History of Casa Loma
Casa Loma is the unique legacy of Sir Henry Mill Pellatt, a prominent Canadian financier, industrialist and military officer of the early twentieth century. An unabashed romantic, Sir Henry engaged the noted architect E.J. Lennox to help him realize a life-long dream - the creation of a 'medieval' castle on the brow of a hill overlooking Toronto. Based on a life-long fascination with European castles, Sir Henry borrowed the most pleasing elements of Norman, Gothic and Romanesque styles to create Casa Loma.
Unlike many homes built during
this time, Casa Loma was designed with several technological features
we take for granted today. The house was wired for electric power; fitted
for a central vacuuming system; and had its own telephone exchange with
59 telephones. (The stories tell that frequently, more telephone calls
were made in one day at Casa Loma than in the entire city of Toronto at
that time.) Also, the castle's original ovens in the kitchen were so big
that they could cook an entire ox.
The Pellatt Years
Sir Henry Mill Pellatt was a leading financier in Canada around the turn of the century, and a decorated commander of the Queen's Own Rifles. His wealth was accumulated through a variety of ventures, including land speculation in the west, prior to CP Rail's trans-continental extention; and a monopoly on the provision of electric power in the Toronto area.
This wealth allowed Sir Henry to build a grand home for his wife on a 25 acre country estate, then north of Toronto. This estate originally had only a hunting lodge, but when Sir Henry decided to build stables nearby, it was not long before he also decided to build the home of his dreams. Construction on the castle was begun in 1911, and continued until the castle was very nearly finished, in 1914. This undertaking employed three hundred men, and cost the exorbitant sum of $3.5 million dollars. In addition, Sir Henry spent another $1.5 million dollars on furnishing the castle lavishly.
Unfortunately, in a series of financially unsound moves, Sir Henry's wealth seemed to evaporate, as the City of Toronto presented him with an astronomical property tax bill. In addition, Sir Henry had to contend with the cost of forty servants and price of coal to heat the enormous structure. After several attempts (which included an auction of much of the valuable furnishings and materials) to preserve ownership of the castle which he and his wife had occupied for only nine years, Sir Henry had to sign ownership of the castle over to the city in payment of his taxes in 1924.
Casa Loma & The Kiwani Club
When the City of Toronto acquired the Pellatt estate north of the city, it was commonly considered an eyesore. Popular opinion after the city's acquisition was that the castle should be demolished. While city councilors were deciding what to do with the building, it was stripped of any remaining valuables, boarded up and, for all intents and purposes, abandoned. However, during the years it lay empty, it was heavily vandalised. To this day, the effects of that vandalism is still visible in places.
In 1937, the Kiwanis Clubs of Toronto petitioned the city to allow them to take over the building, restore it, and operate it for the benefit of the public. Since that time, Casa Loma has been the venue for weekly"big band" dances, and public viewing. A portion of the proceeds from Casa Loma's operation are contributed to the Kiwani Club's various charitable efforts.
Casa Loma During World War Two
During World War Two, one of the many dangers the Allies faced in their fight with the Germans was the German U-boats in the Atlantic, sinking Allied supply ships. In response, the British developed the predecessor to the modern-day sonar, (known as the ASDIC device) which enabled these ships to locate the U-boats, and so defend themselves against the U-boats.
After the Germans bombed the manufacturing plant in Britain where the ASDIC devices were being assembled, the manufacturing was secretly relocated to Canada so that is could continue in safety. The Canadian engineer who was responsible for the relocation had to find a place which would not be suspected by potential German observers. He chose Casa Loma, because as he put it, "Who would suspect a freak castle with dances every Saturday night?" No one did.
In fact, Toronto city councilors were completely unaware of the work that was going on in the basement of this "freak castle", until more than a decade later, when they were informed by the group involved. And so, desperately needed Canadian supplies and soldiers reached the Allies.
Present Day Casa Loma
Today, Casa Loma is open to the public for daytime touring, and evening events. The tour is self-guided, with the assistance of an audio cassette. Film-makers also appreciate Casa Loma's beauty and majesty: several television shows and feature-length movies have been filmed here, including portions of Cocktail, with Tom Cruise; and Goosebumps' "Night at Terror Tower".