This isn’t the tale of a McMansion, nor is it the story of a recently built palace in a gated community. This is about a real castle that happens to be located in the suburbs of a real city. Unfortunately, that city happens to be in Canada, where nice people apparently live normal lives.
We like Canadians. They’re polite, honest people, even if they still believe in monarchy. Believe it or not, they actually have some major cities, like Toronto, Ontario. The city sports major league baseball, basketball, hockey, and football teams. We’re talking about a big city here.
Toronto is a clean, friendly place. The Hockey Hall of Fame makes Toronto its home, and if you’re a fan, it’s worth a stop. The underground mall below the downtown office skyscrapers features a maze of interesting and sometimes affordable shops. Queen Street West, another tourist destination, is the hip spot for music, but it also boasts shopping for all tastes (and we really mean all tastes). And let’s not forget the CN Tower that rises beside Rogers Centre (formerly called SkyDome). Toronto doesn’t lack for activities.
But if you know us at all, you’ll realize that we had to get off the beaten path, away from the hordes of tourists that flock there every summer. So we discovered a hidden treasure and took a trip to nearby Casa Loma. Located out in the suburbs, it wasn’t easy to find. We had to work to get there. Since we didn’t have a car, we had to navigate the Toronto transit system and then take a 15-minute hike once we disembarked. But believe it or not, it was worth the extra effort.
Built by Sir Henry Mill Pellatt between 1911 and 1914, it’s modeled after the medieval castles of Europe. Featuring 98 rooms and lush gardens (maintained by volunteers), the castle is a throwback to a different time, an era when one man could own the electric company for an entire city. That man was Sir Henry, and Casa Loma was his home.
The Great Hall has a 70-foot-high ceiling, 40-foot-long drapes, and even a freakin’ pipe organ. A pipe organ! When was the last time you even saw one of those monstrosities? Its resonant sound always reminds us of when we fell off the horses going around a carousel . . . hmmm, that was just last year.
In Casa Loma’s sunny Conservatory, we found a stained glass dome, bronze doors, and Italian marble floors. Every room in fact had something to make us wonder, whether it was the first Canadian indoor shower or the recreation facilities. Almost every room had a name: the Oak Room, the Round Room, the Windsor Room, and the Library. It was like being inside a game of Clue.
Then there’s Sir Henry’s grand bedroom, bathroom, and study (with its two secret stairwells), and Lady Pellatt’s 2,000-square-foot bedroom suite. We were pretty amazed that a Canadian could have attained such wealth and taste. Like us, he obviously traveled.
But the tour didn’t end there. We climbed spiral stairs to the tower, where we could see the Toronto skyline. Good thing the smog had lifted for us. After that, we descended below ground, through an 800-foot-long tunnel, to the stables, with its Venetian tiles and Spanish mahogany. All that was missing were the quaint piles of horse dung. Still, all in all, it was cool. We think it was the tiled interior that kept it at that temperature.
Once free of the castle’s charms, we stayed to stroll the gardens: they’re another highlight of the place. We had arrived in early spring, too early for the full effect, but we have imaginations and used them. (We recommend a mid-summer visit, when the flowers have all bloomed.)
This castle isn’t as grandly appointed as the “cottages” of Newport, Rhode Island, or as opulent as Hearst Castle, but it’s quite a find if you’re in the right frame of mind: curious, energetic, and bored stiff all apply. You can take the self-guided tour if you like—you know the drill, listen on headphones as you wander from room to room like a zombie—but you might enjoy the castle more without all the history. Make up your own stories; it’s more fun.
Lessons Learned: Let’s face it, with all the sights to see in the world at large, you’ll probably never return. That makes it one of those once-in-a-lifetime adventures, like shooting heroin. But this will leave a better taste in your mouth.
How We Saw It
Communication Breakdown: 2
Customer Dis-service: 1
Discomfort Level: 1
Grunge Factor: 1
Inactivity Guide: 2
Spontaneous Consumption: 1
Fun Fraction: 3/5
If You Won’t Listen to Us
Nearest Airport: Toronto Pearson International Airport
Native Population: 2,500,000
Normal Attractions: Big city stuff like fine dining, shopping, museums, art galleries, and architecture, but also HTO Park (the city’s first urban beach) and the Hockey Hall of Fame. There’s lots to do in the city.
Final Point of Interest: Casa Loma was nearly demolished before a few citizen groups rallied to save it. Another victory over urban renewal.