Sunday 22 January 2012

Casa Loma

It cost $3.5 million to finance and took 3 years and 300 workers to build.  Financier Sir Henry Pellatt's house, at 98 rooms, was not only Toronto's, but also Canada's largest personal residence.  Built from 1911 to 1914, it boasted an elevator, an oven big enough to cook an ox, a central vacuum system, a wine cellar, two secret passageways, a hunting club and five acres of gardens.  The original plans called for three bowling alleys, a swimming pool and a gymnasium as well, but World War I interrupted the construction of the castle and they were never completed.  Sir Henry Pellatt only lived in the residence until 1923.

In the late 1920's, the castle served as a nightspot as two bands played there, the Orange Blossoms and the Casa Loma Orchestra.  By the time of the Great Depression, the city of Toronto raised Casa Loma's taxes from $600 per year to $1000 per month and Sir Henry Pellatt was forced to auction off $1.5 million worth of artwork and furniture.  By 1933, after the city seized the castle for back taxes owing, there was talk that they might demolish the landmark.  However, the Kiwanis Club intervened and leased the building in 1937, the same year that it became a tourist attraction.  During World War II, the castle was the site of sonar research and sonar equipment construction.  For decades now, Casa Loma has served as a museum, taken over by the city from the Kiwanis Club. 

In 1995, children's author Sheldon Oberman wrote a fascinating tale about the castle called The White Stone in the Castle Wall.  It is about a young boy from Cabbagetown who lugged a huge white stone up the hill to Casa Loma to be used in the construction of a wall to surround the castle.  However, once he reached there, he was turned away by the foreman saying that they were looking for dark stones, not white ones.  Discouraged, the boy was about to return to Cabbagetown with empty pockets when he saw a man in the garden who asked him what was wrong.  The boy explained his problem and the man said that, yes, he would take the stone afterall.  That man was Sir Henry Pellatt and he paid the boy handsomely for the stone.  Legend has it that if you look closely, you can see the white stone in the castle wall.

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