Saturday, February 06, 2010

Casa Loma: Toronto's grand "house on the hill"
When one thinks of castles, medieval Europe immediately comes to mind. But holidays to Canada can also include a visit to a castle.

Toronto's Casa Loma may not have the history of its European counterparts, but it's not without its own intriguing back story.

Toronto military man, business mogul and millionaire financier Sir Henry Pellatt drew up plans with architect E.J. Lennox in 1911 to create a grand "house on the hill" overlooking the growing city. It took 300 men three years and $3.5 million to build and was the most spectacular private residence in North America, complete with Italian marble floors, stained glass windows and artwork from across Canada and around the world. It took a staff of 40 people to maintain Casa Loma.

Pellatt and his wife did a lot of entertaining in the 98-room castle, but that came to an end when his large spending combined with a downturn in the finances of his businesses during World War I and he was plunged into bankruptcy and forced to sell off his assets and abandon his grand estate.

Casa Loma lay vacant until it was turned into a luxury hotel, but that failed in 1929. It was empty again until 1933 when the city took it over after back tax payments weren't met. It was eventually opened as a tourist attraction in 1937 after refurbishment by The Kiwanis Club and has remained a popular spot for city residents and visitors alike ever since. Restoration work continues today to keep Casa Loma looking like Pellatt had envisioned.

There are secret passageways and an 800-foot underground tunnel connecting the castle's elegant hunting lodge, stables (which were built in 1906 at a cost of $250,000) and its five acres of gardens that are open from May through October. Casa Loma also hosts about 200 private functions a year and has been used for numerous film, television and photography shoots.

Casa Loma is located at 1 Austin Terrace, near the intersection of Spadina Road and St. Clair Avenue. It's open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Adult admission is $18, with lower rates for seniors, youth and children.

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