Canada just turned 150 on July 1st!
In celebration of Canada’s birthday month, I’d like to share a local hot spot that’s close to my heart. My absolute favourite sight to see in Toronto is Casa Loma. Not far from St. Clair West station, Toronto’s one and only castle was a place I visited often with my Mother as a child. As an adult I ended up living in the neighbourhood and took many a friend and family member when asked what to do in town.
Casa Loma (Spanish for “house on the hill”) is an homage to love, as one man built this palace for the lady who held his heart. Henry Pellatt was born in Kingston, Ontario to British parents in 1859. He left Upper Canada College at 17 to work in the family business. By 23, he was a full partner in his father’s stock brokerage firm and also married his love, Mary Dodgson, that same year.
At 24 in 1883, Henry founded the Toronto Electric Light Company soon after Thomas Edison showed the world steam-generated electricity. By the time he was 30, Toronto Electric owned the entire supply of street lighting in Toronto. By 1901 at age 42, Sir Henry had sharpened his business acumen and become chairman of a whopping 21 companies related to mining, insurance, land and electricity.
Clearly, Pellatt did well for himself. At age 52 in 1911, loaded with $17 million, Pellatt finally launched plans with Canadian architect E.J. Lennox to start the creation of the castle he’d always wanted to give his wife.
Casa Loma took three years and $3.5 million to build. Sir Henry’s business and military connections made grand entertaining a necessary event at the castle and in the height of their affluence, Lady Pellatt spent much of her time managing their social calendar.
Both Henry and Mary were heavily involved with the community and did a lot of philanthropic work. Sir Henry was involved with Trinity College and very supportive of Grace Hospital while Lady Mary actively promoted the Girl Guides of 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, for her dedication to the group.
Another passion of Henry’s was the Queen’s Own Rifles, where he earned the rank of Major General in the infantry regiment of the Canadian Forces Reserve. He was actually knighted in 1905 for his military service with the Queen’s Own Rifles and parts of the castle are still dedicated to the regiment today.
As fate would have it, Sir Henry wouldn’t have his castle on the hill for long. The family brokerage firm sunk into debt trying to finance the growth of the grounds. His other main source of income, his monopoly over electric power, ended when the government allowed public ownership of electricity.
Regardless of his business savvy, Sir Henry underestimated the impact of World War I. The post-war economy sent his firm into bankruptcy. After 10 years of high life in the castle, the Pellatts moved out and into their farmhouse in King township in 1924. Sadly, Lady Pellatt’s poor health got the best of her and she passed away later that year at the age of 67.
There were a lot of suggestions as to what to do with the grounds after they left. Ideas included a luxury hotel, a high school, a museum, an art gallery and a veteran’s rehabilitation home. Ultimately in 1933 the City of Toronto took ownership for the $27,303.45 owed in back taxes. From there the city began restoring and completing the work Sir Henry had begun 20 years earlier.
Sir Henry Pellatt died 15 years after Lady Mary in 1939, buried with full military honours.
Today, you can walk the grounds inside and out, exploring the wine cellar, the swimming pool and the terrace for a start. There are towers, tunnels, secret stairways and beautiful rooms on every floor. A true modern day walk through the past, I highly recommend a visit to Casa Loma the next time you’re planning a trip to Toronto.
Adult admission is $27, senior $22 and children (4-13) $17 (kids under 3 are free). I suggest looking into the Toronto CityPASS (click here for more info). The CityPASS gets you into 5 places for $86 (adult) and is good for nine days after your first day of use. Places include Casa Loma, The Royal Ontario Museum, the CN Tower, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada and your choice of the Science Centre or the Metro Toronto Zoo. It’s a sweet deal!
Looking for more fun in Toronto? Check out my last article on the CN Tower here.