Many people visit Europe and see the old castles left from the days of knighthood. Very few return home with plans to build their own castle. Toronto businessman Henry Pellatt actually built such a castle – Casa Loma. Pellatt was born in Kingston, Ontario in 1859, but the family soon moved to Toronto. His father opened Toronto’s first stock broking firm in 1866. Pellatt Sr. became part of Toronto’s financial elite.
And Henry Pellatt eventually joined his father in business. The young Pellatt was especially attracted by the military and the British armed forces. When Henry was 18, he joined the Queen’s Own Rifles, a militia unit. He was soon one of the soldiers sent to suppress a railway strike. At 21, he was made an officer, and gradually moved up through the ranks, eventually becoming brigadier general. Meanwhile, Henry was learning the stock broking business. He soon showed considerable ability at forming new companies.
Electricity was a recent invention, and Pellatt hoped to be among the foremost developers. In 1883, he founded the Toronto Electric Light Company, and later was an owner of the Toronto Electric Railway. He also made money as a land speculator in the Canadian West. Unlike many businessmen of the time, however, Pellatt believed in community service. He sponsored many charitable organizations and supported various good causes. In spite of his business dealings, Pellatt found time to tour England and Europe regularly.
He brought back ideas for a “castle on the hill.” Pellatt’s castle, however, would not be a damp, drafty castle of the Middle Ages. It would have all the latest technology. Construction of “Casa Loma” began in 1910 and was completed in 1914. Outwardly, it looked like a mediaeval castle, but inside it was comfortable and luxurious. There were 98 rooms, three bowling alleys, 30 bathrooms, 25 fireplaces and 5,000 electric lights. It had an electric elevator and an indoor swimming pool.
There was a library of 100,000 books, a temperature-controlled wine cellar, a shooting gallery, and a large art collection. Pellatt ordered only the most expensive materials and employed the best craftsmen. The cost of all this was $3.5 million, a huge sum in those days. Pellatt and his wife liked to entertain.
They often opened up Casa Loma for special events. Sometimes, he would invite all 1,000 men from the Queen’s Own Rifles over for the weekend. The Pellatts also held parties for the staff. Pellatt had hoped that Casa Loma would be the center of an extensive subdivision. He hoped that wealthy people would build grand homes nearby, and so he had bought up land near his castle. Unfortunately for Pellatt, most of the people coming to Toronto were poor immigrants who couldn’t afford large houses.
Pellatt was unable to sell his land holdings, and his income declined. In 1924, Pellatt turned Casa Loma over to the City of Toronto because he could not pay his property tax. All the contents of Casa Loma went on auction soon after. His $1.5 million collection of art and artifacts sold for only $250,000. Now Casa Loma is a leading Toronto tourist attraction. “The castle in the middle of the city” has 400,000 visitors each year. It is the closest thing in North America to a real European castle.