Nostalgia Tripping: Casa Loma
The recent debacle over the transfer of the management of Casa Loma from the Kiwanis Club to the City of Toronto made me realize that it is a highly under appreciated heritage structure in the city. Those who are concerned about the future fate of the castle are right to point out that it is a one-time attraction: once you've seen it, you feel as though you don't need to see it again. It's unlike the Spadina Museum next door, which I visit at least once a year, mainly due to my love of the 1920s, and the variety of events that it hosts.
Perhaps this is also because as a city we still don't know what to do with the castle. Over the years, this "architectural folly" (as branded by John Robert Colombo), encompassing a number of styles, has served as a residence, dance hall, hotel, and finally, as a museum. Designed by E.J. Lennox (1854-1933), one of the most prominent architects in the city between the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the structure is, if nothing else, unforgettable. Although Lennox in due course would be credited with many other notable landmarks, including the Old City Hall, the commissioned private residence of Sir Henry Pellatt was the structure that he was most proud of.
When he built his house in 1913, which he named Lenwil, on the hill at Walmer Road near Davenport Road, at 5 Austin Terrace, he positioned his bedroom on the second floor of the mansion, looking northeast. This way, upon getting up every morning, he was able to admire the castle, towering over the city below, which was visible from his window across Walmer.
The construction began in 1911 and was completed two years later (however, some sources also cite the year of 1914 instead) and in total contained ninety-eight rooms, a library for ten thousand volumes, expansive gardens, and an eight-hundred-foot tunnel that leads from the castle to the stables. It cost $3.5 million and in total 300 construction workers were employed. Apparently, Sir Pellatt built the castle in hopes of entertaining the King and Queen within its walls.
He was a highly skilled industrialist who was responsible for bringing electricity and later streetcars to the streets of Toronto, did not enjoy his lavish, exuberant lifestyle for too long. In 1923, he and Lady Pellatt were forced to seek accommodation elsewhere: the city seized the castle for unpaid taxes.
In addition, his destructive taste for luxury also led to lose his money in real estate. While he was busy with planning his dream house, he was also preoccupied with the construction of a gated community that he named Cedarvale, just north of Bathurst Street and St. Clair Avenue. However, the real estate prices severely depressed in the wake of the First World War and Sir Pellatt was only able to sell some of the houses that he had financed.
Following the departure of the owner, the short-lived Casa Loma Hotel opened in 1927, the same year when the provincial government abandoned the Ontario Temperance Act. The building advertised as an "apartment hotel," where a room could be rented for as long as the guests wished, at the price of $6 a day. The former grand residence of Sir Henry Pellatt was also equipped with dancing and dining halls, but it failed as a hotel and closed down a mere year later.
The castle stood empty for the next decade, until 1937 when the Kiwanis Club of Casa Loma assumed the administration of the structure and operating it as a tourist attraction, until the recent transfer to the city. Let's hope that this leads to making the ill-fated castle the an enduring historical landmark, which it certainly deserves to be.
Not surprisingly, a number of strange tales became associated with the castle, although there are no known ghosts that disturb it. According to Colombo's Haunted Toronto, during the construction of the half-mile long wall around the castle, Sir Pellatt offer to pay anyone a dollar for one dun-coloured boulder, and only one white stone was used in the end. Another story states that Pope Pius XII planned to move the Vatican to Casa Loma for the duration of World War II.
Images from the City of Toronto Archives and author's postcard collection.
Join the conversation Load comments