George Burden and Amanda Sutherland visit the 3.5 million dollar home of prominent Canadian financier, industrialist and military commander, Sir Henry Mill Pellat. Construction began in 1911 and was completed in 1914, it’s luxury, antiquities and modern amenities may appear ostentatious but in actuality it just feels like a family home.
Perched on the side of a hill in the southern Forest Hill area of Toronto is Casa Loma, perhaps the most ambitious personal residence ever constructed by a Canadian. A monument to the romantic nature of prominent Toronto financier, industrialist and military commander Sir Henry Mill Pellatt, this medieval-inspired castle was designed by noted architect E.J. Lennox and incorporating an eclectic array of different styles, antiquities and modern amenities.
Begun in 1911, the initial structure was expected to cost about $250,000, a then princely sum for a personal residence. By the time of its completion, this cost was to multiply 15-fold — the finished cost was about 3.5 million dollars.
Sir Henry had made a considerable fortune through a variety of enterprises, including stock brokerage, insurance, mining and other ventures but he was to live in his fabulous home for only ten years before being forced to leave his residence for financial reasons.
While the cost of the estate had outstripped Sir Henry’s resources, he was not entirely to blame for this. A man of great ingenuity and foresight he had anticipated the potential for Niagara Falls to generate huge amounts of electricity for Canadians. After spending a fortune overcoming the challenges of creating this facility, his project was expropriated without compensation by the government of Ontario.
Modern day visitors to Casa Loma should be sure to take in the 22 minute docu-drama recounting Sir Henry’s life, which is shown in the opulent billiard/smoking Rooms (no smoking allowed!).
Afterward, a cell phone-like auto-guide which will give you a rundown on each section of the estate. Casa Loma’s great hall resembles its medieval namesake, except perhaps for the elaborate pipe organ installed in front of a floor-to-ceiling window. Banners hang from the ceiling and you can get an even better overview of the room by ascending a grand staircase and enjoying the view from the second floor.
Before going upstairs, check out one of Sir Henry’s favorite rooms: the conservatory at the opposite end of the first floor from the great hall. This light, airy room incorporates many plants, a breathtaking stained glass dome and polished marble floor. A fountain tinkles at the far end of the room giving an outdoor, garden ambiance to the chamber. Also be sure to check out the huge library, the Oak Room and Sir Henry’s study on this level.
Upstairs, we venture into the more intimate rooms of the estate, getting a chance to see Sir Henry’s very masculine boudoir with its own cannon at the base of his canopied bed. Lady Pellatt’s corner suite is larger and significantly more opulent than her husband’s as perhaps would suit the gallantry of a true Victorian gentleman. The second floor also incorporates numerous guest bedrooms including the Windsor Room, which Sir Henry hoped would at some point be occupied by British Royalty. Alas, this was never to be.
A climb to the top of the castle’s tower proved to be a minor adventure amply rewarded by incredible views of the Toronto skyline, views that would probably have astounded Sir Henry.
Casa Loma is a favorite spot for moviemakers. Hollywood flicks such as Cocktail, Chicago and The Tuxedo have used its opulent ambiance as background.
Venturing outside, the gardens of Casa Loma range from formal and reminiscent of a slice of Versailles, with dancing fountains and manicured shrubs to more naturalistic with tree-lined paths and herbaceous undergrowth.
I’ve been through the homes of many ‘great men’ in various parts of the world, some a couple of thousand years old! While Sir Henry’s estate is as opulent as many of them, I don’t get the feeling that his primary goal was to impress others, which is not the case with many of these other showpieces.
In fact if I could pose this question to Sir Henry Pellatt today, I suspect his answer would be something like this: “Casa Loma is a great place for my family to enjoy themselves and to entertain our friends. And by golly, if you think it’s a pretty nice place we’re glad you visited us. We like it too.”
If You Go…
1 Austin Terrace
Toronto, Ontario M5R 1X8
Photo © Amanda Sutherland. All rights Reserved.