Sunday, June 12, 2022
Casa Loma stands as a testament to the lavish lifestyles of some of the wealthiest people in Toronto’s history. As the city of Toronto grew the wealthy classes looked for a place to establish their garden estates and one of the primary areas was on top of the Davenport Escarpment. Here, they built large homes amongst lavish gardens with views out over the city and Lake Ontario to the south of them. The earliest estate built here was known as Davenport and was constructed in 1797. It was followed by Spadina and Russell Hill in 1818. These homes are long gone but several others still remain to remind us of the former glory of the area. For example, Lenwill the home of prominent Toronto architect E. J. Lennox was built in 1914 and still stands just to the west of Casa Loma. An early picture of Casa Loma from the Toronto Archives is featured below.
In 1903 Sir Henry Pellatt purchased 40 acres from the Austin Estate so that he could build his mansion which he called Casa Loma. The name Casa Loma means Hill House and reflects the fact that it was built on top of the escarpment that was the shoreline of Lake Ontario after the last ice age. Henry Pellatt was born in 1859 in Kingston and was instrumental in bringing hydro-electric power to the city of Toronto. Henry was a soldier in The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada as well as a financier having worked in his fathers firm of Pellatt and Pellatt.
Casa Loma was built between 1911 and 1914 and is the largest private residence ever built in Canada. It has 98 rooms and covers 64,700 square feet of floor space. A team of 299 workers spent three years building it until construction was stopped by the start of World War 1. The home contains secret passages and a swimming pool. There were plans to put three bowling alleys in the basement but only one of them was ever completed. The bowling alley is now used as a gift shop.
Casa Loma is currently hosting a collection of photographs that were taken by Princess Diana’s personal photographers. These larger than life photos and the stories behind them reveal a side of Diana that hasn’t been seen by the public before now. The exhibit is open until June 26, 2022 and has an additional ticket price on top of the regular cost of exploring the castle. The car that is parked outside to advertise the exhibit is a replica of Diana’s car.
Casa Loma cost $3.5 million dollars which would be over $100 million dollars today. When the government decided to remove the private ownership of electricity and make it public, Henry Pellatt started to have financial troubles. After World War 1 the economy suffered a downturn and Pellatt found himself owing the bank about $20 million dollars. This, combined with the huge property tax bill, caused him to have to auction off the castle and his assets. In 1924 he moved to his country estate in King Township and today Casa Loma has become a tourist attraction. His country home was also lost to him and has been turned into Marylake, a religious retreat.
The grounds contain extensive gardens and fountains in both the front and back yards.
A private gate leads from Casa Loma to the neighbouring property where Spadina house is located. This is one of the other estates that have survived the construction of newer residences in the area.
Casa Loma has an extensive stables that were built in 1906 just a short distance north of the main castle. They were designed to look like Casa Loma and compliment the main structure.
The Hunting Lodge is also known as the Coach House and is a two story building with 4,380 feet of living space that was eventually used as servants quarters. Pellatt and his wife lived here while the main castle was being built. The stables are now used to house a classic car collection.
An underground tunnel connects the stables to the castle and it was used during World War 2 as a secret factory for the assembly of ASDIC. This was a type of sonar that was critical for the Allies to help them in the battles that were fought in the Atlantic Ocean.
This story features some of the history of Casa Loma but there are tours available which will allow you to see the inside of Toronto’s most famous castle.
Also see our feature on Spadina House and also Marylake
For a listing of our top 50 stories please check out our post Back Tracks – 8 Years of Trails
Google Maps Link: Casa Loma
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I have lived in the GTA all my life and have NEVER visited Casa Loma. I think this will be changed this coming week, as we are celebrating our 33rd Anniversary and my Husband has taken a week and a half off 🙂
Three bowling alleys??? I thought there was only one and never knew it became a gift shop. It was disheartening to see the abandoned pool. I hate to see what became of it.
We were just there visiting Spadina House. Noted that the car out front is not a replica of Diana’s car, rather a replica of her stepmother’s car, which is only of interest as she bequeathed it to her butler. I took a photo of the signage as I was curious whether a rolls Royce replica was actually a rolls Royce or another make dolled up.
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