Who says you have to go to Europe to see castles?
One of my favorite activities in Toronto was visiting Casa Loma, former estate of financier Sir Henry Mill Pellatt (1859-1939), the man who brought electricity to Toronto. Sir Henry’s story is that of the tragic rise and fall of an amibitious businessman. Sir Henry owned interests in railroads, mining, insurance and real estate. He also had the contract to build the first hydro-electric generating station at Niagara Falls and founded the Toronto Electric Light Company in 1883. The latter company pretty much controlled the electricity for all of Toronto—which made Sir Henry a very wealthy man.
Since he was also a Knight, I guess it should be no surprise that he built himself a castle, “Casa Loma” (he apparently took the saying “A man’s home is his castle” literally). When Sir Henry lost his fortune, he also lost his castle-home, and today, it’s a tourist attraction.
As interesting as that history is, my primary reason for visiting had nothing to do with Sir Henry. I wanted to see the property because it’s been used as a filming site for a number of movies. The most important of these (to me) being the X-Men movies. Its alter ego as Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters (aka the “X Mansion”) was an important stop on my self-guided “sci-fi tour of Toronto”. But once there, I fell in love with the property for its gorgeous architecture and lush gardens spread over five acres.
Casa Loma seems to have all the requisite rooms for a live version game of Clue: a Conservatory, a Billiard room, a Library, a Study, a Dining room—you get the picture. The décor is what you would expect of an estate like this—room after room of it. It’s not exactly Versailles, but it’s no shack, either.
The public rooms are on the first floor, with suites and bedrooms on the second, and servants’ quarters on the third, along with the stairs to the two towers. I loved the view down the hallway on the second floor, as it reminded me of the scene in the second X-Men movie, where the military invades the X Mansion to try to capture all the mutant kids, and the mutants have to escape through secret passageways.
On the lower level (what I so crassly call “the basement”) is a cafe and gift shop, but also the wine cellar, swimming pool and an 800-foot tunnel to the stables. I wasn’t too interested in this level, but I was very interested in climbing one of the towers from the third floor. Only one of them was open during my visit. It’s a bit of a lonely climb to the top through a creepy attic area, but the view was so worth it.
After I toured the house, I went outside to explore the grounds. The only negative I noticed was that one corner of the hedge around the fountain was brown and dying (in late May), which was really noticeable. Otherwise, the grounds are lovely, with colorful blooms, cute stone walking paths, plenty of shade on a warm day, and water features.
In short, it’s an amazing estate and well worth a visit during your trip to Toronto. It was certainly one of the highlights for me. In fact, I enjoyed my time here far more than going up in the CN Tower. (For one thing, it was far less crowded.) But hey, different strokes for different folks. If castles and architecture and historic estates are up your alley, Casa Loma should be on your list for touring Toronto.
What You Need to Know
Location: One Austen Terrace, Toronto, ON (corner of Davenport Rd. and Spadina Ave.)
Getting there: It’s a stop on the hop-on, hop-off tourist bus, and there are several ways to get there via public transportation and driving. Go to their website and scroll down the page for directions.
Admission: approx. $20 (less for seniors); includes audio guide
Hours: Daily 9:30am – 5pm. Closed some holidays; be sure to check website.
Gardens are open seasonally.
Note: Certain rooms may be off-limits if there is a private function going on (as there was when I was there).
There is a cafe and gift shop in the basement and another restaurant out on the back terrace.
Photography is allowed.