Designed in a gothic revival style by E. J. Lennox and set on a high hill overlooking the Lake Ontario, magnificent Casa Loma is a well-known Toronto’s landmark. This castle was the biggest private residence ever constructed in Canada.
Casa Loma is a Gothic Revival style castle in Toronto, its landmark and one of the most visited museums. It was originally a residence for financier Sir Henry Mill Pellatt. Casa Loma was constructed over a three-year period from 1911–1914. The architect of the mansion was E. J. Lennox, who was also responsible for the designs of several other city landmarks. Casa Loma is situated at an altitude of 140 m.
Edward James Lennox (September 12, 1854 – April 15, 1933) was a Toronto-based architect who designed several of the city’s most notable landmarks in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries including Old City Hall and Casa Loma. He designed over 70 buildings in the city of Toronto.
Gothic Revival Style
Classical Gothic buildings of the 12th to 16th Centuries were a source of inspiration to 19th-century designers in numerous fields of work. Architectural elements such as pointed arches, steep-sloping roofs, lancet windows, spires with crockets, rubble-course stonework, decorative patterns, finials, scalloping, hood mouldings and fancy carvings were applied to a wide range of Gothic Revival objects.
Gothic Revival is an architectural style that began in the late 1740s in England. The popularity of revival of medieval Gothic architecture grew rapidly in the early 19th century, in contrast to the neoclassical styles prevalent at the time. The Gothic Revival was imported to Canada from Britain and became the most historically influential style.
The Gothic Revival period lasted longer and was more thoroughly embraced in Canada than in either Britain or the United States. The desire for a unique Canadian style led Canadian architects returned to the Middle Ages Gothic for inspiration. Gothic architecture had become closely associated with Canada and turned to the most Victorian of all styles. Many Canadian prominent religious, civic, and scholastic institutions are housed in Gothic Revival style buildings.
The revived Gothic style was not limited to architecture. Gothic Revivals influence can be found in heraldic motifs in coats of arms, painted furniture with elaborate painted scenes, fretwork in chair-backs and glazing patterns of bookcases.
Sir Henry Pellatt and His Castle
Sir Henry Mill Pellatt (January 6, 1859 – March 8, 1939) was a prominent Canadian financier, industrialist and military officer of the early twentieth century. He was born to British parents in Kingston, Ontario. By the age of 23, he became a full partner in his father’s stock brokerage firm. That year also marked his marriage to Mary Dodgeson. His involvement with the military, specifically the Queen’s Own Rifles, was his lifelong passion. He founded the Toronto Electric Light Company in 1883. By the time he was 30, the Toronto Electric Light Company enjoyed a monopoly on the supply of street lighting to the city of Toronto.
By 1901, Sir Henry Pellatt was chairman of 21 companies with interests in mining, insurance, land and electricity. In 1902, he and his partners won the rights to build the first Canadian hydro-generating plant at Niagara Falls. He was knighted in 1905 for his military service with the Queen’s Own Rifles.
Travels in Europe gave him the love for fine art and architecture. In 1911, armed with a fortune of $17 million, Sir Pellatt drew up plans with Canadian architect E.J. Lennox. Fascinated with European castles, Sir Henry borrowed the most pleasing elements of Norman, Gothic and Romanesque styles to create Casa Loma. The name Casa Loma (Spanish for Hill House) to the land on which he planned to build his dream castle had been given by its previous owner.
Construction started with the massive stables, potting shed and Hunting Lodge a few hundred feet north of the main building. The Hunting Lodge is a two storey 4,380-square-foot (407m2) house with servant’s quarters. As soon as the stable complex was completed, Sir Henry sold his summer house in Scarborough to his son and moved to the Hunting Lodge. The stables were used as a construction site for the castle (and also served as the quarters for the male servants), with some of the machinery still remaining in the rooms under the stables.
The house cost approximately $3.5 million and took a team of 300 workers three years to build from start to finish. Due to the start of World War I, construction on the house was halted. At 98 rooms covering 64,700 square feet (6,011 m2), it was the largest private residence in Canada. Notable amenities included an elevator, an oven large enough to cook an ox, two vertical passages for pipe organs, a central vacuum, two secret passages in Sir Henry’s ground-floor office, along with a pool and three bowling alleys in the basement (the last two were never completed). Casa Loma 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.)
Unfortunately, Sir Henry Pellatt’s fortunes could not sustain the magic that was Casa Loma. During the depression that followed World War I, the City of Toronto increased Casa Loma’s annual property taxes from $600 per year to $1,000 a month.
Already experiencing financial difficulties and faced with an extraordinary tax bill, Sir Henry Pellatt had no choice but to auction off $1.5million in art and $250,000 in furnishings. This heartbreaking decision – a decision which he would always claim was made for him by the City’s immovable tax assessors. Sir Henry was able to enjoy life in the castle for less than ten years, leaving in 1923.
The Pellatts moved to their farm in King township in 1924. Lady Pellatt passed away later that year at the age of sixty-seven.
Though he lost a great fortune, Sir Henry Pellatt never lost his spirit of philanthropy, a character trait for which he was honoured late in life. His service of fifty years with the Queen’s Own Rifles was celebrated on June 27, 1926 with a march past 500 men complete with the circling overhead of three military planes. When Sir Henry Pellatt died on March 8, 1939, thousands lined Toronto streets to witness his funeral procession. He was buried with full military honours befitting a soldier who had given so much to his country.
What happened after?
- In the late 1920s, investors operated Casa Loma for a short time as a luxury hotel.
- The city seized Casa Loma in 1933 for $27,303 in back taxes.
- For years the stately house sat unoccupied while the city tried to decide whether to tear it down, or turn it into a museum, high school, art gallery or veteran’s home.
- In 1937 Casa Loma was leased by the Kiwanis Club of West Toronto, which began operating the castle under a sole-source contract as a tourist destination. The Club ultimately managed Casa Loma for 74 years, until 2011.
- During World War II, Casa Loma was used to conceal research on sonar, and for construction of sonar devices for U-boat detection.
- In January 2014 the city entered a new long-term lease and operating agreement with Liberty Entertainment Group.
Through all those years Casa Loma hasn’t lost its majestic charm. Its secret passageways, breathtaking towers, sweeping staircase, 800-foot tunnel, stables and five-acre gardens continue to excite thousands of visitors. You can’t miss Casa Loma, even if you try.