Toronto’s Castle

Canada’s largest house — Casa Loma — is right here in Toronto!

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This is more of a castle than a house, really, a 98-room flight of fancy built by an eccentric entrepreneur in 1909. The sign at the base of the hill on which the castle sits (“casa loma” means “house on the hill”) calls it “an extravagant medieval fantasy.” And indeed it is, all turrets and archways and dramatic stonework …

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… complete with a knight on the wall in the great Gothic entrance hall:

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Casa Loma was the brainchild of Sir Henry Pellatt, a businessman made his fortune electrifying the city of Toronto using hydroelectric power.

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Sir Henry had a number of inspirations as he built Casa Loma: Hercules, the Middle Ages, Napoleon, and the British royal family being chief among them. In fact, he was somewhat obsessed with the royals, going so far as to have an exact replica made of the coronation chair at Windsor Abbey:

fullsizeoutput_4821.jpegHe also had a bedroom suite fixed up solely for the purpose of receiving members of the royal family, should they choose to pay a visit (he even christened it the Windsor Room):
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fullsizeoutput_4847Unfortunately, the closest Sir Henry ever came to entertaining royalty was hosting a British duke who gave him a much-beloved diamond stickpin. History doesn’t tell us whether the duke ever saw this antique walnut Italian headboard, but we thought it was pretty hideous:

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Sir Henry also had an exact copy made of Napoleon’s writing desk made for his study (sadly, that piece is no longer in the building). And he had carvings of Hercules, another of his role models, placed all over the castle — including over this fireplace (he’s the figure in the middle carrying the skin of the Nemean lion):

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Delusions of grandeur aside — I ended up calling Casa Loma “an ode to narcissism” — Sir Henry created many beautiful spaces here. On the first floor, he had his architects whip up a library …

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… a conservatory with a domed stained glass ceiling …

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… a neoclassical breakfast room …

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… and a drawing room (fittingly named after Napoleon) whose oak walls alone took three years to carve (it’s worth nothing that they’re done in the style of Grinling Gibbons, who designed most of the carving at Windsor Castle). Strangely, while most of the rest of the castle is now a museum, this room is now home to a fancy restaurant — and they’ve added wacky anachronistic touches like antler chandeliers and paintings of Prince and QEII:

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fullsizeoutput_4824Sir Henry spared no expense in getting the finest woodwork available …

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… and in commissioning plasterwork ceilings with everything from his family’s coat of arms …

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… to Canadian blueberries!

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He also had a telephone nook installed in just about every room — in an era when there might have been 200 telephones in all of the city of Toronto, Casa Loma had 50 of them.

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This castle has it all — secret staircases hidden behind the walls of the study (the signs called these “a gothic surprise”), turrets you can climb (which give you a great view) …

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… and even a round room …

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… that sits in a perfect circle at the base of the Norman Tower:

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The owners’ bedroom suites were sumptuous, of course. Sir Henry’s features a tiger rug …

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… while his wife’s reflects her love of all things Wedgewood:

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Even her closet doors have beautiful detailing:

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The upstairs rooms are generally quite lavish …

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… though the servants’ quarters are fairly modest (that said, they’re pretty roomy and well decorated, as servants’ quarters go):

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It’s worth noting that not all of the furniture in the castle is original to Casa Loma. Sadly, Sir Henry’s money began to run out during the depression that followed the First World War, and he had to leave his castle home and auction off most of its furnishings in 1923 (Casa Loma is now owned by the City of Toronto and leased to a private operator). Many of the the Pellatts’ pieces were purchased back over time, but what you see inside may not always be part of Sir Henry’s original collection.

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The gardens have also changed; while the formal structure may be similar and some lovely beds are still planted, there’s astroturf where the grass would have been (you can see it on the lower left) …

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.. and the path to the “secret garden” has become overgrown with weeds and dotted in strange chainsaw statuary:

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Visiting the house is pricey — it’ll set you back $30 CAD — but worth the steep ticket cost. It’s a rare look back into another age and into one man’s distinctive personality. You can learn a lot; a free audio guide comes with your entry, and it contains very detailed information (here I am listening to a description of Sir Henry’s ingenious way of keeping his stained glass ceiling lit at night).

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If nothing else, it’s amazing to step back into time, to feel bizarrely like you’re in the Gilded Age and the Middle Ages all at once!

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One response to “Toronto’s Castle

  1. Pingback: 10 Fun Things to Do in Toronto | Traveler Tina·

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