House on the hill: Casa Loma, Toronto

Casa Loma (Spanish translating to ‘Hill House’) is a prominent mansion and garden located in midtown Toronto, situated at an elevation of 140 metres above sea level. It was constructed between 1911 and 1914 as a residence for financier and founder of the Toronto Electric Light Company, Sir Henry Pellatt. Designed by architect E.J. Lennox, its unique character has made it a historic landmark representative of Gothic Revival style.

The house cost approximately $3.5 million and 299 workers to build, until construction was halted by the start of World War I. Encompassing 98 rooms covering nearly 65,000 square feet, it became the largest private residence in Canada.

Notable amenities included an elevator, an oven large enough to cook an ox, two vertical passages for pipe organs, a pool, three bowling alleys, and two secret passages in the ground floor office. Spanning three stories, the third floor was left largely unfinished, and today serves as the Regimental Museum for The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada.

Due to financial difficulties suffered during the post-war depression, Pellatt resided in Casa Loma for less than a decade, until 1923. In the 1920s, it operated briefly as a luxury hotel, becoming a popular evening hot spot for wealthy Americans during Prohibition. It was eventually seized by the city for unpaid taxes, and nowadays has become a museum and tourist attraction that hosts a number of seasonal events, such as the Legends of Horror haunted house at Halloween, and the summertime Symphony in the Gardens concert series.

We spent a couple hours during a gloomy weekend afternoon exploring Casa Loma. Admission was $30 per person, granting access through the estate, including the Secret Garden; the underground tunnels; and the towers, where we could admire sweeping views overlooking the city.