Tag Archives: Spadina House

Casa Loma

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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Time Travel in Toronto

November 28, 2021

Throughout the GTA there are several homes and historic sites that are open to the public, although usually with a small admission price to cover upkeep costs. They are typically decorated in the style of a different era. This means that if you chose to, you could visit each one in sequence and watch the changes over time. This post collects the various historic homes and sites and presents them in chronological order. A link will take you to the feature article on the site, if available, where a Google Maps link can help you locate them for yourself.

1814 Fort York

Fort York contains an amazing collection of buildings that date to the War of 1812, although many of them were replaced in 1814 after they were destroyed in the Battle of York on April 27, 1813. This is the first stop on our time journey as we start with our oldest museum.

As you go through the buildings notice how low the ceilings are. This is due to the fact that two hundred years ago people were generally shorter than today. (The track lighting and interpretive signs are obviously recent additions)

1820s Todmorden

If we move ahead a decade we come to Todmorden Mills, a reminder of the city’s early industrial era. Mills were operated by water power and the Don River provided power to a series of three paper mills belonging to the Taylors. Only the lower one, which was at Todmorden, still survives. There’s also an old brewery and a pair of early industrialists homes. During the 1820s Trade Unions were still illegal and people were apprenticed for 7 years to learn a trade. General labour required long hours worked six days per week for sustenance wages.

1830s Montgomery’s Inn

If we move ahead another decade we can get a glimpse of how people survived as they traveled in the 1830s. A journey had to be broken into smaller sections so that horses could be allowed to rest and passengers could rest their weary bones that had been shaken up on the poor roads. Inns and taverns were built at convenient distances along the main roadways. Montgomery’s Inn was built in 1830 by Thomas and Margaret Montgomery.  It served as a rest and watering place for travelers along Dundas Street as they passed through the town of Islington. It served food and beer to travelers while providing fodder and water for their horses. Rest could also be had for those who needed to break their journey into several days’ travel.

1835 TollKeeper’s Cottage

Those same travelers often made their way along snow-clogged roads in the winter with their sleds but in the spring and fall, these same roads could become almost impassable due to the mud and ruts. One solution was the creation of plank roads where cut boards were laid side by side to create a wooden road. These were expensive to build and required constant maintenance. A system of tolls was established and people were employed to collect them. This small cottage was built for the family whose job it was to collect tolls along Davenport Road at the intersection with modern Bathurst street. Inside it is furnished with the items that kept a family of 9 as comfortable as the times would allow.

Inside the cottage is the wood stove for heating and cooking that had to keep the family from freezing in the winter.

1845 McKenzie House

Our next two stops are related to the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837. William Lyon McKenzie was the prime instigator for the rebellion. He used his printing business to incite discontent with the ruling Family Compact which would lead to rebellion. This museum takes you into a typical printing shop of the era.

This museum even includes a set of MaKenie’s own printing types.

1850s Gibson House

David Gibson was a consistent supporter of Mackenzie and when the rebellion failed he was exiled and his house and barns were burned down in retaliation. When he returned in 1851 he built the next house on our museum tour. Here we get a glimpse into the life of a provincial land surveyor in the 1850s.

1855 Colborne Lodge

Colborne Lodge was built in 1837 but became a full-time home in 1855. This stop on our journey shows us how the wealthier people lived in the mid-1850s. The Howards built the first indoor flush toilet in the city and devised a method of delivering heated water to a showerhead.

When Jemima became ill, John Howard nursed her at their home. Her sick room shows the level of medical intervention that could be expected in this period.

1860s Black Creek Pioneer Village

The next stop on our time travel trip lands us in the 1860s on the farm of Daniel and Elizabeth Stong. Their early houses and farm buildings were so well preserved by the family that they became the basis for Black Creek Pioneer Village. Many other buildings have been moved here and a small town has been recreated. A blacksmith shop, printing shop, hotel, store, carriage works, church, and manse, among other buildings, can be explored. Christmas By Lamplight has been an annual favourite because it allows one to sample treats and decorations from the mid-1860s.

Women of the 1860’s would cook using the fireplace and the small oven on the side and could turn out quite impressive dinners with the means that they had at hand.

1870s Don Valley Brick Works

Although not specifically operated as a museum, the Don Valley Brick Works demonstrates this industry as it operated in the 1870s. It was owned by the Taylor brothers who also operated the mills at Todmorden.

1910 Zion School

Throughout the 19th-century and into the 20th-century it was common for children to go to school in a one-room schoolhouse. The teacher was responsible for teaching all grades and so you didn’t want to get on their bad side because you would have them again next year. This school was vacant for several decades before it was restored and opened as a museum showcasing school as it was around 1910.

1914 Thomson Park

Thomson Memorial Park in Scarborough contains the Scarborough Historical Society and a few locally historical buildings that have been moved into a small cluster. This stop on our time trip lands us just prior to the start of the First World War.

WW 1 Benares House

Benares House is not in Toronto, it is in Mississauga, but we’ve included it here because it showcases life during The Great War (WW1) for the average farming family in the area. Keeping up with the chores around the farm was a constant challenge with so many of the men off fighting the war in Europe.

1920s Spadina House

Our final stop on our journey brings us to 100 years ago and the house of a wealthy Toronto politician and businessman. Spadina House and gardens have been furnished and decorated to reflect the 1920’s, a period of prosperity that followed The Great War and preceded the economic depression of the 1930s.

While time travel might not be possible, a structured tour through Toronto’s museums could be the next best thing. Where will you start?

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Sunday Dec. 21, 2014

Following Queen Victoria’s coronation in 1837 Lot Street was renamed Queen Street.  The original name Lot Street was due to it’s use as the base line for the land survey in the town of York (Toronto). William Warren Baldwin bought a 200 acre land grant running north from Lot Street.  He named his estate Spadina after the native word for hill or sudden rise of land.   This rise of land is part of an ancient shoreline from when Lake Ontario was larger and known as Lake Iroquois.  The Scarborough Bluffs are also part of this shoreline.  Here he built the first Spadina house in 1818 and laid out Spadina Avenue to link it to the city.  He set a trend for York’s wealthy to establish large estates along the crest of the bluffs overlooking Davenport Road.  This became the wealthiest neighbourhood in the city by 1900.  Baldwin and his son, Robert, are credited with bringing government reform to Canada. While the Rebellion of 1837 failed to overthrow the Family Compact that was running the government, the Baldwins worked within the system to bring about change.  The former Spadina estate with it’s various modern uses was the subject of today’s exploration.  It is marked in red on the 1877 county atlas below. The sun was shining and it was a couple of degrees above freezing as I parked on Spadina just north of St. Clair.


The St. Clair reservoir is located on the south east corner on property that was sold to the city in 1913.  The reservoir was part of a larger project of public works planned and developed by R. C. Harris in the 1920’s.  The R.C. Harris Filtration Plant on Victoria Park was the first part of the Water Works system to be built.  After the Lake Ontario water had been purified it was pumped to reservoirs throughout the city for storage and delivery.  The reservoir at St. Clair was the first to be completed in 1930.  The cover photo shows the date stone with it’s inscription TWW (Toronto Water Works) and MCMXXX (1930).  The picture below shows the valve house at the top of the reservoir and the pipe tunnel portal below.  A grand staircase climbs the reservoir between them.

Spadina 19

When the reservoir was designed there was a fear that power failures could cause loss of water to the homes north of the reservoir.  Harris envisioned a water tower that would provide a 30 minute supply of water to homes in district 3.  The steel water tower would have cost $43,000 but Harris also designed a $70,000 neo-classical cladding for the outside to match with the pump houses.  With the great depression deepening city council didn’t approve the water tower.  Harris built the foundations for the water tower in the hopes that it would later get approved.  Improvements in the delivery of electrical power made the water tower obsolete and in the end it was never built.  On the south corner of the reservoir there is a mysterious concrete circle, the foundations for the planned water tower.

Spadina 7

The reservoir overlooks Nordheimer Ravine.  Samuel Nordehimer emigrated to Canada from Bavaria in 1844.  Along with his brother Abraham they opened a piano factory in The Junction.   A & S Nordheimer became one of Canada’s best known piano manufacturers.  Castle Frank Brook flows through the ravine on it’s way to join the Don River.  Castle Frank Brook is named after the home of Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe and his wife Elizabeth.  Constructed in 1793, Castle Frank was the first of many grand estates built north of the town of York.  The sketch below shows what the home of the Simcoes looked like.

Castle Frank

Castle Frank Brook was buried in the 1970’s when the Spadina subway line was extended.  It now flows through a sewer pipe under the ravine.  As I walked along the ravine I saw a rather unique tree house.  This one has a smiley face cut in the side for windows.

Spadina 14

Soil erosion on the hillsides has left a lot of tree roots exposed.  The root system of a plant is normally close enough to the surface to take advantage of nutrient and water availability. However, where water is scarce, roots have been known to extend over 60 meters into the ground.

Spadina 13

The bridge across Nordheimer ravine was built in 1929 as part of the infrastructure improvements that went along with construction of the reservoir.  An earlier wooden bridge was replaced with the current one which is modeled after the Bloor Street Viaduct, also built by R.C. Harris.  Crossing the bridge and continuing south you quickly come to the edge of an old escarpment looking out across the downtown core of the city.   Spadina Road was designed as a grand thoroughfare between Queen Street and Davenport Road.

Spadina 24

With 98 rooms the largest private home ever built in Canada is Casa Loma.  It was constructed between 1911 and 1913 for Henry Pellatt.  Henry had made his fortune by developing Niagara Falls for electrical production and bringing hydro to the city of Toronto.  We had found the remnants of his power corridor while hiking Humber Bay to Bloor Street on May 24.  The front lawn was laid out for Christmas.

Spadina 28

When Pellatt was envisioning Casa Loma he was also thinking about his horses.  He had elegant stables built in 1905 in anticipation of building his castle.  He lived here while the castle was under construction.  There was an 800 foot tunnel built underground from the stables to Casa Loma.  During the second world war a top secret installation here assembled ASDIC, an early version of sonar that was to prove key in winning the war in the Atlantic.

Spadina 43

William Warren Baldwin built the third house to stand on the Spadina property in 1866 completing it in 1913.  Spadina house was donated to the city in 1982 and opened as a museum in 1984.  It has been decorated to showcase life in the 1920’s.

Spadina 61

While exploring Earl Bales Park on July 19th an old water pump made by R. McDougall & Co. in Galt was found in the woods.  One of their water pumps was installed at Spadina house where it served the needs of the house for several decades.

Spadina 77

A set of gardens is laid out in the back of the house similar to the 1905 gardens.  A smaller garden near the house grows plants that would have been cultivated there in 1880.  After having walked once around the rear gardens of the home I returned to find a red fox walking across the front lawn.  Normally a nocturnal hunter, this specimen appeared to be quite comfortable as long as he could keep a distance between us.  A hundred years ago Pellatt and his friends might have been out with their fox-hounds chasing this guy’s ancestors.

Spadina 74

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