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Casa Loma and Henry Pellatt

Updated on December 18, 2010

Casa Loma

Casa Loma, Toronto's special and very touristic attraction is described as "the elegance and splendour of the Edwardian era ". This castle is located on a hill, in what is apparently the chic neighbourhood. It was the largest private residence in Canada, with 98 rooms.

The exterior is already somewhat surprising, since the whole construction does not seem to have a personal style, but rather unfolds as a conglomeration of would-be medieval and recent styles. There is a baroque wealth of turrets, battlements, and all possible corners and edges.

Not exactly an architectural wonder of the world, but to my feeling it is more, as the French would say, "pour épater les bourgeois "...
Unfortunately, the interior continues in the same vein... The interior is rather dark, with exquisite wood carvings and magnificently finished ceilings. Once more however, there is a hodgepodge of imitated expensive styles, but without any inspiration.

This very expensive building compares very poorly to the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina.

Henry Pellatt

In 1859, Henry Pellatt was born as the son of a stock broker. At the age of seventeen, he speculated very well on Northwest shares, and when the West began to grow explosively, he made quite a bundle on his investment !

He reinvested the proceeds in the Canadian Pacific Railway, which would transport the vast grain harvests. Again he was lucky, and he gained a still larger fortune. With his investments he made more than 17 million Canadian dollars !...

Afterwards, he invested in the first electrical grid in Toronto, and in 1905 he was knighted for his efforts. Given his impressive financial history, many large concerns asked him to sit on their boards. He also became a Patron for universities, hospitals and museums.

He made another career in the army, where he expanded a battalion of the Queen's Own, mostly at his own expense, into a regiment, and in 1923 he became a major-general.

In 1911, at the age of 52, he started the construction of Casa Loma, the castle on the hill. This would be his life's work, and the culmination of all the beautiful things he had seen in Canada, England and Europe.
In 1914, the building was finished, and the total cost had been CAD 3.5 million, of which 1.5 million CAD had been just for decoration ! For the construction he had sent for stonemasons from Scotland, and wood carvers from Germany, and the estate had a private phone, an organ, a pool, and so on.

However, in the same year began a series of unfortunate events, that would end up in financially strangling Sir Henry.

The maintenance of the castle was atrociously expensive with a staff of 40 employees, his large-scale lifestyle cost ridiculous amounts, and the family continued to generously hand out huge donations. Furthermore, they continued their wild shopping, even though the European World War had broken out.

The stock market collapsed, and in panic, he tried to repeat his former lucrative land speculations. However, the general public no longer invested in land, and the value of his assets fell rapidly.

With some "creative accounting", he managed to save the appearances for a few years, but eventually the bubble burst in 1923.

In 1924, all his possessions were publicly auctioned, for only a fraction of what they had cost. The sale of Casa Loma brought in ... exactly 250.000 cad !

His wife died the same year. Henry Pellatt died in 1939, with a fortune that had been reduced to 35,000 cad.

He certainly was a romantic and flamboyant figure !

Casa Loma

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