A visit to majestic Casa Loma – a castle in Toronto

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Exterior shot of Casa Loma, Toronto, as seen on the Family Travel Times blogI have always loved castles and history, but I was not expecting to see a castle in the middle of Toronto! However, Casa Loma (the “house on the hill”) was a joy to visit, an amazing place which had so much to see, we couldn’t even fit all of it in one day. I would highly recommend it to anyone, as it is beautiful, and it has a remarkable story behind it.

The castle – North America’s only “full sized castle” as it describes itself – is, as it name suggests,  situated on top of a hill with five acres of land around it. It is one of Toronto’s top tourist attractions, but that shouldn’t put you off. There’s a reason why it’s so popular.

Casa Loma was built in 1911 by Sir Henry Pellatt (who was of Scottish ancestry) and became the largest private residence in all of Canada. It took 300 men nearly two three years to complete (at a cost of an incredible $3.5m – back then!) We would highly recommend starting your visit by going downstairs and watching the documentary about the life of Sir Henry as it puts everything in context and is really interesting.

Gorgeous view from Casa Loma
The views were gorgeous

Sir Henry was truly a remarkable, talented man. He became a successful stockbroker, as well as a successful middle distance runner, and proud military man, and travelled widely. He was also extremely modern and, having realised that supplying electricity could be extremely profitable, he founded the Toronto Electric Light Company in 1883. His company had a monopoly on the city’s street lights by the time Sir Henry was 30.

He also invested in the Canadian Pacific Railroad and made a fortune, and in 1902, he and his partners were awarded the rights to build the first Canadian hydro-generating plant at Niagara Falls. We saw this when we went to Niagara Falls, and it is quite a building! Sir Henry was knighted in 1905 for his military service (there is a Queen’s Own Rifles museum at Casa Loma) and started his plans for Casa Loma after that. He had, at that time, a fortune of $17m (over $400m in today’s money). But the magic did not continue.

Henry Pellatt's bedroom at Casa Loma
Henry Pellatt’s bedroom at Casa Loma

The house went over budget and the Pellatts went into debt. This was not helped at all by the Toronto government who decided that private companies should not be able to own electricity. They took over the company – astonishingly, with no compensation offered. The same thing happened with the Niagara power generator, while the First World War made everything worse. Sir Henry’s business decisions no longer seemed lucky. The company went into bankruptcy and he had to sell off his possessions – for a small percentage of its cost (there’s a newspaper report of this in one of the rooms).

Casa Loma is now owned by the city and it’s stunning. The film is eye-opening, and after you’ve watched it, you have a number of options. You can explore downstairs, or outside (definitely go out at some point, as the views of Toronto are wonderful). Before or after the film, make sure you do take a look at the video (on loop) which shows the huge number of films which have featured Casa Loma, from X Men to Chicago. But don’t restrict your visit to the basement area! There are also so many rooms inside, with wonderful furnishings.

Modern shower seen at Casa Loma, Toronto
The shower was pretty modern for the early 20th century!

We spent a number of hours here, following the self-guided audio tour and so going up secret staircases and seeing servants quarters and family quarters. We admired at the modernity of Pellat’s bathroom (a shower with six taps coming out was a marvel back then) and the decor. The old telephones were fun, while the conservatory was utterly beautiful. Imagine entertaining there!

The beautiful roof of the conservatory at Casa Loma
The beautiful roof of the conservatory at Casa Loma

We also queued up to go to the top of the tower, and although this took 20 minutes or so, I’d recommend it (though perhaps not if you have small children or walking issues as you go up a cramped staircase). The views from the battlements were great here too.

From the battlements at Casa LomaWe didn’t make it to the tunnel, which connects Casa Loma to the stables and carriage house. It shows an exhibit of Toronto’s “Dark Side”, from Prohibition to The Great Toronto Fire. I wish we were nearer to go back and see it, but it’s rather far from London…

Overall, I loved the house and came away having thoroughly enjoyed myself, learnt a lot and felt sorry for Sir Henry Pellatt, and particularly how his fortune – and dreams – ended. We all had a great time and I would thoroughly recommend a visit.

Casa Loma is open from 9.30 to 5.30pm every day. It costs 24 CAD per adult, 20 CAD for 14-17 year olds and 15 CAD for ages 4-13. However, we went there via our CityPASS which enabled us to jump the queue entirely!

Disclosure: We were fortunate enough to be given a CityPASS to try out when we were in Toronto. This meant we got free entry into a number of attractions and, as importantly, that we skipped the queue! We genuinely thought the CityPASS was fantastic as it gave you freedom to do what you wanted, when you wanted – but the company had no input into our decisions of what to do, or what we wrote in this post. If you book your CityPASS online, it’s cheaper – 55 dollars per adult and 37 per child.

Read about our trip to Toronto in full, and all the other great things we did there.

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11 Responses

  1. Casa Loma is one of my favourite places in Toronto – especially at Christmas time!!

  2. I’m not surprised the Pellatts got into financial difficulty, with a bill that high! I love the horned gargoyle on the turret. What a quirky, interesting place.

  3. We haven’t been to Toronto at all, but when we get up there, we’ll be sure to visit this interesting place. Thanks for posting.

  4. Love Casa Loma. I have been hoping to go back soon to our kids. It is one of the most striking things about Toronto for sure. Who would have known that a castle exists so close to downtown.

  5. Toronto looks fab – I’d never really thought of going, but your post has made me add it to my list. Isn’t the CityPass great? We had one for New York, and it made life so much easier at the tourist attractions!

  6. What a fantastic place to explore, with quite a story behind it. It would add it to an itinerary of visiting the city

  7. This place looks beautiful. Thank you for showing us around.

  8. This looks such a beautiful place to explore! we love to visit a castle with so much history and the views are stunning!

  9. Those views from the castle to Toronto… just wow! I never knew this existed – but the last time I was in Toronto was as a young girl. I would love to return. I’m not surprised the Pellatts became bankrupt really, Casa Loma looks very expensive!

  10. I also visited Casa Loma when I was in Toronto, but at that time I dind’t have any kids. if we go again to Toronto now, we would visit it again 🙂

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