My initial concept for this was going to be a Photo of the Week, then I read the plaques around the place and realized there was too much information to be summed up in 100 words and a couple of photos.
This isn’t intended to be a historical recollection of Casa Loma, but my impression of stumbling upon an unexpectedly interesting site in Toronto. If you like the forthcoming pictures, swing by the Casa Loma Website for more details.
One of my undeniable pleasures when visiting any spot around the globe is reading plaques placed at points of interest, it doesn’t matter if it’s in Canada largest city or tucked away on the back of some forgotten village or an overgrown, obscured posting at some tiny scenic rest stop. I feel compelled to stop and peruse the writings that someone at some time felt deserve to be preserved and portrayed in bronze.
At the end of Spadina Road the stairs cutting up the steep, sheer cliff face offer four distinct plaques. When I read the second one I was hooked on how much history changes and how few people stop to read the signs.
The first words informed me of a family giving the land to the city of Toronto and when development threatened it, the locals rallied together and the lands purchased and preserved. In 1988 the stairway I would walk opened up as the residents managed to convince the city to save the historic lodgings.
Which, okay, but that’s not a new story by any means. People wanting to save some place old and keep things the way they are. A touch of “not-in-my-back-yard” but in this case I’m glad the locals stood up for the preserving this particular place.
It was the second blurb that caught my attention and made me realize how much I love history.
Davenport Road meanders its way roughly East-West across Toronto. Casa Loma perches atop a ridge that stretches North of Davenport Road. It turns out that during the last ice age, 15 000 years ago, this particular stretch of road marked the Southern edge of the glacier, and beyond it, all of downtown Toronto was underwater. Lake Ontario enjoyed a much longer shoreline, although the waters were likely a bit more frigid. As I stood mid-way up the staircase, looking roughly south along Spadina I thought about all the communities that would have been underwater; Kensington Market, Chinatown, the Annex, Church-Wellesley, Cabbagetown, Koreatown, Bloor-Yorkville, University, Entertainment District and a heaps more. That’s just in Toronto. Not to mention all the other towns and cities along the coast of Lake Ontario on both sides of the border that would have been underwater.
At the top of the stairs sits the magnificent Casa Loma, and the not quite as visually impressive Spadina Museum. Don’t get me wrong, it looks fine but it lacks the size and spectacle of Casa Loma.
Canada’s largest residence, with a staggering 98 rooms (or as European nobility would call it… the summer house). For Canada however, it’s a monstrous structure, it’s a good thing that it perches by itself atop a bluff because it needs a lot of space.
It definitely showcases old world charm and technique, especially to a person from BC where nearly everything is made of wood or concrete – due to the profusion of forests and being on a major fault line makes for minimal masonry. As I noticed the details of the beasts adorning the gargoyle nooks, I got to mulling over the history of the place.
The name literally means ‘Hill House’ and built in Gothic style (apparently Gothic Revival style – I’m bring Gothic back… other daywalkers won’t know how to act!) and beautifully encapsulates the rise and fall of the House of Pellatt. From military man to successful entrepreneur to leader of commander of the Queen’s Own Rifles before ending his life destitute due to poor investments and provincial… uh… appropriation of at least one of his companies.
Judging from the size and scope and grandeur of Casa Loma, the upkeep and maintenance of such an opulent residence likely forced some ill-planned decisions on the Major General that exacerbated his downfall. Considering some of this exploits, safe to say hubris played a roll for a man who never opted for the modest route.
Perhaps that’s for the best, as now Casa Loma reigns over Toronto, a museum, landmark and exclusive wedding destination, owned and maintained by the Province of Ontario for future generations to enjoy.
Since a boy I’ve been enthralled with castles and accidentally discovering Canada’s closest thing to a castle reminds of why I read plaques, wander down dark alleys and climb steep staircases.