House on the Hill: Edwardian Glamour at Casa Loma, Toronto

Want one of the most stunning views of the Toronto skyline? You’ll find it at Casa Loma, which literally means “house on the hill”. This stunning castle was built at the turn of the twentieth century and was so opulent it bankrupted its owner, Sir Henry Pellatt. It is full of beautiful objects and gorgeous spaces, and the perfect place to take photos of the city skyline… particularly when you can climb the towers to see fake medieval battlements!

Casa Loma was begun in 1911 – and actually, the name wasn’t given by Pellatt, but was what the land the castle was built on was already called by a previous owner. Pellatt worked with the architect E. J. Lennox, clearly following designs from castles of medieval Europe. The battlements bear testimony to this, but so do the secret passageways – I loved that visitors could use these, in particular going from the study upstairs or down. Casa Loma is very much a dream castle, and you can see the influence of Pellatt’s early travels around Europe. It took three years and the grand total of $3.5 million to construct Casa Loma.

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Pellatt’s money came from stocks: by the time he was twenty-three, he was a partner in his father’s stock brokerage firm, Pellatt and Pellatt, and obviously had a good eye for business. By 1892, his father retired, which meant Pellatt began undertaking more risky investments: many people advised him against investing in the Canadian Pacific Railroad, but he made a great return on this. His fortune by the time he began work on Casa Loma totalled $17 million. Not only this, but he was also passionate about military service, for which he was knighted in 1905. This specifically meant the Queen’s Own Rifles, in which he achieved the rank of Major General. His dedication to the regiment can be seen in the Museum of the Queen’s Own Rifles, on the top floor of Casa Loma.

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However, the money soon began to run out. One of Pellatt’s company’s guaranteed incomes was from electricity, which fell through. Instead, Pellatt turned to land speculation, hoping that people would purchase it and build their own properties. Unfortunately, the First World War broke out, meaning there was a lack of property investment and after the war ended, Pellatt and Pellatt went bankrupt. This meant Pellatt had to auction of his prized possessions – some of which have found their way back to Casa Loma, including a gorgeous dragon lamp inside Pellatt’s bedroom. (You can just about see it on the left side of his bed!)

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Throughout the twentieth century Casa Loma became empty at various points, though it became THE place to spend a night out during the late 1920s. This is quite lovely, as it had always been the location of a busy social scene under the ownership of the Pellatts, specifically due to Lady Mary Pellatt. Lady Pellatt also played a really important role in getting the Girl Guides of Canada going – you can view Guide uniforms and memorabilia in her suite of rooms at Casa Loma! As a Guide leader in the UK, I loved this so much! Lady Pellatt was the first Commissioner of the Girl Guides of Canada, and in 1919, she was given the highest award in Guiding (to this day!): the Silver Fish Award.

There are too many beautiful spaces to describe in Casa Loma, but my favourites were the gorgeous outdoor terrace, the Conservatory and Lady Pellatt’s suite of rooms. Here is the beautiful ceiling in the conservatory, which is actually back-lit with electric lighting:

Also, you might recognise some of the spaces at Casa Loma from the big screen. It’s a really popular filming location, and has been used in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010), X-Men (2000), Crimson Peak (2015), Chicago (2002), The Love Guru (2008) and the 2016 TV movie The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again, to name but a few. Also, recognise the garden and terrace? It was used in The Vow (2012), with Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum (this was the film I recognised it from, I’m a big romantic comedy/drama fan!). Have your own movie-style moment and make sure to visit if you’re in Toronto – it is included on the Toronto Pass as well. It’s a place not to be missed!

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