Casa Loma - Atlas Obscura

Casa Loma

A 98-room castle in the middle of Toronto that bankrupted a 19th century electricity multimillionaire. 


Sir Henry Mill Pellatt, a Canadian soldier and financier, gained immense wealth from founding the Toronto Electric Light Company in 1883, which brought electricity to the streetlights of Canada’s largest city. Business boomed—soon he was the chairman of 21 companies, owned railroads, generated electricity from Niagara Falls, and was knighted for his military service. His monopoly grew for a full 28 years until 1911, when everything started going downhill.

Pellatt, who had been intrigued by castles since visiting Europe in his teenage years, decided to use his fortune of $17 million (modern-day $412 million) to build a personal château in the middle of Toronto. This 98-room castle, named Casa Loma, cost nearly 2 million man-hours and $3.5 million to build, including a whopping $50,000 a year for 40 live-in staff and $250,000 just to put the names of his horses in 18-carat gold — and that’s all in 1911 dollars.

In retrospect, it’s no surprise that Pellatt went bankrupt pretty quickly. By 1920, the Canadian electricity market was made publicly owned (destroying his main source of income), and the economy was in a slump from the end of World War I. Pellatt owed over a million dollars to the Home Bank of Canada and was in so much debt that he sold everything he could, for an average of 17% of its original cost.

Garden vases for $16, two brass sundials for $25, and a $75,000 pipe organ for $40 (despite the auctioneer giving it a rendition of “Auld Lang Syne”). To sum it up, in the words of Canadian politician Charles Henderson, “a Persian rug for the price of a doormat.” Sadly for Pellatt, he eventually had to sell his palace and move out.

Nowadays, Casa Loma is owned by the city and has become a museum and tourist attraction for visitors to Toronto. Although Pellatt sold its bear skin rugs, bronze buffalo head, and the grand marble fountain featuring statues of children holding up a dolphin, Casa Loma still holds many of its original attributes.

This includes the 10,000-book library, the plant-filled conservatory complete with a marble floor and a stained glass ceiling, the 60-foot-tall Great Hall with wooden chandeliers and sculpted figures on its pillars, the beautiful gardens abounding with flowers, and the mahogany stables built with a Spanish tile floor suited for the hooves of the horses. The castle had three indoor bowling alleys, a rifle range, a built-in vacuum system, a plethora of bronze doors, two secret, multi-floor passageways, a never-completed swimming pool now filled with gravestones, and 30 bathrooms (one of the showers contained six different showerheads for a full-body spray).

Casa Loma serves as both an ostentatious landmark and a reminder to manage our money wisely.

Know Before You Go

Many movies have been filmed here including some of the X-Men movies.

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