Thursday, June 19, 2008

Catching up! - A Castle high on a hill

Catching up!

A Castle high on the hill; "Casa Loma"

During our recent road trip where mom and the younger children drove and drove to meet up with dad while working out of town, we decided to venture out and become tourists yet again in the metropolitan city of Toronto. We’d visited this same city last year both HERE, HERE, and even HERE, but this time we were in a different part of the city and our aim was to spend a few days taking it easy, working at the schooling while on the road, and visiting a few areas of interest.

Last year while we were at our niece’s wedding in Toronto, my sister informed us there was a real castle nearby where tourists could visit and explore it’s interior and grounds. We never got there obviously but I’ve been intrigued ever since, so while visiting the area once more, it was time to pay a visit to my trusty friend “Mapquest” on my laptop, and punch in the address for driving directions.

Monsoon like rain fell from the skies
during our search for the castle.

Rain seemed to be upon us during most of our days in the city, which of course always seems worse when one has no idea where in the world they are going, with the only exception being the piece of paper in the passenger’s lap, hoping to guide the driver to their final destination. As luck would have it, not only did we depart for the castle in pouring rain, it felt more like a monsoon and traffic rolled along at a painful crawl. Several highways and two road closure detours later, (here’s where maps are a good thing to have in our possession WITH the mapquest) we arrived at the castle with no promise in the skies for finer weather. Luckily we would be inside, hoping to remain dry.

Playing tourist is always fun. Coupons and my handy dandy AAA card work on my behalf to save us a few dollars when taking in such facilities as this particular one, and makes me feel like we’ve encountered a little smidgen of frugality towards trip expenditures.

"Casa Loma", rather a small part of it shown here

Do allow me to share with you about this castle in the city, appropriately named “Casa Loma”. We all learned so much historically, on top of what we thought would just be an in-depth exploration of a castle.

Construction began in 1911 for Sir Henry Pellatt and his family. Massive stables were first, eventually connected underground (now under a road) to the main housing. It soon became the largest residence in North America three years later, with three hundred workers laying stone after stone to create an authentic castle replicate most people could only dream of.

Sir Henry was always way ahead of his time, including amenities not yet heard of with an elevator, an oven large enough to cook a steer inside of, vertical passages for his monstrous pipe organs, a central vacuum system, three bowling alleys, an indoor pool, secret passages, and other items of interest.

One hundred rooms were noted inside the structure, plus towers, a conservatory, enchanting gardens, walkways, and the house was eventually fit for a king, though none reigned here, nor resided inside of it.

Henry was quite a guy, enjoying many circles of great prestige. Thinking ahead he bought into the idea Canada’s westward expansion was forging ahead, buying all the shares he could for CP Railway, becoming a rich man not long afterwards. With his new fortune, he began his castle building, art collecting, and other endeavors.

He became a stock broker and joined his father’s company. One year he became thoroughly intrigued by a young man at a world’s fair named Thomas Edison after hearing of his invention of electricity and is best known as the man who introduced Canada to both electricity with the installation of electric street lights, and hydro electricity after finding a way to generate power by harnessing energy from the roaring waters of Niagara Falls.

Other items of interest;

Sir Henry was a rifleman member of the “Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada”, knighted by the King of England. Before the King was engaged he visited Canada for the first time, and it was Henry who contributed financially to decorate the city for his arrival, and toured him around the city. He was a decorated soldier following in his father’s footsteps. He formed, funded and trained the new “Canadian Regiment” (still around today), representing Canada in England’s own competitions.

He was a supporter of “Boys Scouts of Canada”, while his wife was the chief commissioner of “Girl Guides of Canada” after being assigned the position by Lady Baden-Powell herself. Mary Pellatt was later presented the highest award called "The Silver Fish" for her contributions to the Girls Guides of Canada.

The summer home he and his wife enjoyed part of the time soon became a monastery for nuns called “Mary Lake Austinian”

The "Great Hall" where "Chicago" and
the "X-men" movies were filmed.

Henry was a visionary, investing in many things during his lifetime including, a Canadian air service, and everything from insurance to railways. At one point in time, he sat on dozens of corporate boards comprising of 25% of Canada’s economy, a feat yet unmatched today. Yet a series of poorly advised investments and the fall of the "Home Bank of Canada" forced him and his wife to leave the grounds of Casa Loma and auction off their possessions to pay off their debts. Still his castle on the hill remains and his name also lives on.

Henry and his wife Mary were a part of high society, and entertaining was something they loved to do. A wine cellar in the basement was always stocked with 1800 bottles of wine, and the dining room would easily be known to hold dinner parties with one hundred invited guests seated for such evenings. There were balls, garden parties and multiple city events hosted at Casa Loma, including the “Girl Guides of Canada” events because Mary was assigned the responsibility by Lady Baton Powell herself.

We climbed many varied stairwells upward
into the heart of the east tower high above
the city for spectacular views.

Mary’s health began to fail and ended up without proper mobility, thus leaving her bound to a wheelchair. She and Henry moved to a smaller home not too far away from the castle. Eventually the castle was seized for back taxes by the city during the depression. Several business options were in planning stages such as a hotel, and entertainment center, however the ideas fell through. Today it stands as a tourist center, movie rental location and special events venue.

We walked with our audio gear, sensing the
incredible awe and grandeur of the building.

We were all in agreement this just couldn’t be a place we would wish to call home ourselves, but enjoyed watching the 22 minute video about its history, viewed the photos and exhibits of the family who did reside there at one time, and thought of live in another era where life inside of a castle was really something unique, especially in a time with no war present and no reason to live inside of one other than pure luxury and opulence.

This folks is the horse stables!

Ceramic tiling on the floor and beautiful hardwoods.

Impressive tunnel systems ran underground
and were a secret known to very few between
castle and stables.

Later when leaving the premises, we realized
the tunnels ran underneath the road in front
of the castle and down the road to the stables.

If you ever pay a visit to the city of Toronto, I would urge you to visit the castle and take a few hours to really savor its history, and majestic nature. We really enjoyed our time at the castle and I have to tell you how much imagination was stirred up when we climbed up the east tower to the top floor. And then, the secret passages and underground tunnels got everyone into the act, wondering and dreaming of life within the walls of this huge home.

Many movies have been filmed on location here, those including scenes from; The Pacifier, Chicago, X-men movies, Extreme measures, and more. Occasionally a live play or production features are performed here today, but this was one great venue outing in early days for swing dancing bands to pump up the music and get the toes tapping to the tunes.

The conservatory was filled with floral and
tropical plants, a Gardener worked fulltime.
But, there was also a complete potting house
was attached to the stable buildings.

Check out the link HERE for a castle tour, a plethora of photos and historical significances this man and his castle have had on Canadian history. I bought this book at the castle bookshop and I’ve enjoyed revisiting the castle myself at home with the children.

And just when I thought I'd viewed all the photos snapped between my daughter's camera and mine, there is one shot taking me to giggles and beyond! Could it be this is what happens after viewing such a massive castle, when we begin to feel like little people afterwards? NO! He was kneeling down on top of his shoes, giving the impression he was just but a dwarf. Too funny!

Castle fun - my son the dwarf!