Our initial plan had been to leave after breakfast on Sunday to head back to Pittsburgh. In the busyness of the day before, however, we hadn’t been able to go to Casa Loma, the one attraction I particularly wanted to see while we were in town.
The tickets seemed a little expensive although the website did suggest 1-2 hours to explore the mansion. I needn’t have worried. Despite being there for two hours, we felt like we went through the grounds pretty quickly and didn’t examine all the personal artifacts in the new exhibits that were under construction. There was plenty more to see and we both would have enjoyed more time there if we hadn’t been set for a long drive afterwards.
Whether you’re interested in history, architecture, culture, or nice views and pretty flowers, you will probably enjoy Casa Loma. Built by wealthy industrialist Sir Henry Pellatt and his wife Lady Mary Pellatt, the mansion is built like a castle, while the inside is Edwardian in nature. Our self-guided audio tour was a convenient and fun way to explore the estate at our own pace while still getting a comprehensive history of the building’s construction.
Each of the building’s many rooms had several numbered signs, which corresponded to recorded information on the headsets. They pointed out notable features, related stories, and also had a screen to display historical photographs.
My favorite room was the conservatory, with its tropical plants lining the sides and gorgeous stained glass roof. Pellatt wanted the roof to remain lit at all times, so he had a second dome installed above it with electricity, so, despite night or rainy weather, the stained glass will still shine. Shortly before going into the room I had commented that it would be a beautiful venue for a wedding, and sure enough, the conservatory was set up for a wedding. (We saw the bride sneak past us in a sparkling gown a little later in the tour.)
Another technologically-advanced room was the bathroom, the marble walls and floors of which were touted for their health benefits. They were regarded as particularly healthy because they didn’t build up mold and mildew like a bathroom with a lot of cloth and tapestry would.
Other noteworthy rooms were Pellatt’s “man cave” and Lady Mary’s bedroom, which was decorated in blue and white to match her love for Wedgwood ceramics. (As an aside, Lady Mary seemed like a pretty fantastic lady and was a dedicated supporter and Chief Commissioner of the Girl Guides.)
The tour also pointed out small details around the house like a special dish for celery (a delicacy at the time), a wyvern lamp which Pellatt loved, and references to the labors of Hercules in the art throughout the home.
We also enjoyed some time outdoors admiring the beautiful flowers and watching the fountains play, as well as observing the skyline of Toronto from a distance.
Our final stop was to the stables. Due to Pellatt’s loss of money and some property rezoning, the stables ended up having a road built between them and the main house. Not wanting his staff to have to walk across the road, Pellatt built an underground tunnel 800 feet in length beneath the road and neighborhood. We were able to walk through it and learned about the secret sonar project developed at the castle during World War II. This highly-classified project was carried on while the home was still open to the public, protected by a sign that said the stables were under renovation and apologizing for the inconvenience. Apparently, even the city of Toronto was not aware of the project.
After snapping a few more photos of the building’s grand entrance, we hit the road. Our drive back to the highway took us through the brightly-colored streets of Chinatown and stopped for several minutes as police let a huge crowd of demonstrators cross the street. A ways out into the suburbs, we stopped to fuel up the car and try out Tim Hortons. The maple iced donut – wow!
About seven hours later, we arrived home, glad to read street signs in miles and navigate without the aid of maps. It was a fun whirlwind weekend and I’d definitely recommend Toronto as a great city to visit. There was some fun looking shopping, unique restaurants and bars, and quite a few attractions we just didn’t have time to see. Maybe we’ll get to go back sometime.
In my research, I came across this package with tickets to Casa Loma, the CN Tower, the Royal Ontario Museum, the zoo, and the Science Center. At about 1/2 off the cost of paying for each attraction individually, it seems like a great bargain for visitors there long enough to take in all the attractions. In a previous short visit as a kid, I enjoyed a visit to the glass observation deck of the CN Tower and a Medieval Times show with my parents, both of which I’d recommend. And if you’re there in early November, the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair was a delight to young, horse-loving me.