Last week I collected my first visitor from Australia – my Mum! She flew to Toronto via Vancouver (from Brisbane) and looked just like I remembered her from 7 months ago… she must travel better than I do to look a million dollars after that journey!
I was very excited leading up to her visit and was thrilled to be able to show someone my new home. Mum and I enjoyed our first meal together at Pie Bar on the Harbourfront. The next days were all systems go! We ate at some other lovely restaurants including
– To-Ne on Queen Street West;
– Taverna Mercatto on Bremner Blvd;
– Amsterdam Brewhouse, Queens Quay West.
Toronto is a very walkable city, so we mostly travelled by foot, checking out areas such as Queen Street West, Harbourfront and St Lawrence Market.
On Thursday night we went to the Rogers Centre to see Luke Bryan’s “That’s What Makes You Country” tour. I was looking forward to seeing both the concert and the stadium – I hadn’t been before! The tickets we had bought were very high up and after climbing the ramp for what seemed like half an hour, we were told we had been upgraded to seats in the “200” section, which provided a spectacular view!
We visited Casa Loma, which I had wanted to do for quite sometime. It was a very hot day when we visited – a bit of a shock to my system after seven months of cold!
The castle was spectacular and came with a very interesting history. We enjoyed our day there and had a nice lunch overlooking the gardens in the castle.
Sir Henry Pellatt and Lady Mary Pellatt
Sir Henry Pellatt, the dreamer behind Toronto’s famous landmark Casa Loma, was born to British parents in Kingston, Ontario on January 6, 1859. Ambitious from his youth, Sir Henry Pellatt left his studies at Upper Canada College when he was seventeen to pursue a career in commerce in the family business. By the age of 23, he became a full partner in his father’s stock brokerage firm Pellatt and Pellatt. That year also marked his marriage to Mary Dodgeson whom he met when he was twenty.
Even as a young man, Henry Pellatt embraced the spirit of the family motto “Devant Si Je Puis” or “Foremost If I Can”. When he met his bride-to-be, Sir Pellatt had already achieved local reknown in 1879 for beating the U. S. amateur champion in the running of the mile. Travels in Europe gave him the love for fine art and architecture which would spur his vision of Casa Loma-“House on the Hill.” This romantic side was mirrored by his other lifelong passion-his involvement with the military, specifically the Queen’s Own Rifles.
Businessman Ahead of His Time
As a partner in Pellatt and Pellatt, Sir Henry Pellatt was a business visionary. In the same year that Thomas Edison developed steam-generated electricity, Sir Henry Pellatt realized that supplying electricity could be extremely profitable. 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.
In 1892 his father retired, enabling Sir Henry Pellatt to invest with more risk. Despite vigorous discouragement from his friends, he purchased stock in the Canadian Pacific Railroad and in the North West Land Company. As with steam-generated electricity, his intuition was right on target. A liberal immigration policy led to opening of the Canadian West which led to healthy profits from his investments in both the Canadian Pacific Railroad and in the North West Land Company.
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.
Sir Henry Pellatt’s Midas touch continued through most of his business life. In 1911, armed with a fortune of $17 million, Sir Pellatt drew up planswith Canadian architect E.J. Lennox to build his dream castle. The land on which he planned to build had been given the name Casa Loma by its previous owner.
Toronto’s Own Camelot
Casa Loma took three years and $3.5 million to build. Sir Henry Pellatt filled Casa Loma with artwork from Canada and around the world. Casa Loma stood as a monument to its creator – it surpassed any private home in North America. With soaring battlements and secret passageways, it paid homage to the castles and knights of days gone by.
Sir Henry Pellatt’s numerous business and military connections demanded entertaining on a large scale. Casa Loma’s romantic borrowing from the past, tempered by necessary modern day conveniences, provided the perfect setting. In the height of their years at Casa Loma, the planning of such a busy social calendar consumed much of Lady Pellatt’s time.
In addition to hosting grand social events, the Pellatt’s were involved in a number of philanthropic projects. Sir Henry Pellatt was a trustee and benefactor of Trinity College and a strong supporter of Grace Hospital. The organization of the St. John’s Ambulance Brigade in Canada is due largely to his efforts. Lady Pellatt, in spite of her frail health, played an active role in the promotion of Girl Guides of Canada. She was appointed the first Commissioner of the Girl Guides of Canada and in 1919 was honoured with the Girl Guides highest award, the Silver Fish.
Unfortunately, Sir Henry Pellatt’s fortunes could not sustain the magic that was Casa Loma. To finance expansion, Pellatt and Pellatt went further and further into debt. The one sure source of income from the monopoly of electrical power vanished when political decisions allowed for public ownership of electricity. In a futile attempt to restore his wealth, Sir Henry Pellatt turned to land speculation. He was convinced that well-to-do Torontonians would rush to build homes around Casa Loma.
However, in this case his entrepreneurial sense did not take into account the effects of World War I. During the war, Canadians put their money into war bonds, not homes. After the war the economy slumped, tilting Pellatt and Pellatt into bankruptcy. The company owed the Home Bank of Canada $1.7 million – or in today’s terms $20 million. With his stock worthless and his business debts out of control, Sir Henry Pellatt was faced with a heartbreaking decision – a decision which he would always claim was made for him by the City’s immovable tax assessors. Faced with an extraordinary tax bill, Sir Henry Pellatt had no choice but to auction off his prized possessions for a fraction of their worth and to abandon his dream of a noble castle.
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.
The Years In Between
After Sir Henry Pellatt left Casa Loma, it remained vacant while proposals were considered for the future use. In 1925, one year after Sir Henry Pellatt retired to his farm in King, architect William Sparling put forward a proposal to convert the house to a luxury hotel.
William Sparling was granted a long-term lease and began the process of completing the Great Hall and the Billiard Room, areas that Sir Henry Pellatt had never finished. He also had plans to add two large wings to the east and west sections of the main building that would each contain 96 full suites and 56 rooms. These wings were never built. A New York syndicate offered to purchase Casa Loma in 1928 but the deal was never completed and the hotel failed in 1929.
During the late 1920’s, Casa Loma was also a popular nightspot. The Orange Blossoms, later known as Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra, were booked to play for eight months at Casa Loma in 1927 and 1928. Shortly thereafter, they went on tour of North America with their big band sound.
With the onset of the Depression, Casa Loma once again remained vacant. In 1933, the city of Toronto took ownership of the property for $27,303.45 owed in back taxes. Suggestions for possible uses of the building included a highschool, museum, art gallery, a war veteran’s convalescence home and a permanent residence for the Dionne quintuplets. None of the projects proved feasible and the City of Toronto considered demolishing Casa Loma. The Kiwanis Club of West Toronto began operating Casa Loma as a tourist attraction in 1937. This agreement continued until 2011.
In August 2011, the new Casa Loma Corporation was formed. The City of Toronto remains the sole owner of the site.
In January 2014, the Liberty Entertainment Group led by Nick Di Donato entered into a long term Lease and Operating Agreement with the City of Toronto for Casa Loma. This includes all aspects of the operation of Casa Loma as both a special event facility as well as an attraction. The Liberty Entertainment Group plans to preserve and make improvements to the facility, enhance the special events and dining experience and integrate new technology for school and cultural programming.