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Monday, November 4, 2019

CASA LOMA, Toronto

CASA  LOMA – Toronto’s Famous Castle  -  Elizabeth Clements

I love writing about places I’ve visited and use them for settings in my books. While casting about in my mind for a topic to focus on for my blog this month, Casa Loma popped into my head.  I’ve loved castles all my life and visited my first one in Germany. So, how wonderful to not only learn about a castle in the heart of Toronto, but to also be able to visit and explore it at my leisure.

A couple of dozen years ago I spent a wonderful afternoon wandering through the castle’s elegant rooms, aided by a self-guiding recording that provided commentary on various rooms. I haven’t a clue where my photographs are, or the souvenir book I purchased, so I have to rely on my memory and this link for you to click on to get glimpses of this amazing castle.

As I gazed at this gallery of photos, I thought what perfect research for a novel…and suddenly I remembered I actually had written a story—the heroine is the gardener’s daughter and has a special gift with flowers. Did I finish it? Why can’t I remember more? Dang, I hope I still have the disk. I think it was to be my Ontario story, as I planned to set a story in every Canadian province and territories. I digress, however…

Documentary video from Liberty Entertainment Group

Sir Henry was born in Kingston, Ontario, on January 6, 1859. He never finished college and instead entered the family stock brokerage business. At age twenty-three he became a full partner.  
A clever and ambitious man with big dreams, Sir Henry Pellatt was declared Canada’s richest man in 1910 when he commissioned Toronto’s best architect, Sir Lennox, to design and build him his dream castle on the outskirts of Toronto. He had it built for the love of his life, Mary Dodgeson, his bride, whom had met when he was just twenty.

It took from 1911 to 1914 to build the massive, 70,000 square foot structure at an astronomical cost of $3.5 million dollars. Sir Henry brought electricity to Toronto, so it’s understandable that all 98 rooms of the castle were powered with electricity. Casa Loma surpassed any private home in North America and was said to be one of the only true castles in North America.

He had traveled extensively in Europe, acquiring art and antiques and fell in love with castles and chateaus, which he had visited in his travels. The elegant rooms of Casa Loma reflect his love of opulence. He and his wife hosted numerous galas, which kept Mary busy with their social calendar and numerous philanthropic projects.  
I still remember being amazed by the innovative bathroom showers that could spray the bather from all directions. Even more amazing were the stables for Sir Henry’s racehorses—beautiful dark-stained wood encased each stall and the flooring was tiled. The Great Hall lived up to its name—with its two-story ceiling and hallways overlooking the room below.

Yet, my favorite room was the conservatory with its high, green, stained glass windows and a virtual jungle of flowers and greenery to complement the fountain. It was in the late 1990’s when I visited, so perhaps things have changed since Liberty Entertainment Group took over the operation of Casa Loma in 2014.

I climbed all the way to the spacious attic and viewed the city skyline from a small window (but I think I was also able to walk out on the rampart). When Casa Loma was built, it sat at the edge of Toronto, but now is situated in the middle of the sprawling city.

Being a strong supporter of Grace Hospital resulted in Sir Henry being largely responsible for the organization of the St. John’s Ambulance Brigade in Canada. Lady Pellatt was in frail health, but that did not prevent her from actively promoting the Girl Guides of Canada and holding meetings and many events at Casa Loma for the group. Her enormous contribution to the organization was recognized when she was appointed the first Commissioner of the Girl Guides of Canada and in 1919, she was honored with its highest award: The Silver Fish Award.

One other passion of Sir Henry’s, besides his racehorses, was his keen involvement with the Queen’s Own Rifles. There is a military museum on one floor of the castle showcasing all types of military memorabilia, equipment, rifles, and uniforms, to name a few. When he died on March 8, 1939, thousands of mourners watched his funeral procession. “He was buried with full military honours befitting a soldier who had given so much to his country.” 

As often happens with people who have big dreams and have lived a bigger life than most, tragedy did eventually befall Sir Henry. He had overextended with his financial expansions, and ironically, the very enterprise that contributed to his wealth evaporated when “the one sure source of income from the monopoly of electrical power vanished when political decisions allowed for public ownership of electricity.” His Midas touch failed him when he turned to land speculation in a desperate move to restore his wealth. People were not interested in building homes around Casa Loma—World War I happened and afterwards, the economy went into a slump. Pellatt amd Pellatt fell into bankruptcy.

It must have been so heartbreaking to lose his fairy-tale castle and see all his beautiful possessions being removed from Casa Loma and auctioned off at a fraction of their value. In 1924, the Pellatts moved to their farm in King township. Sir Henry received a double blow that year when his beloved wife passed away at age sixty-seven. However, Sir Henry never lost his spirit of philanthropy and was honored late in life: “his service of fifty years with the Queen’s Own Rifles was celebrated on June 27, 1926 with a march past <Casa Loma> 500 men complete with the circling overhead of three military planes.”

In 1925, architect William Sparling proposed to turn Casa Loma into a luxury hotel and received a long-term lease. The Casa Loma Hotel operated from 1926-1929. He had great plans for completing the Great Hall and the Billiards Room plus expanding the castle by adding on two wings, but the wings were never built. In 1929 a New York syndicate made an offer to buy Casa Loma, but the offer failed.

Casa Loma was a nightspot during the late 1920’s, but with the coming of the depression, Casa Loma stood empty once again. In 1933 the City of Toronto acquired possession of Casa Loma for outstanding back taxes. Several ideas were tossed around without a decision made and thus the estate remained empty again from 1933-1937. The Kiwanis Club of West Toronto took over and turned Casa Loma into a thriving tourist attraction from 1937-2011.  

Casa Loma remains a popular tourist spot to this day. Anywhere from 350,000 to 500,000 visitors visit the famous landmark annually and it is a popular venue for weddings, movie productions and other special events. Casa Loma is still owned by the City of Toronto and managed by Liberty Entertainment Group, which oversees over 250 events annually. Since the company took over management in 2014, considerable improvements have been made, including air conditioning and improvements to the landscape. Miraculously, many of the original furnishings collected by Sir Henry have been repurchased and grace some of the rooms, particularly Lady Mary’s suite of rooms.

I loved the hours I spent wandering through the elegant rooms and imagining the pleasure of living in such a special home. And I feel so sad for the Pellatts that they couldn’t live out their lives in the dream he built which perhaps has become his greatest legacy for Toronto. Anyone who loves castles must definitely put a visit to Casa Loma on their bucket list.


  1. I apologize for not having any pictures or labels....I could not get my pics to come up and I just got frustrated and eyes hurt....hope you can click on the links to see pics of this beautiful castle and Toronto's most famous landmark. I really suck at this blogging.

  2. Looks an amazing place! Thanks for the tour, Elizabeth!

    1. Casa Loma is amazing and I'm so grateful that I was able to spend a wonderful afternoon strolling through the rooms.

  3. What an amazing place! I've been to Toronto, but missed this completely. Toronto University has a better collection of historic Scottish Gaelic resources than Scotland. It's amazing city.

    1. I hope you'll be able to get back to Toronto and explore this amazing castle. Another really neat place to visit when in Toronto is the historical village, Black Creek Pioneer Village near York University. The military museum at Casa Loma is quite large and well worth a visit... I believe it's on the second floor. I found the suit of armor much smaller the men were back then. Thanks for popping by.

  4. Elizabeth,

    Historic buildings are one of my fascinations. Interesting post. Thank you for sharing.

    1. I love them, too, Kaye. We have quite a few beautiful Victorians here where I live and I used to dream about the stories their walls could tell as I went for my afternoon walks with my son in his carriage. Thank you for stopping by, Kaye, and I'm sorry I did such a rush job on this blog. Procrastination has always been my worst habit.

  5. What an astounding and thorough history of the Casa Loma Castle in Toronto and the family that lived there. Lady Pellatt and Sir Henry did so much for their community. I love that Lady Pellatt was a supporter of the Girl Guides of Canada. I was so sorry to learn from your blog that Sir Henry lost his dream home due to his financial failings.
    I visited Toronto years ago and I wish now that I had known about Casa Loma. I would have loved to have seen it.
    I loved your blog, Elizabeth. Let me know if you have trouble uploading a picture and perhaps I can help you next time. Your blog was so interesting in spite of the lack of pictures.
    I wish you all the very best.

    1. Thank you, Sarah. Your are always so uplifting and supportive. It's my own fault I botched up my blog...October has been a frustrating month because of laser eye surgery that is taxing my patience. I miss being on the computer and sudden on Sunday I remembered I had a blog due the next day. Luckily I had started on this blog in September and intended it for my Oct blog but I ran out of time. Procrastination is my worst trait. I so wanted to provide pictures (I took lots when I visited Casa Loma but don't know where they are,) so I downloaded some from the internet and then they wouldn't open...heck I couldn't find them and as the wee hours got later, I became more frustrated and just threw in the link and hoped readers would check out the photos. It's such an amazing place, and the history of the Pellatts and their contribution to Toronto is incredible. I can't even begin to fathom the stress and heartbreak of the Pellatts losing their beautiful castle and possessions. I'm so glad you stopped by.

  6. Replies
    1. I so agree, Kristy. I wanted to stay longer and go back the next day. But at least I had some daydreaming time on the patio before I left. Such an elegant castle and well-loved by Sir Henry and Lady Pellatt.

  7. A person can tell how much you love your county's history and the people who created it. What a wonderful piece of it you just shared. Doris

  8. Thank you, Doris. I've always believed Canada has interesting, even fascinating history and places that should be shared. I've always loved castles, probably dating back to reading fairy tales. I wanted to live in one and perhaps I did in a past life...hopefully as the Laird's beloved daughter and not the kitchen scullery maid. Thanks for stopping by, Doris.