Ever since I was little and heard there was a castle in Toronto I’ve wanted to see it for myself. Finally on our trip to Canada this past December I got to do just that as we spent the better part of an afternoon wandering through Casa Loma.
The Early Days of Casa Loma
Sir Henry Pellatt is the man behind Toronto’s now famous landmark, and North America’s only full sized castle. Born in Kingston, ON (which I’ll be showing you a little bit of in my next post about Canada) in 1859 he grew up to become a very astute businessman. At the same time that Thomas Edison was developing steam-generated electricity, Sir Henry Pellatt realized he could be an electricity supplier and make a very tidy profit when he started the Toronto Electric Light Company in 1883.
Despite discouragement from friends and colleagues he then went on to buy stock in the Canadian Pacific Rail Road and the North West Land Company, both of which led to further financial gains for him. By 1901 he was the chairman of 21 companies and in 1905 he was knighted for his military service with the Queen’s Own Rifles infantry regiment. Everything he touched seemed to turn to gold.
In 1911, with a fortune of about $17 million, he drew up the plans for his dream castle- Casa Loma. Built in a Gothic Revival style with 98 rooms, the 64,700 square foot castle took 3 years, 300 men, and $3.5 million to build. It was filled with artwork from around the world, had high battlements overlooking the city, secret passageways, and surpassed any private home in all of North America.
Along with hosting many celebrations and evenings of entertainment for their friends, family, and military and business connections, the Pellatts were also involved with many philanthropic projects. These projects, unlike the parties and celebrations, did continue even after Sir Henry’s fortune crumbled. His monopoly on electric power vanished and the effects of WWI and the slumping economy put the Pellatts into bankruptcy. Sir Henry had to sell his possessions to pay taxes, and after less than 10 years of enjoying his dream castle, he had to abandon it.
Casa Loma in the Days Since Sir Henry Pellatt
Since Sir Henry had to give up his castle it has been many things. In 1925 it was bought to use as a hotel but that didn’t last long and was a failed venture by 1929. It was a popular night spot briefly in the late 20’s as well. In 1933 it was bought by the city of Toronto and many projects were proposed- art gallery, high school, etc. – they even considered demolishing it. Fortunately in 1937 the Kiwanis Club began operating it as a tourist attraction, and as such it remains today. It is also used for special events and I can just imagine how romantic it would be to get married here…in a real life castle.
Touring Casa Loma
The tour of the castle is self-guided so you can wander around at your own leisure and that’s exactly what we did that afternoon we visited. Being just shortly after Christmas the castle was still decked out in traditional Christmas decorations,including a collection of trees each decorated to represent a different decade to celebrate 100 Years of Christmas at Casa Loma. Included with the entrance fee are multimedia audio guides but we chose to just wander and read about each room on the informational signs throughout.
Our tour started on the main floor in the Oak Room. Originally called the Napoleon Drawing Room this room took three English craftsmen three years to complete.
The Library, which is estimated to hold 10,000 books in glass cabinets along the walls has one of the first beautiful ceilings I admired in the castle. I often tell people to look up when they are visiting old buildings in Europe but this is another place where you should do so. So many intricate and detailed ceilings throughout it was hard to pick a favourite, though this one might be it.
Also on the main floor is the Conservatory that is almost all marble and glass. The floor is Italian marble and the side panels are Ontario marble with lots of big windows around the sides and a stunning stained glass dome. Steam pipes also run through the flower beds to keep them warm in the winter. Sir Henry thought of everything!
Some of the other rooms you can explore on the main floor are Sir Henry’s Smoking Room, Billiard Room, Study, a Serving Room, and a Dining Room. There are also some secret passageways to keep on the lookout for.
Upstairs on the second floor we visited a Guest Room which we thought was quite sumptuous but that was only until we saw Lady Pellatt’s Suite. A room certainly fit for the Lady of the house! This was the room I claimed, you know, for when we live here and all. I can almost imagine reclining on the chaise reading a good book with the windows open all around me on a perfect summer’s day and a soft, sweet smelling breeze blowing through the room… Ah yes. That would be pretty close to perfect.
And as if all this wasn’t enough, if you visit you have to check our her bathroom. Even back then she had an awesome 6-way shower!
Next door was Sir Pellatt’s Suite which wasn’t as beautiful as Lady Pellatt’s for sure but it did have a cool view out into the Great Hall from its balcony.
The last room on our tour of the second floor was the Windsor Room which Sir Henry hoped would one day host the Royal Family.
From here we made our way up to the third floor which isn’t as decorative and intricate as the other two floors. Currently there are rooms set up as exhibits for WWI, WWII, and the Queen’s Own Rifles Museum. From this floor we climbed up, waaaay up, several more stories up into the the Scottish Tower. It is enclosed and its upper portions are only accessible by a very narrow spiral staircase, but it offers the highest views from the castle.
There are also several other rooms, stables, a wine cellar, that were located on the floor below the main floor and an outbuilding but we didn’t make our way to all of them as it was getting on in the day and time to get back on the road. It was a really enjoyable afternoon wandering through the old castle, especially as it seemed extra cozy decorated for Christmas, and it didn’t disappoint the little girl in me that has always wanted to see Canada’s castle.
Please visit their website for hours of operation and admission fees.
Casa Loma is one of the five attractions included with the Toronto City Pass, which may be a valuable option if you plan to visit these attractions.
Parking is available on-site for $3/hr ($9 max. daily) on Mon-Thurs or $10/day on Fri-Sun