Toronto's Dream Castle

High atop a hill, looking down upon the city of Toronto, Ontario, sits a castle. But this is not just any castle. It is Casa Loma. And quite a castle it is, too, with 98 rooms, 30 bathrooms, 25 fireplaces, 3 bowling alleys, a 50-metre (160-foot) shooting gallery, a temperature-controlled wine cellar capable of holding 1,700 bottles of bubbly, an incompleted 18-metre (60-foot) long indoor swimming pool, and a 243-metre (800-foot) tunnel constructed 6 metres (20 feet) underground which connects Casa Loma to the stables across the street.

Casa Loma was built at the beginning of the 19th century by Sir Henry Pellatt, and this is the story:

Henry Mill Pellatt was born in Kingston, Ontario, on January 6, 1859. Third of 6 children (and the first son), Henry and his family moved to Toronto when Henry was 2 years old. There, the elder Pellatt opened a stock brokerage firm named 'Pellatt and Osler'. Henry graduated from the rather exclusive 'Upper Canada College' when he was 17 and, as a graduation gift, was sent on 'The Grand Tour of Europe'. During this time, Henry developed a passion for art and antiquities, especially medieval, fairy-tale castles which he spent considerable time sketching. He dreamed of the day he could own such a castle.

Leaving the wonders of Europe behind him, Henry returned to Toronto where he joined his father's firm, became a volunteer in the Queen's Own Rifles regiment, and honed his skills as an athlete. Henry was a remarkable runner, and by the age of 20, he was the fastest 'miler' in all of North America.

While still in his early twenties, Henry married a young 'society' girl named Mary Dodgson. Soon afterward, he founded the Toronto Electric Light Company, appointed himself secretary (at a salary of $25 a month), and negotiated a deal to install arc lights in a small section of Toronto. Six years later, he held the contract to install all the street lighting for the entire city of Toronto!

By 1892, Henry was in control of 'Pellatt and Osler' (his father having retired) and made a number of shrewd, very profitable investments. The Northwest Land Company alone (established to accommodate the influx of immigrants that would soon inundate Canada) increased Henry's wealth by almost four million dollars. Add to that the money he made from his investments in the Canadian Pacific Railway (which would transport the immigrants across the country) and the Toronto Electric Railway Company (which had a 30-year monopoly to operate the city's streetcar system) and Henry Pellatt had the means to see his dreams of owning a castle come to fruition.

With $17 million to back him, Henry located 25 estate lots on the top of Davenport Hill called 'Casa Loma' ('house on a hill'). He purchased the lots, but needed more for his plans and bought more land across the street to the north where he ordered stables, staff quarters, barracks, greenhouses, heating plant, and the famous tunnel to be built while his castle was being designed.

No expense was spared. The stables, constructed from locally-quarried Credit Valley stone with Spanish tile, herringbone-pattern floors, cost him $250,000 to build. The stalls were made of the finest-quality mahogany and each horse's name was spelt out in 18-karat gold letters.

Meanwhile, Edward J. Lennox began designing the castle in 1909. A year later, the foundation was laid. The first Credit Valley stone was set in April of 1911. The towers went up in 1912. By 1913, the final stones were laid and Casa Loma was a reality. In all, more than 300 trades people (all personally selected by Henry) had worked to complete the huge castle in only three years, with Henry over-seeing every aspect of the operation. It is said that he also personally approved every stone that was to become a part of his home. According to legend, the stone wall surrounding Casa Loma was constructed from stones shipped over from Scotland and Scottish stoneworkers were brought over to construct it in authentic Scottish style.

Mr. and Mrs. Henry Pellatt took residence in 1914, just before the outbreak of World War I. The interior was, as yet, incomplete and the furnishings were scant, but that changed quickly. Unfortunately, they were to enjoy their 'fairy-tale' paradise for only 10 years. The war had serious and permanent effects on Henry's businesses and they began to fail. Nevertheless, the time spent in Casa Loma was a joy to both himself and his wife, Mary, thanks to 40 servants who changed 5,000 electric light bulbs, cleaned the castle with a central vacuum system, tended the first electric elevator in a private residence in the city of Toronto, and polished the 52 telephones.

The public rooms were designed and decorated to suit royalty. When entering Casa Loma, visitors were greeted with a massive Great Hall. There was an Oak Room, with hand-carved, solid oak panels and beams which had taken three years to create. The huge library contained 10,000 books and the dining room could seat 100 people with elbow room to spare. The Palm Room was paved with imported marble, and the Long Hallway was modelled after Peacock Alley in Windsor Castle. Above, on the second floor, was Henry's private, all-marble, gold-fixtured bathroom. A custom-designed shower allowed him to direct water to any part of his body. Henry could wash his face, rinse his hair, and scrub behind his ears without even turning his head.

The end of the war spelled disaster for the Pellatt family fortune. Henry was spending over $100,000 per year in maintenance alone, including $22,000 in wages, $15,000 for 725,000 kg (800 tons) of coal, and $12,000 in property taxes. By 1924, many of Henry Pellatt's business ventures had collapsed. He was $1.7 million in debt and his wife's health was quickly fading. (She died the following year.) Broken and penniless, Henry turned over his beloved Casa Loma to the City of Toronto and left his home for the last time with only 3 van loads of personal belongings. The rest he sold in a 5-day auction that brought in a vast crowd of people from all over North America, but very little money. Valued at $1.5 million, the remaining contents garnered a mere $250,000.

A table-high, hand-carved bronze statue sold for only $17. A suit of armour, $35. An 18-piece dessert set of Coalport china received a high bid of only $105 and an Empire mahogany sideboard received a mere $240. Mrs. Pellatt's bed sold for the disgusting price of $45. A $75,000 organ fetched $40. Some lucky shopper took home a grandfather clock for $155 while another walked away with a Constable painting for only $375. Ten Jacobean oak chairs went for $32.50 each.

Sir Henry died in 1939, broken, destitute, and living with a former chauffeur in a small house in Toronto's suburbia. His cash assets amounted to $185.08 and his debts totalled $6,000. Nonetheless, Sir Henry Mill Pellatt was given the biggest funeral Toronto had ever seen.

The future of Casa Loma remained rocky for many years. There were countless plans, for instance, to turn it into things like a home for war veterens, a war museum, a high school, a convent, a monastery, an Orange Lodge, an exclusive club for wealthy men, and even a home for the Dionne Quintuplets. None got past the planning stage. For a short time in 1927, it became a night club, and, in 1929, a New York syndicate spent over $200,000 in an unsuccessful attempt to convert Casa Loma into a luxury apartment hotel.

Finally, in 1937, the Kiwanis Club of West Toronto leased Casa Loma from the City of Toronto with the intention of turning it into a tourist attraction and this has been it's role for over 60 years. The Kiwanis Club has worked miracles in returning the masterpiece to a marvelous representation of what it might have been in Sir Henry's day, and each year, a half-million people visit from all over the world to bask in the wonder of the Dream Castle of Sir Henry Mill Pellatt: Casa Loma!