This is the story of Canada’s father of hydroelectricity, and a gentleman possessed by the idea that a man’s home is his castle. Sir Henry Pellatt made a fortune dominating Toronto’s electricity supply and investing mercilessly in progress. From the Canadian Pacific Railroad to the North West Land Company, Sir Henry staked his career on innovation and looking forward. However, when he and Lady Mary Pellatt set about making plans for their dream home in Toronto, their inspiration came from looking back. Back to the medieval castles of Europe and Sir Pellatt’s birthplace, the United Kingdom. They said they wanted to host British royalty, but did they underestimate the finances needed to bankroll such a palatial plan?
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Once upon a time
In 1903, Sir Henry Pellatt purchased 25 lots of land on a leafy hillside overlooking Toronto. The site was dubbed “Casa Loma” by the previous owner, and the Pellatt family retained the name as they carried out construction on their family home. In 1905, a hunting lodge, along with workmen’s cottages were constructed on the land. While Sir Henry waited for approval on his pièce de résistance (which finally came in 1909), stables were also assembled and used as a base for operations onsite during Casa Loma’s construction.
The architecture of a Toronto castle
Sir Pellatt engaged Toronto architect Edward James Lennox to bring to life his romantic notion of a Medieval castle, that would conjure up images of noblemen and knighthood. Maybe even a few dragons and damsels in distress too. Lennox was known for his work on City Hall and the Bank of Toronto as well as homes for other wealthy Torontians. Sir Pellatt and Lennox worked on plans for almost a decade before ground was broken on Casa Loma. They toured Europe together, looking at the finest castles to inspire their design.
Sir Pellatt and Lennox’s plans for Casa Loma were a three-story mansion with the essence of a sixteenth or seventeenth-century castle. However, behind the historic façade, would be a home fitted with all the mod cons of the day. The home was to have 98 rooms covering 6,011 sqm (64,700 sq ft) and include a central vacuum system, elevator, climate-controlled wine cellar, rifle range and swimming pool.
The ground floor plans included a porte-cochere entry and a vast great hall. There was to be an elegant drawing room, generous library, a study complete with hidden staircases, modest dining room and light-filled conservatory.
The second floor was to have a gallery overlooking the great hall, and the private suites of Sir Henry and Lady Mary. Each of the owners’ suites were to be comprised of a bedroom, sitting room and bathroom. There was also to be a guest room and additional bedrooms – one dubbed the Windsor Room as a “build it and they will come” type ode to the British Royal family.
The third floor was to house servants’ quarters and stairs leading up to the rooftops of the two turrets.
The outside of the mansion needed to give the illusion of a fortified castle, clad in stone and complete with faux battlements.
Castles made of sand
Three hundred workers, 3.5 million dollars and three years later, the Pellatt’s moved into their semi-complete Toronto Castle. There was still work to do on the Great Hall, basement and the third floor, but Casa Loma was still a luxurious place to live.
Sir and Lady Pellatt occupied their Toronto castle until 1923 when they were forced to sell the home due to debt. World War I halted construction on unfinished parts of the home, before debt and rising property taxes took over. The contents were auctioned off and the home laid unoccupied for several years. The Pellatt’s moved out to their country home.
The marble pool, bowling alley and shooting range in the basement were never completed before finances dried up. The marble staircase got lost on its way from Scotland, and a custom-made theatre organ never played a note in the house before it had to be auctioned off for a teeny-tiny fraction of its worth. The British royals never came for a slumber party.
What happened to Casa Loma?
In the late 1920’s Casa Loma briefly operated a luxury hotel, and during WWII the stables were used for the secret research and construction of sonar devices that would detect U-boats. In 1937 it became a museum and tourist attraction as it remains today.
Visiting Casa Loma
Here are some tips for your visit to the Toronto castle:
- The best time to visit is generally accepted to be mild weather, as there is no central heating or cooling system in the castle. Summer is the busiest time of the year and can be crowded.
- The castle is located at 1 Austin Terrace. There is onsite parking at $10 flat rate, or down the hill at George Brown College. You can also access Casa Loma by train, bus or streetcar, with some walking.
- Casa Loma is open daily from 9:30am-5:00pm with last entry at 4:30. The castle is closed on Christmas Day and closes at 4:00pm on Christmas Eve.
- Visits to Casa Loma are self-guided using a multimedia device provided at the mansion and included in the ticket price. The audio tours are available in English, French, Japanese, German, Italian, Spanish, Mandarin, Korean, and American Sign Language.
- Casa Loma is a historic home, and therefore shows little concession to matters of accessibility. See the website for details.
- See the Casa Loma events page for details on theatrical gaming fun, summer concerts and other special experiences.
Sir Pellatt set out to build himself a castle of Medieval proportions, overflowing with storybook romance. Though the Pellatt’s empire may have washed into the sea like a sand castle, when hit with a wave of anti-industrialist politics, debt and rising taxes, Casa Loma still stands ready for you to explore. Enjoy the fruits of Sir Pellatt’s labour!
For more fabulous things to do in Toronto, check out this 2-day itinerary.
Peace, love & inspiring travel,