First-hand Explorations of the Nooks and Crannies of Casa Loma
Despite the drizzly weather, the view from the Scottish tower was phenomenal. Casa Loma sits on a hill overlooking downtown Toronto, with views as far as Hamilton and Niagara Falls on a clear day. I had to line up at the winding staircases for people to file upstairs and downstairs before it was my turn to get to the highest point of the castle.
The Queens Own Rifles Museum is part of fulfilling the legacy of Sir Henry Pellatt who always had a dream of turning the castle into a military museum. A large poster on the 3rd floor recalls the significance that Casa Loma played in world history: Casa Loma played an important role in the development of sonar technology, when the British government relocated their sonar research to Canada during WWII and chose underground spaces at Casa Loma as the location for advancing this technology. This invention played a significant role in turning the tide of the war.
The third floor also features servants’ rooms – with surprisingly generous proportions. Sir Henry Pellatt employed about 40 servants, the majority of whom lived on premises. The Round Room, although appearing to have an elliptical shape, is completely round including windows and doors as it is housed in the Norman Tower. The Austin Room and the Pellatt Board Room are actually available for rent for private and corporate functions.
Sir Henry’s bedroom
The second floor of Casa Loma houses Sir Henry and Lady Mary Pellatt’s private living quarters. Sir Henry’s Suite is the smaller of the two, and none of the furniture is original. In keeping with mysterious medieval traditions, he had a secret storage area to the left of the fireplace to store confidential documents. His bathroom is most impressive, clad all around in Pavenzo marble. Spray nozzles controlled by six porcelain taps completely surround the shower for a full-body shower experience, way ahead of its time. Sir Henry’s love of modern conveniences also becomes evident in the more than 50 telephones that were installed all throughout the castle. The alcove in his bedroom actually held his electrical control centre from where he was able to control the entire building. Considering that Casa Loma was built almost 100 years ago, it is astounding to see all these leading-edge installations that would not be out of place in a high-end home in the 21st century.
Sitting area in Lady Mary’s suite
Lady Pellatt’s Suite is decorated in soft pink colours and has an entranceway to a large stone balcony and a beautiful sitting area. In her later years Lady Pellatt was confined to a wheelchair and spent most of her time in her spacious 3000 square foot suite. The Girl Guides Exhibit pays tribute to her important role in this organization which at the time was still in its infancy. Just across the hallway is a Guest Suite which is decorated in a Chinoisery style which complimented Sir Henry’s collection of lacquered Oriental furnishings. On the way down to the first floor Lou pointed out the castle’s original elevator to me: it is named “Otis 1” and was Toronto’s first elevator in a private home. It is still functional today.
Landing on the front staircase
We took the grand wooden staircase down to the main floor where Lou pointed out to me that the original staircase, complete with imported marble from Italy, is actually located somewhere at the bottom of the Atlantic as the transport vessel sank during the ocean voyage. To the left of the Great Hall is the Library which holds 10,000 books. Lou pointed out that the hardwood floor is the source of an optical illusion: when you look straight down, all the floor boards appear to be the same colour. But when you look away in the distance in one direction, one floor stripe appears light, the other one beside it dark. Then, when you face the other way, the same stripe now appears dark, while the one beside it appears light. The colours of the wooden planks just seem to magically switch.
The family logo “Devant Si Je Puisse” is featured in an elaborate coat of arms on the ceiling of the Library. The Dining Room right next to the Library is lined with walnut – no expense was spared for this castle. A few steps to the left is the Conservatory, for me the most visually stunning space in the entire castle and also Sir Henry and Lady Mary’s favourite place in the entire building. The magnificent bronze and glass doors leading into the Conservatory were modeled after a set made in New York for an Italian villa and at the time cost $10,000 to make.
Beautiful bronze and glass doors provide a glance into the Conservatory
During our visit, the Conservatory was used as a backdrop for wedding photography, and indeed Casa Loma is one of the favourite places in Toronto for people to get married. Lou mentioned that it takes about two years to be able to book a date for a wedding, and a few years ago one lady booked her wedding date even though she did not even have a groom yet. But in the two years before her wedding at Casa Loma she managed to find her future husband. In the end her dream of a fairy-tale wedding in this stunning castle came true. The black and pink marble floor was imported from Italy while the marble facings on the flower beds are from a quarry in Bancroft, Ontario. The flower beds were heated with steam pipes to ensure the perfect soil temperature for exotic plants.
Casa Loma – a popular place for weddings
Our tour was slowly coming to an end: we saw a Serving Room that featured original furniture from Casa Loma. The stove in the nearby kitchen was big enough to cook an entire ox. The long hallway, named Peacock Alley, was designed to hold Sir Henry Pellatt’s substantial art collection. Halfway down the hall is Sir Henry’s study, which features two secret passageways: a secret staircase leads upstairs to the second floor and another hidden staircase takes you downstairs to the wine cellar whose ammonia and brine-filled pipes were designed to chill the 1800 bottle wine and champagne collection of Sir Henry.
To complete my tour I watched the “Pellatt Newsreel” in the Billiard Room which recounts Sir Henry Pellatt’s life story in a 22 minute docudrama narrated by famous Torontonian Colin Mochrie (of “This Hour Has 22 Minutes” and “Whose Line Is It Anyway”). The moving and still images together with the narration provided an excellent summary of the ups and downs of Sir Henry Pellatt’s life, who was truly one of the most notable personalities in the history of Toronto.
Terrace on the south side of the castle
The Gardens of Casa Loma are astoundingly beautiful and were renovated by the Garden Club of Toronto in 1989. Rare annuals and perennial plants, sculptures and a fountain adorn five and a half acres of well-kept grounds which offer some of the best vantage points to take in the magnificence of this structure. A beautiful terrace on the south side of the castle invites visitors to take a well-deserved rest after an indepth exploration of this heritage building.
Casa Loma is not only the second most important tourist attraction in Toronto, it also offers plenty of special and seasonal events for locals and travelers alike: summer events include Afternoon Tea events which include interesting lectures and a delightful afternoon tea buffet menu. Several Sunday Royal Brunches are offered which include a wide range of gourmet hot and cold foods as well as a sweet table and a free self-guided tour of the castle. The Casa Loma Kid’s Club hosts such events as a Dragon Making Workshop as well as a Become a Knight event. At the end of October Casa Loma becomes a Haunted Mansion for Halloween; and the Middle Ages Come to Life Sundays provide reenactments of the medieval period. There is always something special going on at Casa Loma.