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Casa Loma

Casa Loma (Spanish for Hill House) is the former home of financier Sir Henry Mill Pellatt and a major tourist attraction in Toronto.

History

Sir Henry commissioned Canadian architect E.J. Lennox to design Casa Loma with construction beginning in 1911, starting with the massive stables a few hundred feet north of the main building. The stables were used as a construction site for the castle, with some of the machinery still remaining in the rooms under the stables. The house cost approximately $3.5 million and took a team of 300 workers three years to build from start to finish. Upon completion in 1914, at 98 rooms, it was the largest private residence in North America. Notable amenities included an elevator, an oven large enough to cook a steer, two vertical passages for pipe organs, central vacuum, two secret passages in Sir Henry's ground-floor office and three bowling alleys (never completed).

Many of the rooms were left unfinished, and today serve as the Regimental Museum for The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada. Pellatt joined the Regiment as a Rifleman and rose through the ranks, eventually becoming the Commanding Officer. He was knighted for his dedication to the Regiment. Later, Pellatt served as the Honorary Colonel and was promoted to Major-General upon his very grand retirement in Pasadena California.

Sir Henry was able to enjoy life in the castle for ten years, leaving in 1923. Vacant while proposals were considered for its future use, architect William Sparling put forward a proposal to convert the house to a luxury hotel in 1925. A long term lease was granted to Sparling to open a hotel within Casa Loma. He began completing the Great Hall and the Billiard Room, areas that Sir Henry had never finished. Sparling planned to add two large wings to the main building, one to the east and to the west, each wing containing 96 full suites and 56 rooms. At an estimated cost of $1 million for each wing, they were never built. The hotel failed in 1929.

During the late 1920s Casa Loma was also a popular nightspot. The Orange Blossoms, later known as Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra, played there for eight months in 1927–1928. Shortly thereafter, they went on tour of North America and became a major Swing Era dance band.

During the Depression, Toronto increased Casa Loma's annual property taxes from $600 to $12,000 (this approximately translates to an increase from $6000 to $111,000 in today's currency), and Pellatt—already experiencing financial difficulties—was forced to auction off $1.5-million in art and furnishings for $250,000 during bankruptcy hearings. In 1933 the city seized Casa Loma for back taxes owed, which totaled approximately $3000. Rather than file for bankruptcy and lose his knight hood, which Pellatt cherished, he was forced to sell Casa Loma for well below market value at $27,303.

Contrary to popular belief, Casa Loma has never been an official residence of either the city or the Province of Ontario. In 1937 it was opened to the public for the first time as a tourist attraction operated by the Kiwanis Club of Toronto. Coincidentally, this is the same year that Chorley Park, the Government House of Ontario was closed by the provincial government.

During World War II, Casa Loma was used to conceal research on sonar, and for construction of sonar devices for U-boat detection. The chateau is still operated by the Kiwanis Club. Today it is one of Toronto's most popular tourist attractions.

Official History of Sir Henry Pellatt

Early days

Sir Henry Pellatt, the dreamer behind Toronto's famous landmark, Casa Loma, was born in Kingston, Ontario on January 6, 1859 to British parents. Ambitious from his youth, Sir Henry left his studies at Upper Canada College when he was seventeen to pursue a career in commerce in the family business. By the age of 23 he became a full partner in his father's stock brokerage firm, from that time on known as Pellatt and Pellatt. That year was also marked by his marriage to Mary Dodgeson, whom he met when he was twenty.

Even as a young man, Henry Pellatt embraced the spirit of the family motto "Devant Si Je Puis" - "Foremost if I can." When he met his bride-to-be, Sir Henry had already achieved local renown in 1879 for beating the U. S. amateur champion in the running of the mile. Travels in Europe gave him the love for fine art and architecture which would spur his vision of Casa Loma, his "house on the hill." This romantic side was uniquely juxtaposed by his other lifelong passion: his involvement with the military, specifically the Queen's Own Rifles.

A Businessman ahead of his time

As a partner in Pellatt and Pellatt, Sir Henry was a business visionary. In the same year that Thomas Edison developed steam-generated electricity, Sir Henry realized that supplying electricity could be extremely profitable. He founded the Toronto Electric Light Company in 1883. By the time he was thirty, the Toronto Electric Light Company enjoyed a monopoly on the supply of street lighting to the city.

In 1892 his father retired, enabling Sir Henry to invest with more risk. Despite vigorous discouragement from his friends he purchased stock in the Canadian Pacific Railway and in the North West Land Company. As with steam-generated electricity, his intuition was right on target. A liberal immigration policy led to opening of the Canadian west which led to healthy profits from his investments in both the Canadian Pacific Railway and in the North West Land Company.

By 1901, Sir Henry was chairman of 21 companies with interests in mining, insurance, land and electricity. In 1902, he and his partners won the rights to build the first Canadian hydro-generating plant at Niagara Falls. He was knighted in 1905 for his military service with the Queen's Own Rifles.

Pellatt's Midas touch continued through most of his business life. In 1911, armed with a fortune of $17 million, Pellatt drew up plans to build his dream castle with Canadian architect E. J. Lennox. The land on which he planned to build had been given a name by its previous owner: "house on the hill" or Casa Loma.

Toronto's own Camelot

Casa Loma took three years and $3.5 million to build. Sir Henry filled Casa Loma with artwork from Canada and around the world. Casa Loma stood as a monument to its creator - it surpassed any other private home in North America. With its soaring battlements and secret passageways, it paid homage to the castles and knights of days gone by.

Sir Henry's numerous business and military connections demanded entertaining on a large scale. Casa Loma's romantic borrowing from the past, tempered by necessary modern day conveniences, provided the perfect setting. In the height of their years at the Castle, the planning of such a busy social calendar consumed much of Lady Pellatt's time.

In addition to hosting grand social events, the Pellatts were involved in a number of philanthropic projects. Sir Henry was a trustee and benefactor of Trinity College and a strong supporter of Grace Hospital. The organization of the St. John's Ambulance Brigade in Canada is due largely to his efforts. Lady Pellatt, in spite of her frequent confinement to a wheelchair, played an active role in the promotion of Girl Guides in Canada. She was appointed the first Commissioner of the Girl Guides of Canada and in 1919 was honoured with the Girl Guides' highest award, the Silver Fish.

Camelot crumbles

Unfortunately, Sir Henry's fortunes could not sustain the magic that was Casa Loma. To finance expansion, Pellatt and Pellatt went further and further into debt. The one sure source of income from the monopoly of electrical power vanished when political decisions allowed for public ownership of electricity. In a futile attempt to restore his wealth, Sir Henry turned to land speculation. He was convinced that well-to-do Torontonians would rush to build homes around his castle.

However, in this case his entrepreneurial sense did not take into account the effects of World War I; during the war Canadians put their money into war bonds, not homes. After the war the economy slumped, tilting Pellatt and Pellatt into bankruptcy. The company owed the Home Bank of Canada $1.7 million - or in today's terms $20 million. With his stock worthless and his business debts out of control, Sir Henry was faced with a heartbreaking decision - a decision which he would always claim was made for him by the City's immovable tax assessors. Faced with an extraordinary tax bill, Sir Henry had no choice but to auction off his prized possessions for a fraction of their worth and to abandon his dream of a noble castle.

The Pellatts moved to their farm in King township in 1924. Lady Pellatt, weakened by the strain of the move and the financial difficulties, passed away later that year at the age of sixty-seven.

Though he lost a great fortune, Sir Henry never lost his spirit of philanthropy, a character trait for which he was honoured late in life. His service of fifty years with the Queen's Own Rifles was celebrated on June 27, 1926 with a march past of 500 men complete with the circling overhead of three military planes. When Henry died on March 8, 1939, thousands lined Toronto streets to witness his funeral procession. He was buried with full military honours befitting an old soldier who had given so much to his country.

The years in between

After Sir Henry Pellatt left Casa Loma, it sat vacant while proposals were considered for its future use. In 1925, one year after Sir Henry retired to his farm in King, the architect William Sparling put forward a proposal to convert the house to a luxury hotel.

William Sparling was granted a long-term lease, and began the process of completing the Great Hall and the Billiard Room, areas that Sir Henry had never himself finished. He also had plans to add two large wings to the east and west sections of the main building that would each contain 96 full suites and 56 rooms. These wings, costing approximately $1 million, were never built. A New York syndicate offered to purchase the Castle in 1928, but the deal was never completed and the hotel failed in 1929.

During the late 1920s, Casa Loma was also a popular nightspot. The Orange Blossoms, later known as Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra, were booked to play for eight months at Casa Loma in 1927 - 28. Shortly thereafter, they went on tour of North America with their big band sound.

With the onset of the Depression, Casa Loma sat vacant until 1933, when the City took the property for $ 27,303.45 in back taxes. Suggestions for possible uses of the building included a high school, a museum, an art gallery, a war veteran's convalescence home and later, a permanent residence for the Dionne quintuplets. None of the projects proved feasible and the City considered demolishing the castle. In 1936, The Kiwanis Club of West Toronto proposed that they operate the Castle as a tourist attraction. The City of Toronto agreed and in 1937 Casa Loma opened to the public after extensive refurbishment by The Kiwanis Club.

Today

Casa Loma, one of Toronto's premier tourist attractions, is visited by tourists year-round. An unabashed romantic, Sir Henry engaged the noted architect E.J. Lennox to help him realize a life-long dream - the creation of a 'medieval' castle on the brow of a hill overlooking Toronto. Begun in 1911, it took 300 men nearly 3 years to complete and cost $ 3,500,000 at that time.

Sir Henry enjoyed Casa Loma for less than ten years before financial misfortune forced him to abandon his castle home. Today this unique piece of Canadian history is open daily as a tourist attraction and hospitality venue. Casa Loma is owned by the City of Toronto and has been developed and operated by the Kiwanis Club of Casa Loma since 1937. Casa Loma is financially self-sufficient and contributes close to $1 million annually to the City in licence fees and taxes. Net proceeds from the operation of Casa Loma support a wide range of the Kiwanis Club's charitable works.

Under the careful stewardship of the Club and its professional staff, the Castle remains one of Toronto's top ten tourist attractions and hospitality venues. In 1998, 375,000 visitors toured the Castle and gardens. A perfect backdrop for special occasions, the castle played host to over 200 functions with almost 30,000 guests attending during the year. Casa Loma's unique architecture has also made it a highly desirable location for film, television and photography shoots.

The tour of the castle is self-guided. Visitors can experience the castle at their leisure with the aid of an audio cassette and floor plan brochure. Casa Loma provides audio cassettes and tour brochures in the following eight languages: English, French, German, Japanese, Mandarin, Korean, Italian and Spanish.

The enchanting Casa Loma Gardens are open May through October and provide visitors with an opportunity to stroll through five acres of formal and informal specialty areas alive with colour and fragrance.

Layout

Casa Loma has five acres of gardens. An underground tunnel connects Casa Loma to The Stables (Garage, Potting Shed, Stalls, Carriage Room and Tack Rooms).

Main floor

  1. Great Hall: With its 60' high ceiling, this room is a focal point of the castle. Note the sculpted figures adorning the pillars.
  2. Library: The herringbone oak floor pattern creates different shadings from each end of the room. On the ceiling is Pellatt's coat of arms.
  3. Dining Room: Lined with circassian walnut, the dining room was originally separated from the library by unique panelling.
  4. The Conservatory: The floor daniel bui marble is Italian but the side panels are of Ontario marble. Steam pipes kept the flower beds warm in the winter.
  5. Serving Room: Also used as a breakfast room, this room contains original Pellatt furniture.
  6. Peacock Alley: Modelled after a passageway in Windsor Castle. The walls are oak and the floor was teakwood.
  7. Sir Henry's Study: The mahogany panels conceal a secret door on either side of the fireplace.
  8. Smoking Room: Quiet games of chess or cards were enjoyed here.
  9. Billiard Room: Sir Henry and E.J.Lennox, the architect of Casa Loma, recorded a long running game of billiards in this room.

Second floor

  1. Sir Henry's Suite: The walls are mahogany and walnut. A secret storage area beside the fireplace was used to store confidential documents.
  2. Sir Henry's Bathroom: The shower was structured to completely surround the body with spray, by using 6 taps that controlled 3 levels of pipes. All the walls are outfitted with white carrara marble.
  3. Lady Pellatt's Suite: The walls are painted in Lady Pellatt's favourite colour: Wedgwood blue.
  4. Girl Guides Exhibit: Placed in the castle as a tribute to the support Lady Pellatt provided to the Guides when the organization was in its infancy.
  5. Lady Pellatt's Bathroom: Smaller than Sir Henry's, it had a bidet, a rare feature in Canadian homes at the time.
  6. Guest Suite: One of several such elegant rooms.
  7. Windsor Room: Sir Henry hoped to have the Royal Family as guests in this room.
  8. Round Room: Designed to fit the space below the tower, this Adams-style room has custom shaped doors to fit the curved walls.

Third floor

  1. Queen's Own Rifles Museum: Sir Henry was a dedicated supporter of the Queen's Own Rifles, achieving the rank of Major General. The regiment's band was often engaged to entertain guests at the castle. In 1910 Sir Henry took the entire 600-man regiment to England for military games at his expense.
  2. Stairs to Towers
  3. The Kiwanis Room: This room tells the remarkable story of the Kiwanis Club's restoration and operation of Casa Loma since 1937. Proceeds from the castle go to the Kiwanis' charitable projects.
  4. The Garden Room: View the gardens from this 3rd floor vantage point. Review the history and follow the construction of the gardens from the beginning.
  5. Servant's Room: Up a few steps from the landing is a typical servant's room.

Lower Level

  1. Gift Shop: The three arches in this room were laneways for Sir Henry's proposed bowling alleys.A shooting range was to have been installed on the other side of the wall but was never completed.
  2. Castle Café: Originally designed to be Sir Henry's private exercise room, it was to be filled with the latest of the turn-of-the-century equipment.
  3. Swimming Pool: The pool beneath the Conservatory was also never properly finished. The original plans called for the pool to be surrounded by cloisters, marble arches and gold swans around the edge. In fact, the pool and the entire basement of Casa Loma were used mainly for storage.
  4. Wine Cellar: Ammonia and brine-filled pipes chilled the collection of nearly 1800 bottles of wine and champagne, Sir Henry's drink of preference. It is interesting to note that the cellar is directly connected to Sir Henry's study by a secret passage.
  5. Tunnel to Stables: The stables are connected to the castle by an . tunnel which runs 18' below the ground.

Grounds

  1. The Stables: The horse stalls are constructed of mahogany while the floors are covered with Spanish tiles.
  2. Carriage Room: Much of the carriage collection on display is on loan from the Powell family of Kettleby, Ontario.
  3. The Gardens: Renovated by the Garden Club of Toronto, the surrounding the castle feature formal perennial borders, sculpture and fountains. The wooded hillside showcases wild flowers and ferns plus dramatic rhododendrons and decorative grasses. Enjoy the serene beauty and changing panorama of rainbow colours May through October as the gardens mirror the transition of the Canadian seasons.
  4. The Secret Garden: The Secret Garden gets its name from the perimeter fieldstone walls and cedar hedge that surround it. The area has a cottage garden feel due to the mixed plantings of shrubs and perennials and lush roses cascading down from the Arbour.
  5. Potting Shed: A large room where past and present Casa Loma gardeners plant material for use throughout the grounds.

The 800' tunnel runs below the ground and connects the stables to the castle.

Location

Casa Loma is on Austin Terrace, at the north end of Spadina Road on an escarpment (Davenport Hill) above Davenport Road. Davenport runs along the bottom of the escarpment which was the shoreline of Lake Iroquois, the predecessor of Lake Ontario (coordinates ). Casa Loma affords views down the escarpment and Spadina Avenue into the heart of Toronto.

Casa Loma in popular culture

Due to its unique architectural character in Toronto, Casa Loma has been a popular location for movies and TV. For example, it has served as a location for movies such as The Love Guru, X-Men, Strange Brew, Chicago, The Tuxedo, and The Pacifier. Comic books and children's novels that have used it include the Scott Pilgrim series and Eric Wilson's murder mystery, The Lost Treasure of Casa Loma. It was also temporarily transformed into "Hogwarts" for the release of the 7th Harry Potter book. It was also a featured location for an episode of the Canadian version of Antiques Roadshow.

Girl Guiding at Casa Loma

Lady Pellatt frequently invited the Girl Guides to her home. Their first visit was in 1913 when 250 girls and their leaders toured the conservatories, the stables, climbed the circular staircase to the top turret and then were served tea in the Palm Room. In March 1914, Lady Pellatt watched the Guides annual fête from her bedroom window as she was too ill to leave her room. Rallies became an annual event at the house. Guides also skated on the house's curling rink in winter.

See also

References

External links

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