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House on the Hill
Frances Spiegel - Click to Enlarge

By Frances Spiegel 

No visit to Toronto would be complete without seeing Casa Loma - the House on the Hill. 

View of Toronto at sunset from the highest point in Casa Loma.  Photo by Frances Spiegel - Click to Enlarge
View of Toronto at sunset from the highest point in Casa Loma.  Photo by Frances Spiegel
Although one of the most famous 'historical' sites in the city it is not, in truth, very old. Casa Loma is a romantic 98-room mansion, in the style of a medieval castle. Some might call it a neo-gothic monstrosity. I found it intriguing.

Work began in 1911 and it took Sir Henry Mill Pellatt three years and Cdn.$3.3 million to complete his dream home. He had a life-long fascination with European castles and having studied these closely he engaged the services of Canadian architect, E. J. Lennox. Lennox based Sir Henry's fairy-tale castle on the Norman, Romanesque, and Gothic styles. 

Casa Loma certainly is impressive with its Elizabethan-style chimneys, Rhineland turrets, battlements, gardens, terraces and secret passageways.

Sir Henry procured oak and walnut from North America, teak from Asia plus marble, glass and wood paneling from Europe. The house was furnished with furniture and artwork from around the world, much of which remains in situ.

Enter through the main door into the grandiose Great Hall and be sure to look up at its magnificent 60' high oak beamed ceiling.

A highlight of your visit will almost certainly be the Conservatory with its high domed roof with stained-glass panels, Italianate bronze doors, and beautiful pink and green marble flooring. Seasonal flowers and plants grow in raised beds heated by sub-surface steam pipes.

Sir Henry's mahogany panelled study has secret passageways that allowed him to 'escape' from unwanted visitors to his private suite on the next floor or to his wine cellar in the basement. Climb the secret staircase up to his private suite.

Adjoining Sir Henry's suite is his luxurious bathroom. The showerhead, designed by Sir Henry, is 18 inches in diameter and is intended to completely surround the body with water.

On the third floor The Queen's Own Rifles Museum, one of Canada's oldest regiments, sets out the history of the regiment in which Sir Henry achieved the rank of Major General. He had joined the Regiment in an attempt to gain social standing. He had been regarded as an eccentric and not readily accepted into Toronto's upper classes perhaps because of his penchant for wearing ridiculous costumes. For example, he was often seen wearing a costume that was a cross between an Indian chief and a British colonel. His love of the Queen's Own Rifles was such that in 1910 he took the 600-strong regiment to England for military games at his own expense.

Also on the third floor is the Garden Room where displays set out the history and construction of the gardens. This room provides a good vantage point for viewing the six acres of pleasantly landscaped gardens, with their sculptures and fountains. It's a pity that the gardens are closed during the winter months.

If you've still feel energetic there are two towers to climb. The enclosed Scottish Tower offers the highest views from the castle. The West Tower, open to the elements, presents magnificent views of Downtown Toronto and the surrounding area.

Descend from the Towers into the depths of the castle to see the swimming pool. Originally Sir Henry had planned that cloisters, marble arches, and gold swans would enhance the area surrounding the pool. Unfortunately, it was never completed and has mainly been used for storage.

Also in the basement is the wine cellar where Sir Henry stored his personal collection of nearly 1800 bottles of wine and champagne. A secret passage connects the cellar directly to Sir Henry's study.

Before you leave the basement enjoy a relaxing break in the café. Prices are reasonable and the tea was good - unusual for Canadian restaurants!

An 800-foot underground tunnel links the castle to the stables where Sir Henry kept his many horses. Clearly an animal lover, he spared no expense on their, some might say, extravagant mahogany horse stalls, the floors of which were covered with Spanish tiles.

The house is open daily, 9.30 a.m. to 4 p.m. throughout the year. All three storeys, but not the towers, are served by a lift. Disabled access is generally good but access to the secret staircases is not possible in a wheelchair. The gardens are open only during the summer months and there is a ramp to one of the viewing terraces.

Casa Loma certainly did hold my interest. It was good value for money and definitely to be recommended.

Infospot: 

Casa Loma
1 Austin Terrace at: Spadina Road
Toronto, Canada
(situated two blocks north of Dupont subway station)

Phone: 416-923-1171
Web: http://www.casaloma.org 

Hours: Daily 9:30am-5pm Last admittance 4pm. CLOSED December 25 and January 1

Admission: Adults (18-59) $10; Seniors (60+) $6.50; Youth (14-17) $6.50; Children (4-13) $6; Children 3 and under are free when accompanied by an adult. Self Guided Tours

GARDENS Open May-Oct. - not wheelchair accessible.

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Email:  f.spiegel@btinternet.com (Frances Spiegel)
Web: http://www.metronet.co.uk/fran 

Frances Spiegel was born in Bushey, Hertfordshire, UK, and has made London, England, her home where she lives with her husband and children. Frances writes about travel, crime fiction, autobiographical short stories, and historical theme pieces and her other interests include architecture and history. (More about this writer.)

 

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