I’ve resided in Toronto for about a year for work purposes and my only real visitors up until recently have been Bella and anybody she brought along with her. That means I’ve avoided many of the truly touristy things. We drove by Casa Loma but didn’t bother to spend the time and money to go inside. I was recently graced with some visitors who wanted to go so I grabbed my camera and made the best of it. I was not disappointed.
Located on the northern end of town it is really easy to get to and worth the effort. The edifice took three years to build and construction was halted around 1914 due to the start of World War I. The owner was Sir Henry Mill Pellatt, who was essentially the Canadian version of Vanderbilt. A businessman with his fingers in railroads, electric utilities, mining, and insurance, he amassed a fortune, built a grand manor, employed a large number of people, and eventually went broke, losing his mansion in 1923 to unpaid taxes. After sitting empty for a number of years, the city considered tearing it down before the Kiwanis Club leased it from the city of Toronto and turned it into a tourist attraction. It’s made money ever since, and has been used as a site to film a number of movies as well. This is the second time I’ve run across Hollywood in Toronto. Here’s a list of some of the movies filmed in Casa Loma.
Admission was $24 and parking cost $10 (CDN, of course).
Believe it or not, there’s a nice cafeteria on the basement level which serves quite tasty fish and chips and beer!
Pellatt had great taste in horses, cars, and gardening. He actually built those facilities first, living in what later became the servant’s quarters above the garage while the main manor was still under construction about 400 feet away. Eventually the city decided to put a road between the buildings and he didn’t like crossing the road, especially during the winter. So, what is an extravagant solution? Build a tunnel, of course.
The tunnel solved another problem he had. Heating the place required a lot of steam that needed to be generated someplace. The logical place to put the coal fired furnace was in the tunnel. It kept the soot away from both the house and the hobbies.
The stables were state of the art for the time, with tiled floors and the names of the horses in each stall.
The cars were cutting edge, too. He had his own fuel tank and the mechanics lived above the garage. One of the stories we heard was about the electric car that he bought and immediately drove downtown. He neglected to learn how to stop the thing, though. He kept driving in circles yelling for somebody to put out some hay bales so he could crash into them.
Nowadays the tunnels contain a number of large historical photographs, chronicling a plague, Canada’s foray into prohibition (I thought they were a haven of good sense and booze), and a fire that leveled much of the city of Toronto.
The living quarters for the lord and lady of the manor were spectacular, as one would expect. The showers were way ahead of their time.
The man had an actual cannon for a bedside gun! I wonder what he would think of the current level of gun restrictions in Canada.
I loved this hallway. It was used in one of the X-Men films. It isn’t hard to imagine Wolverine walking around.
The grounds are also used for weddings and one was apparently scheduled for the evening of our visit.
There are two towers which afford views of the city but only one was open during our visit. The other was undergoing renovations. The climb was strictly a one-at-a-time affair, and not for the faint of heart.
The top floor was never finished as part of the residence, but some of it was used for servant’s quarters. Pellatt was very proud of the local military unit, the Queen’s Own Rifles. Now, the top floor is the museum for the QOR. More info can be found here.
Here’s a bit of history I didn’t learn in college:
Another thing I learned listening to the electronic tour guide was how the British used the grounds at Casa Loma as a top secret research and development facility during World War Two. They developed sonar there while still conducting tours to the paying public. All the equipment was smuggled in during broad daylight in bakery trucks and hidden in an area simply separated by a sheet and a sign that read “Under Construction”.