Casa LomaSpecial Travels

October 01, 2013 13:35
Casa Loma

We've all heard the saying, every man's home is his castle, well, Canadian businessman, Sir Henry Appellate was a strong believer in it. So much so that when he and his wife, Lady Mary, decided on a new abode in 1912 they engaged an architect to do just that, build a castle.

It didn't worry him in the least when the architect informed him that to achieve his dream he would need to acquire twenty-five hilltop housing blocks overlooking Toronto, Ontario, just to accommodate it. Nor did he bat an eyelid when informed it would take 300 builders around three years just to build it.

One hundred years later, and, because of Sir Henry falling on hard times only a decade after moving in, curious visitors can undertake a tour of this remarkable home.

Wandering around the castle you can wonder at the 98 Edwardian style rooms that took just on 40 butlers, maids, cooks and other staff to maintain and service. You can visit the banquet hall with its 18 metre high ceilings, look through the kitchen with its oven big enough to roast a whole ox, pass through secret passageways, marvel at the artworks, browse the library that once held around 10,000 books, visit the three bowling alleys and traipse through the massive wine cellar.

Lady Mary's personal suite is something to marvel at, it's as big as an average Australian suburban block. It has its own secret passages possibly to allow Sir Henry to make discrete departures.

Sir Henry Appellate was born into a wealthy family and amassed further wealth through his own investments in such diverse things as railways and insurance companies. He even founded the Toronto Electric Light Company.

Because of his diverse and successful business interests and his extensive volunteer work and for bringing electricity in Toronto he gained his knighthood.

Sir Henry Appellate and Lady Mary moved into their castle, which they named Casa Loma (Spanish for The House on the Hill), in 1914.

The building was massively extravagant with it being built of replica ancient roman building blocks with the foundations sunk 15 metres into the ground to hold it all up.

Sir Henry was a keen horseman so, of course, the stables were opulent with each stall having a mahogany door and with each door having the horses name spelt out in gold leaf. To get to the stables from the castle on a rainy day all you'd need do is walk along the 250 metre long tunnel running six metres underground that linked the two.

Although from the outside the building looked medieval, internally Casa Loma had features that were quite modern for the time. Features included, showers with shower heads spraying from all directions not just overhead and private elevators. The gardens included, a potting house and conservatory and with walls and floors or Canadian and Italian marble. The conservatory was crowned with a stained glass dome backlit by hundreds of electric lights.

Just to be able to communicate between the great number of people spread about the place at anyone time and to be able to communicate to the world at large the castle had a private 59 line telephone exchange which, at the time, juggled more calls than the city of Toronto.

Unfortunately Sir Henry fell on hard times because of WW1. His companies collapsed, his shares crashed and he was forced to liquidate art and furnishings for around 15% of their real value. Finally, he and Lady Mary had to leave Casa Loma in 1923 and live in their small farm outside Toronto. Lady Mary dies that year and Sir Henry 16 years later.

Over the years Casa Loma has appeared in various guises from a luxury hotel to a popular nightspot. At one time it was seized by the City of Toronto for unpaid taxes. Finally, in 2011 it was taken over by the City Council.

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