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Toronto Has a Castle?!?! - Casa Loma


Casa Loma

Did you know there is a castle in Toronto? Seriously! There's a castle just off of Dupont station called Casa Loma.


The history behind this castle is beyond fascinating! If you're into military history, interested in wandering around movie sets, or would enjoy the chance to explore a castle created in the Edwardian age, then this is the place for you!


Let me tell you all about Casa Loma and Sir Henry Pellatt, the man behind this historical Toronto structure.

 

Contents

 

History


When you first walk into the castle, you walk into the Great Hall. Here they have maps of the castle and an audio/written tour available in English, French, Spanish, or Mandarin. You simply scan a QR code, plug in your headphones, select the numbered attraction (ex. 103 - The Oak Room), and listen or read the text on your phone. This audio/written tour is where a lot, but not all, of the information in this blog post about Casa Loma and the people involved comes from.


I listened to this tour as I ventured throughout the castle and it was really riveting to hear the story of the estate and the fascinating man behind it all, Sir Henry Pellatt.

Frau Hannah with Sir Henry Pellat

In 1911, Sir Henry Pellatt began building Casa Loma. It took 3 years and $3.5 million CAD to build. In the early 1900th century, $3.5 million CAD was an insane number. If you converted that to today, it would be around $80 million CAD. Imagine spending $80 million in 3 years on your home! That's $26.6 million a year!


Curious how he afforded his castle? Henry was a stockbroker, just like his father. He invested in the Canadian Pacific Railway, mines in Ontario and British Columbia, and some real estate. He also invest in hydroelectric companies, which lead to his downfall, but more on that later.


Henry wasn't just a stockbroker though, he not only received an honourary doctorate in civil law from the King's College in Nova Scotia, but also had a distinct military career. Pellatt was apart of the Queen Own Regime, the Royal Victorian Order, and the Imperial Society of Knights Bachelor. You can learn all about his military history and see some memorabilia on the 3rd floor of Casa Loma.



Henry wasn't the only interesting inhabitant of Casa Loma however. His wife, Lady Mary, also led quite an accomplished life before her death in 1924.


In 1912, she was named the 1st Chief Commissioner of the Dominion of Canada Girl Guides. If you don't know, Girl Guides is essentially the girl version of boy scouts. When I was young, I used to be a girl guide. I remember selling cookies door to door in my neighborhood and going on camping trips.


Lady Mary unfortunately had to resign after 9 years of service in 1921 as her health was declining due to heart complications. Before resigning however, she grew the Girls Guides to 17,500 members from only a few hundred. 3 years later on the 15th of April 1924, Mary passed away from sudden heart failure.


The Windsor room in Casa Loma
The Windsor Room

3 years went by before Henry re-married in 1927 to Catherine Welland Merritt, however, she passed away just 2 years later in 1929. Henry then spent his declining years a widow and living with his chauffeur. But hold on a second, how did he get from owning a castle to living with a servant?


As mentioned previously, Pellatt invested in hydro electricity at a time when most were afraid of this new power. He owned the Toronto and Niagara Power Company where he monopolized electricity in Toronto for years. Because of this, Pellatt is known for bringing hydro electric power to Toronto.



In 1921 however, thanks to a man named Adam Beck, Henry lost, not only his fortune, but his dream home Casa Loma. This happened because Beck believed that hydro power "should be a free as air". So, after a campaign against the industrialists of Canada, the government decided hydro should be a public utility and so Pellatt's hydro companies were taken from him.


It seems then, that Henry is the reason Toronto has hydro, but Beck is reason everyone in Toronto has hydro.


The wine cellar in Casa Loma
The massive wine cellar

Beck also led a populist revolt resulting in the taxes on Casa Loma being raised from $600 a year to $12,000 a year, a 1900% increase.


Unfortunately for Henry, without the income from his electric companies and not nearly enough income from his real estate investments, he couldn't keep up with the financial changes to his property. As a result, 2 years later in 1923, Henry and Lady Mary had to give up ownership of Casa Loma to the city of Toronto as they neared bankruptcy. They moved to their farm house in Maryland while auctioning off a lot of Casa Loma's possessions.




Casa Loma sat abandoned until the 1930's when the Kiwanis Club took over and built Casa Loma to be what it is today, a tourist attraction. The Kiwanis Club managed Casa Loma for 74 years, then in 2011 the City of Toronto took over ownership for only 3 years as in 2014, the Liberty Entertainment Group took over. They are the current owners of Casa Loma.





The Liberty Entertainment Group did make some changes to Casa Loma since taking over. What are they you ask? Read on and I'll tell you what Casa Loma has to offer it's visitors nowadays.





The Rooms in Casa Loma


First Floor


The dining nook in Casa Loma
The dining nook

On the first floor there is the great hall, the oak room, the terrace, the gardens, the library, the dining room, the conservatory, the serving room, the study, peacock alley, and the elevator. That's just the first floor.


On the ceiling in the library you can see the Pellatt family crest, which features the motto Henry lived by "Devant Je Si Puis". This is French or Latin for "Foremost I can". During my research, I couldn't find an exact meaning, but based on Henry's life story, I would guess it to be a kind motivational motto that reminds him he is capable.


It's surprised me to discover that elevators existed back in the early 1900's. Henry had these installed so Mary wouldn't tire from taking the stairs due to her declining health. The elevators are still functional nowadays, making Casa Loma accessible, but it must be used with a staff member and only goes from the basement to the 3rd floor.



Second Floor

Henry's bathroom in Casa Loma
Henry's bathroom

On the second floor there's Sir Henry's room, Sir Henry's bathroom, Lady Mary's suite, a guest suite, the Windsor room, the round room, and the mezzanine (grand staircase).


The Windsor room is guest suite, but one that was intended for royals. While the royal family never did stay at Casa Loma, the Duke and Duchess of York - future King George 5th and Queen Mary did stay in this room in 1901.


It was very common in these days for wealthy husbands and wives to have separate bedrooms. Henry not only had his own bedroom, but his own en suite bathroom which was absolutely covered in white marble and porcelain. Those less fortunate than Henry didn't even have an indoor bathroom, let alone a fully equipped one.


Third Floor


Military memorabilia in Casa Loma

As I mentioned before, the 3rd floor is largely focused on Henry's military history. There are 3 rooms dedicated to the Queen's Own Rifles, rooms 302, 303, and 306. These rooms detail the history of the regiment and Henry's active role in it.


The Queen's Own Rifles was a volunteer militia regiment formed in 1860 that often assisted in military maneuvers. Henry joined and eventually became Commanding Officer.


This floor also features the Austin Room, the Pellat Board Room, and the Group of 7 Room. The Group of 7 were painters who focused on Canadian landscapes. Seeing as Henry was an avid art collectors, this room is decorated with various paintings displaying Canadian landscapes from the 1920-1933.


Military history not your thing? On this floor you can also explore the servants staircase and the servants bedrooms, which was the floor's originally purpose.


Towers

The scottish tower in Casa Loma
The Scottish Tower

Casa Loma has 2 towers that you can visit during your tour, the Norman Tower and the Scottish Tower.


If you have a fear of heights, tight spaces, or have bad balance, I do not recommend visiting the towers. They have single file winding staircases, meaning when you're going up, no one else can go down, so the wait to go up or come down can be long.


They also go up quite high and can be really hot in the summer. There's also not a ton up here to see other than the view. For this very reason, I could only stomach going up one tower.


You don't have to worry about FOMO though as there are video tours available for these difficult to access spaces.



Basement & Tunnel

The garage in Casa Loma
2 of Henry's cars

The one of the ways to get to the garage and stables is through the 800 feet long underground tunnel. Yes, the Casa Loma property is so big that the garage and stables are across the street. Located in this 18 feet below street level tunnel is where the boiler room is, as well as where top secret research and production happened during the second world war.


Before Henry went bankrupt, he had grand plans for the basement. Pellatt wanted to build a marble swimming pool, a bowling alley, a gym, a rifle range, and more. Where the swimming pool was going to be however, is now a small theatre that shows a short documentary about Henry's life. There is also a restaurant called Liberty Caffe, thanks to the Liberty Entertainment Group, and gift shop.


The basement also have a massive wine cellar that is still full functioning and filled to the brim with wine. I would assume this wine is for the Blueblood Steakhouse, the high end restaurant in Casa Loma, again, thanks to the Liberty Entertainment group.


Movies & Music

A few movies, TV Shows, and music videos have been filmed at Casa Loma. Unsurprisingly, Xmen and Wait for U, were filmed in Casa Loma, but I was really surprised to learn the Love Guru, Scott Pilgrim Us the World, and The Pacifier were apart of this list.

Thanks to visiting Casa Loma, I've now walked where Hugh Jackman and Mike Myers have filmed!


If you're a movie buff, it would be so fun to visit Casa Loma dressed as a character from one of the movies, then pose for photos in the same room.


Looking back now, I wish I had dressed as a princess and worn the tiara I got from the Bridgerton event. It would've been the perfect setting!


Price

General admission for me worked out to be $40 CAD. That might seem steep to tour a castle, but honestly, this adventure was well worth the price.


To cut down on costs though, I recommend taking the TTC instead of driving to the castle since parking at Casa Loma is $15 and isn't guaranteed.



Time

If you want to explore Casa Loma to it's fullest, it's definitely a 4+ hour excursion. I started my tour around 11am and didn't finished until close to 2pm.


Thankfully, when I went there was no time limit or scheduled slot on the ticket. Casa Loma is open from 9am to 4pm daily, so as long as you purchased a ticket, you can begin your visit whenever and stay till closing.

 

Greens salad at Goodman's Pub

After visiting Casa Loma, we went to Goodman's Pub for dinner. I've mentioned their Greens salad before on my Instagram. It is without a doubt, the best salad I've had to date.


I get it without the goat cheese and tomatoes, and add a side of falafel. Crazy good!


While at dinner, we made the split second decision to explore the center island in Toronto. Yes, Toronto not only has a castle, but 3 islands!


To hear all about this spontaneous side adventure, click here.


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