Just north of bustling downtown Toronto in Ontario, Canada is Casa Loma, a quite amazing gothic revival style mansion. It is known as Toronto’s very own Camelot and is a beautiful place to see.
The home was built by Sir Henry Pellatt (1859-1939) a wealthy Toronto businessman who owned a stock brokerage firm and an electricity company (of which he had a monopoly); and invested in the railroad too. He also served in the military in The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada for 50 years. By 1901 he was a chairman of 21 companies which were involved in industries such as electricity, mining and insurance. By 1911 Sir Henry had amassed a personal fortune of $17 million and held passion for the fine arts and European architecture which helped inspire Casa Loma.
Plans were drawn up by well know Toronto architect Edward J. Lennox in 1911 and the 98 room mansion was completed in 1913 at a cost of $3.5 million. This was an astronomical amount back in those days (over $40 million in today’s money) but the house was equipped with the latest materials and modern conveniences of the day (a central vacuum system and an all over body shower for example)! The Pellatt’s wanted for nothing in their home when it came to creature comforts (I have read they spent $1.5 million in furnishing the mansion). At the time no home in Canada or the USA could compare. Casa Loma became a major centre for the social calendar of Toronto and hosted many events.
The interior of Casa Loma today gives you some idea of the sumptuous fittings and furniture of the home in its hey day. You can tour the main living areas, bedrooms and offices.
The nearby hunting lodge which contains the horse stables, greenhouse and garage for the mansion are almost as impressive as the main building! Apparently Sir Henry wanted to purchase the land and the road between the two properties to join them into one large estate but the City of Toronto would not allow it. As such he built an 800 foot long tunnel underneath the road to allow easy access (especially during those cold Toronto winters)! You take this tunnel to visit the hunting lodge.
Unfortunately for Sir Henry his ambitious home lead somewhat to his financial downfall. To enable further expansion he borrowed heavily and went into debt. Parts of the interior of the home such as the third floor remained unfinished. Around the same time the government allowed public ownership of electricity companies which Sir Henry had previously had a monopoly on. This further reduced his income and then failed attempts at land speculating also worked against him. By 1924 Sir Henry faced near bankruptcy. His company Pellatt and Pellatt owed $1.7 million to the Home Bank of Canada (about $20 million in today’s money).
With crippling debts and a large tax bill Sir Henry was forced to sell off Casa Loma. He then retired to his farm but never made back his fortune and died in 1939 at the age of 80. His funeral was held with full military honours in respect of his 50 years service with The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada (he was promoted to the rank of Major-General upon his retirement from the military). There are displays on the regiment within Casa Loma.
Following the sale, Casa Loma was leased to become a hotel and was used as a popular nightspot. During the Great Depression (1929 to the late 1930’s) the home once again was left vacant.
The City of Toronto took over the property in 1933 (back taxes were owed on it and they got it for a song at $27,303.45) but no decision could be made on what to do with it. Luckily the suggestion to demolish it was not taken up and in 1937 the home became a tourist attraction (the city still owns the property). Interestingly during World War Two parts of the house were used for top-secret research on sonar devices for detecting German U-Boats. This was happening right under the noses of anyone who visited Casa Loma!
I thoroughly recommend paying a visit to Casa Loma. It is a spectacular piece of architecture and the history behind the home is quite fascinating. Don’t miss it if you are taking a trip to Toronto.