feet below the ground.
Construction of the castle began in 1911; Sir Henry hired the noted Canadian architect, E.J. Lennox, to build the home of his dreams. Lennox combined the favorite aspects of Sir Henry’s sketches, in which he showcases Norman, Romanesque and Gothic architectural styles, to achieve the Casa Loma we see today. Three hundred men worked on the construction of the castle from 1911-1914 at a cost of $3,500,000. Stone masons from Scotland were brought to Canada to cut and lay the grey sandstone. Painstaking care was given and materials were brought in from all over the world to give the castle an authentic look and feel.
The Norman tower guards the west and keeps watch over the city of Toronto; the Scottish tower on the east side offers the viewer a glimpse into the beautiful gardens that grace 5 acres of land below it.
No expense was spared in the detail that Sir Henry wanted portrayed. Beautiful rooms and secret passages were incorporated into the design.
The Great Hall with a 60 foot high ceiling, darkened beams and Gargoyles hearken back to a time not seen in the New World. The beauty and grandeur take you back the time of Knights and Ladies, beauty and pageantry.
The balcony that overlooks the Great Hall connects to Sir Henry’s private suite. In his private study are two secret passages behind panels on either side of the fireplace that took him to his wine cellar or to his second floor.
Modern luxuries were blended into the old persona of the castle. For the era it was built in, electric wiring, 52 phones, a central vacuuming system, ovens that were big enough to cook an ox and a staff of 40 to help run the castle were required.
The conservatory has steam pipes that warmed the plant beds and a $12,000 dollar stained glass dome that illuminates a floor of green and pink Italian marble. Lady Pellatt must have enjoyed entertaining in this lovely room. Old historical photos show ladies in this very room adorned in their finery.
With hopes of one day having the Royal family visit, Sir Henry created the Windsor room. Peacock Alley is also recreated in the castle. But the dream was not be; he was forced to give up his castle in 1924, due to financial complications. The Pellatt family moved to their country home and the City of Toronto acquired the castle in lieu of taxes.
It changed hands several times until, in 1937, the Kiwanis Club asked the City of Toronto if they could restore the castle, which had fallen into disrepair, and run it for the benefit of the city and the public. The offer was accepted and the Kiwanis Club of Toronto has successfully and wondrously run the castle ever since.
Sir Henry would have been pleased to know that Casa Loma aided the Allies in the Second World War. A place of secrecy was needed to manufacture the ASDIC device (the predecessor to the sonar) after the plant where it was being made in Britain was bombed. Knowing that the castle was the last place an observer would look for a manufacturing plant, the engineer responsible chose the basement under the stables to carry out their clandestine mission. It would not be till a decade after the war that those involved finally let the city councilors know of the work that helped get desperately needed supplies to the Allies.
Today the castle is still operated by the Kiwanis Club of Toronto and I must extend a grateful thank you to Lou Seiler, Director of Marketing, for his correspondence with information and help in supplying almost all the pictures for this article. Take a virtual tour of the castle by visiting their wonderful website.
Write-up courtesy of Lady Arcola.
Additional photos courtesy of Castles of the World and we continue to thank them for the use of the photos on their site.