Ever had $3.5 million dollars burning a hole in the pocket of your 1911 smoking jacket?
Yeah me neither.
…but Toronto finance powerhouse Sir Henry Pellatt sure did, and he decided to build himself Canada’s largest private residence ever; a 98 room castle called “Casa Loma”.
Nothing was held back for Sir Pellatt’s lifelong dream of a medieval castle overlooking Toronto; the “house on the hill” pulled out all the stops in creating a magnificent home that matched it’s owners social standing and power. Secret passageways, luxurious materials, and the latest phone technology…if that’s not enough, then maybe the 3 bowling alleys and an oven large enough to cook a whole ox will make you rethink!
At the turn of the century, Sir Pellatt was reaping the rewards of seriously lucrative railway and hydro-electricity investments. He was a notable and celebrated figure, and the “Sir” wasn’t something he gave himself in an attempt of grandiosity. Henry worked through the ranks of the military in the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada and reached the high level of a Commanding Officer. He was knighted by King Edward VII in 1905 for his service and was very proud to have earned that title. It’s likely that Casa Loma was motivated by his desire to host actual British Royalty, but the closest he got was a visit from the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall.
Started in 1911, Casa Loma took 300 men and 3 years to finish…but the cost of maintaining it and some other bad financial luck forced the Pellatts to sell off its art and furnishings before moving out completely. In the end, they lived in the castle for less than 10 years.
The castle then took up a life as a hotel/swingin’ prohibition night spot for a while, but fell into disrepair and was almost demolished in the mid 1930’s before being rescued and reborn as a tourist destination. Exterior repairs concealed its temporary use as a WWII research lab, but since then it has mainly been a wedding, dining, and cultural tourism venue.
Casa Loma might be massive, but it’s still very inviting and you can feel the pride Sir Pellatt had for his home. A lot of the interior decor celebrates his admiration for the British Monarchy and there are many reminders of it (and his title!) spread throughout the building. His personal rooms had a serious “man cave” vibe to them and you could figuratively feel the testosterone, but they were wonderfully complimented by the rooms of his wife, Mary.
It’s worth noting that Mary Pellatt was the first commissioner of the Girl Guides of Canada, and would regularly host girl guides at her home! Pretty cool place to earn those merit badges, amirite?
Several of the rooms have some original art and furnishings, and other items made their way back to the castle through auctions or donations. The 3rd floor is used as a museum for the Queen’s Own Rifles, and if you continue climbing up into the highest tower you’ll be rewarded with views of the Toronto skyline.
You’re free to roam around and have the option of taking along an audio tour pack as you go from room to room. There’s a documentary about Sir Pellatt and an underground tunnel that leads you away from the house and to the stables and a garage with vintage cars. Casa Loma is definitely one of the largest history-centric tourist destination in Toronto, so plan around tour buses and try an early morning when you visit. You can then squeeze in a noon tour at the neighboring Spadina House!
There’s a food stand in the garden that serves gelato, and a cafe in the basement. The castle is wheelchair accessible with an original elevator, and is fully air conditioned. Several of the areas were roped off because of wedding prep, but even with an event you are still allowed to get a peek of the rooms. I missed the wonderful glass ceiling in the conservatory because of this…bummer.
Fun Fact: Casa Loma has probably been in several movies you’ve seen. It was also transformed into “Hogwarts” for the Canadian premier of the Deathly Hallows Part 2!
1 Terrace Avenue
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Adults $24; Seniors and children (14-17) $18; Children over 3 $14; Children under 3 FREE