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Archive for February 25th, 2013

If you’ve been following along, you will know by now that we have very good friends, Paul and T, who live in Illinois with whom we visit, travel, laugh (and laugh and laugh), eat and drink and recently, they kindly paid us a long overdue visit. It’s always a challenge to come up with things to do since we’ve been hanging out with each other for around 20 years — we’ve done most things in the GTA that had to be done. Now, I know it’s not always necessary to plan a weekend with such good friends, but it’s nice to do a little something special, particularly since it’s the only time JT and I get to be tourists in our own city.

We decided to visit Casa Loma, a real castle in the heart of Toronto. Built by Sir Henry Pellatt and Lady Mary Pellatt for $3.5 million dollars around 1911. Now that is a lot of money even now, can you imagine how much that was in 1911? Sadly, the Pellatt’s only lived in the Castle for 10 years, when their financial empire crumbled and they were forced to auction off the castle and belongings. In 1924 they moved to their farm in King township, and shortly after Lady Mary passed away of heart problems (likely caused by anxiety and stress of their financial downfall). The castle was fitted with the most modern conveniences, like indoor toilets, electricity and telephones; when the entire city of Toronto had 3,000 telephones, the Pallett’s castle had 50! Even the servants quarters were grandly equipped (by the standards of the day) with heated rooms, electricity and indoor washrooms (it reminded me of Downton Abbey). It took 300 men three years to build it. Quite the property.

In 1925 they tried to convert it to a luxury hotel, but even that didn’t pan out; the rooms were never completed, only the common areas had been re-purposed where they held many high-end social events and dances. In 1937 the Kiwanis Club of West Toronto took over the building and began the tedious task of renovating and refurnishing the rooms as Sir and Lady Pallett would have had it furnished. Today, only some of the furnishings are from the Pallett’s estate, many of them are just ‘of the time’. You can book your wedding or special event at the castle, but 27 years ago, the waiting list was three years long, so plan ahead!

Casa Loma is situated in Forest Hill, an exclusive neighbourhood in Toronto, even today. The area is also quite lovely to experience and I strongly suggest that you check it out if you are visiting Toronto.

A few practical notes and we’ll get to the good stuff:

  • With the self-guided audio tour, it will take you about 2-3 hours to go through the castle, we had a moderate pace and completed the tour, even the garages, stables and potting shed in a little over 2 hours.
  • There is an elevator but it must be operated by staff, the stairs are so much more practical, and they will allow your tour to flow better (not having to back-track on yourself to get to the lift).
  • It’s not heated well, so you’ll need your jacket in the winter (I wore boots and my toes were chilled). I walked around with my jacket buttoned up (and I usually start sweating as soon as I think about going inside — Eastern European and all!).
  • Little one’s are not discouraged, but there is little for them to be amused with. Unless you are going for a specific kids program, they will be bored.
  • There is a cafeteria on site, but Yorkville is very close by with so many better options.
  • Ladies, take a purse that can be hung on your shoulder, your hands will be occupied with the listening device, the map and perhaps a camera (and for me, a tissue for my sniffling nose, yes, I still have it! Grrr!).
  • Not a cheap experience, adult entry is around $20; check on line, you may be able to find discount coupons. If you plan on doing more than one attraction a Toronto Attractions City Pass may be the way to go.

The Good Stuff (you’ll see that I didn’t take many photos (I kept my gloves on) so you’ll have to visit to see it all):

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The main entrance. As you can see we have another dreary grey day in Toronto

The Great Hall just after the entrance.

The Great Hall just after the entrance. The giant organ is that shadow in the photo.

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The Great Hall another view; you can see the scale of this room by the chairs. The gorgeous window in the previous photo is just on the right of this photo. This room also had an enormous organ (which sat in the large window in the second photo), the enormous pipes are behind me taking the shot.

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Sir Henry’s drawing room

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The Drawing Room; the sofa in the foreground is facing the fireplace from the previous photo.

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Incredible views from one of the towers. This shot reminds me of Paris from the Arc de Triomphe looking toward La Défence

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OK, maybe it’s just La Défence that reminds me of our new condo.

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Great view of our city.

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The towers are accessed only by metal and wood spiral stairs, which can be a bit confining at times. It’s best to do this in low season as there are only one set of stairs so it would get quite congested in high season.

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This is the smoking room, no ladies please

The stables

The stables. What’s cool about the stables, garages and potting shed is that they are accessed by a 500 metre tunnel, 5 metres under ground. Sir Henry fought with the city to have a busy road detoured so that his servants didn’t have to cross to access the outer buildings, and was constantly declined, so he built a tunnel. Obviously a different snack bracket than I.

We had very special deviled eggs for our hor d'œuvres that evening.

We had very special deviled eggs for our hor d’œuvres that evening.

And that concludes our visit to Casa Loma, I hope you have a chance to see it when you come to Toronto.

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