Although you may not think so, Canada is actually home to a few different castles, including the very Edwardian Casa Loma. They may have a very different feeling than their European counterparts, but are rich in history and perfect for a visit when you want a bit of the past. Canadian history is often framed by frontiers and fields; quiet histories like that of the Pellat family are as important, though, and deserve telling!
In January of 2014 my mom and I visited my Dad in Toronto, and although we’ve been there quite a few times we always seem to find something to occupy our time. My favourite stop on that trip was certainly when we visited Casa Loma, an honest to goodness Edwardian castle located in Toronto proper. Built by a wealthy business of the time, Casa Loma is a well-known landmark in Toronto and is used for various functions, weddings, and movie shoots. They do also let history nerds such as myself wander through, and I took full advantage!( My apologies for some of the photo quality- they were shot a year before this blog became a thing, and with a new phone I was trying to figure out.)
Casa Loma was built by Henry Pellat, a businessman, in turn of the century Toronto. He commissioned E.J. Lennox (who designed several other notable buildings in Toronto, including the Toronto Athletic Club, the Bank of Toronto, and Toronto City Hall) to design it, and building began in 1911. The Hunting Lodge, stables, and shed came first, with the stables used as a construction base for Casa Loma itself. Construction was halted for the First World War, but continued afterwards to become the largest private residence in the country at over 64,000 square feet. (Would you like to clean 98 rooms? Because I wouldn’t….) Given that it was built in the 1910s and 1920s, I think that it’s pretty impressive- it included an elevator, two secret passages, a pool, a gymnasium, and three bowling alleys. Construction was never actually finished, and was sold to the city (due to high taxes and low finances) in the 1930s. It was used by the Kiwanis until the late 1990s, when it went through a $33,000,000 fifteen year renovation process ending in 2012. It is now used for public visits and whatever events are hosted there.
If you are interested in Downton Abbey at all, I would certainly stop by Casa Loma if you are in Toronto! It is sort of cool to think that while families like the Granthams were lounging about in their centuries old house/estate in England, Henry was building his own grand estate over in the new world. While I’m not a huge fan of being scared, I think it would be very cool to do a ghost tour of Casa Loma, because I’m positive that would be some old timey ghosts that could tell you some cool things about T.O. back in the day. Here are some of my favourite pictures from my stop there:
How incredible is this stained glass roof?? I feel like I may try to do a watercolour rendering of it soon….
I love spotting a royal portrait, specifically when it is a royal other than Her Majesty- HRH Princess Alexandra of Kent is the Colonel-in-Chief of the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada. Casa Loma is home to the Regiment’s Museum, and most of the third floor is dedicated to it.
Casa Loma is one of those hidden gems, as I don’t think that many of us expect to find a castle in the middle of Toronto! While the history itself is on the sadder side (think of what could have been if it was completed!), I think that the board did a wonderful job with the restoration and I would love to see a wedding or large event held at the estate.
What hidden gem has surprised you on your travels?