Casa Loma in Toronto has all the elements which can enchant a tourist- beauty, history, mystery and charm. Poonam Gupta takes you to a majestic trip of the splendid castle
Relatives and friends visiting from India spoke of Mukesh Ambaniâ€™s 27 storey skyscraper with 400,000 square foot of living space, called Antilla, in the middle of prime Mumbai real estate. â€œOnly five to six family members live in it which houses 600 staff members. It has numerous elevators, floors with sauna, theatre, parking spaces for 168 cars, a helipad for private plane to land etc,â€ said a friend of mine from India.
â€œIn Toronto you do not have any such homes, fit for a king, built by ambitious business people wishing to flaunt their wealthâ€ exclaimed my friendâ€™s daughter.
â€œOh donâ€™t we?â€ said I. â€œYou ainâ€™t seen anything yet! We have our own castle and it sits on top of a hill with a spectacular view of Toronto with turrets, secret passages and a garden to die for! It was built a century ago by a military man and a rich financier named Sir Henry Pellatt. Through wise investments in electrical development, real estate and the Canadian Pacific railroad, Pellatt was said to have had the honour of being called the â€˜ownerâ€™ of Canada at the dawn of the 20th century. Just like Ambani is considered in India today.â€
â€œIn 1905 he was knighted for his involvement in bringing electricity to the city of Toronto from Niagara Falls. The architect for this castle was E J Lennox who designed the old Toronto city hall, Queenâ€™s park and the Toronto power generating station in Niagara falls, to name a few,â€ I continued showing off.
A desire to check out the facts in person set the mood for our visit to this Toronto beauty. We rode the subway to feast our eyes on this popular tourist spot. The elegance and splendour of the years gone by displayed as though it were just yesterday!Â Casa Loma, located at 1 Austin Terrace, Toronto, Ontario, means the home on a hill in Spanish. The construction of this splendid structure finished in 1914. It took three years, 300 men and 3.5 million dollars to build. The finest of fabrics and furnishings were bought from around the world to decorate this home. The wealthy in North America built ostentatious homes in the 19th century to show off their wealth and names like Vanderbilts and Hearsts comes to mind. Yet Casa Loma was different since it was the largest house of its time with 180,000 square foot of space. It had lighting, electrical heating and cooling systems, central vacuum system and telephones too (considered very modern for that age).
The Gothic and Romanesque revival style of home, modeled after the castles in Europe, is reflective of the personality of Mr. and Mrs. Pellatt. They were world travelers and the collection of paintings displayed in this home were from famous Canadian, European and global artists. The elite socialites were entertained here. It is the largest private residence in Canada. It has 98 rooms, over 24 fireplaces, three bowling alleys, a huge wine cellar, an indoor swimming pool (never completed due to lack of funds), a humongous kitchen and an 800 foot tunnel. Mr. Pellatt loved horses and his favourite one named Prince, even had his own dentures since he lost his teeth due to old age. Sir Henry Pellatt owned the very first electric car. His personal suite with attached ensuite is impressive with rich marble, porcelain and a shower that is way ahead of its time. There are numerous suites for guests and family and also a military style museum.
Visitors who love military and historical memorabilia can gain a sense of the grandeur of the Queenâ€™s Own Rifles by visiting the Regimental Museum on the third floor. The museum comprises of five rooms reflecting the different periods of history like the 1st World War, 2nd World War and the artifacts and the items displayed in each room reflect the period of the time.
â€œEnjoy the spectacular gardens while you are here,â€ said one of the staff members. We certainly did. The variety of annuals and perennials, separated by the floral borders, is a mosaic of intertwined vibrant colours. The lush carpet of green grass acts as backdrop to the clouds that float in between the tall swaying maples and oaks as one rests on the turf. A breather is necessary to take in all that a century of majestic architecture has to offer. Couple that with a flashback of how the rich and famous would have graced this landmark of Toronto.
The gardens feature eight speciality areas and are open from May through October. Â There are 70 varieties of roses and 200 varieties of perennials from Achillea to Zebra grass. There are rare Japanese peonies too. There are still spectacular specimens planted by the gardener in 1915. It is run by the Kiwanis group and owned by the city of Toronto and is open to the public in the form of a museum. It is also a very popular spot for weddings. It is not uncommon to find a newlywed couple posing for pictures here.
This majestic castle has beauty, history, mystery and charm to make it a dream come true for movie directors. Many commercials and movies have been shot here. Kung Fu, X- Men, Chicago, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Extreme Measures and Risk to name a few were filmed here.
â€œSplendid!â€ exclaimed my friend and her curious daughter.â€ What happened to Mr. and Mrs. Pellatt and their family?â€
â€œWell they fell on bad times due to recession during the 1st World War. In 1924, Mrs. Pellatt died and in 1939 her husband. They had long left their castle which is now owned by the city of Toronto.â€
We loved the romantic feel of this castle that brought every fairytale and Barbara Cartland style of romance to life. Even after visiting it several times, there is an element of mystery to it. Indeed our tour was wonderful, just like my friendâ€™s trip to Toronto.
Poonam Gupta is a Toronto-based writer
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