The Castle in my Own Backyard
I have lived in and around Toronto my entire life and there has always been one gem that has alluded me, but this summer with a resolution to finally see the castle in my own backyard, I went in search of Casa Loma.
Casa Loma, Spanish for ‘hill house’, is the only full-sized castle in North America. Set on picturesque five acres, the 200,000 square foot castle took 300 men three years to build at a cost of 3.5 million dollars in 1911. But who would want a castle in Toronto? Sir Henry Pellatt had a dream of living in an Edwardian style castle atop a hill overlooking Toronto and so he enlisted the help of architect E.J. Lennox (who also did the ‘new’ west wing of the Ontario Legislation Building). Sir Henry Pellatt had a long history in business and was involved in numerous and varied companies including Toronto Electric Light Company, which he founded in 1883, bringing electricity to Toronto. But sadly him and his wife, Lady Mary, only enjoyed their dream castle for 10 years as they were struck by financial problems and forced to sell some of their precious possessions and abandon their home. In 1937 Casa Loma began to be a tourist attraction and is now a premier historic attraction in Toronto. Casa Loma pays homage to Sir Pellatt’s dream, showcasing photos and stories of him and his wife, awesome detailed pieces decorating the many rooms and enriching visitors with a slice of Toronto’s history.
As I walked up Spadina I could see a classic tower in the distance and I was thrilled to finally be so close. If you’re feeling adventurous and your legs strong, I recommend taking the flight of 110 stairs as you’ll be rewarded at the top. As soon as I entered the Great Hall of Casa Loma, with its 60 foot ceiling, my jaw dropped. It was grand and felt as if you were walking straight into the past, I could almost hear the piano in the corner playing as party goers in over the top attire danced and raised their glasses to a magnificent home. I’ve always been intrigued by the details that are hidden in plain sight, like the strange figures carved into the pillars, they reminded me of the odd faces in London’s Temple Church, their eyes following me wherever I went. From the Great Hall we passed through a large sunlit library – which rather struck me as odd, as libraries always seem so dark and cozy opposed to light and airy. The gorgeous gold doors at the end of the library led us into a stunning round conservatory full of marble (from both Italy and Ontario), lush plant beds and flowers that were kept warm back in the early days by steam pipes, and the show piece – an ornate and colourful glass dome ceiling, I couldn’t help but crane my neck back to take in its astounding beauty.
A grand staircase guided us up to the castle’s second floor and home to its many bedrooms, Mr. and Mrs. Pellatt’s suites and an awesome view from above of the Great Hall. Sir Henry’s bedroom suite has a fantastic view of Toronto’s skyline, including the CN Tower, as well as down onto the beautiful gardens and large fountain below. Besides the view it was his en-suite bathroom that really wowed me, entirely done in white Carrera marble, it looked strangely modern for its time (over 100 years ago), with a large tub, bidet and massive shower stall with spray jets surrounding you. Lady Mary’s suite also boasted city views and an en-suite bathroom, but her bedroom was so fitting for a lady painted in her favourite colour Wedgewood blue. There were even showcases with some of her things like clothing accessories and of course a gracious lady needs a perfect tea set, with pretty painted Limoges dishes. The rooms were filled with one of a kind detailed pieces that helped to create each room’s character, and the gorgeous ceiling – art in themselves – were adorned with grand chandeliers, all so unique.
Casa Loma, certainly wouldn’t be a true castle if it didn’t have hidden rooms, secret passageways and tunnels below, and I have to say, to me, these are what make exploring a castle fun. To get into the tower you have to head up some wooden stairs, that lead to a black iron, narrow, spiral staircase and then another and lastly to a few short wooden steps that finally expel you into a round, hot and humid room with narrowing slats for windows – you can almost feel the rush of defenders with their bows and arrows ready for battle – or maybe its the lack of fresh air.
From the tower above to the tunnels below; from hot and humid to cool and damp, there is an 800 foot tunnel below the castle that gives access to the stables and carriage room. Along the tunnel path are large, gripping photos of Toronto’s past from the Great Fire to the depression and prohibition. These sad, often graphic pictures will lead you to the light at the end of the tunnel where you’ll find a massive carriage room, with beautiful tile work and showcasing some antique cars and carriages like the stately 1910 ‘Maxwell’ Model Q 2. Next door is the amazing stables with horse stalls made of mahogany and floors covered in Spanish tiles, horses like Casa Loma Belle must have been quite happy here.
There was a moment when I stood alone in the second floor hallway and it was like time stood still, and I could sense the presence of these two fine characters, hear the rustle in their rooms as they readied for dinner, however fleeting, I felt for sure after death Sir Henry Pellatt returned to his dream castle, perhaps walking its halls at night, or sitting in an armchair in his smoking room with a book in hand or simply enjoying his drawing room with its French oak panels that took artisans three years to carve. I wouldn’t be surprised if he resides again in his castle, watching over the city he loved and Casa Loma.
Have you been to Casa Loma? What was your favourite part?
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