Casa Loma: The castle in the middle of Toronto

Casa Loma – Toronto, Ontario – September 2023

Casa Loma – Toronto, Ontario – September 2023

Yesterday I took a step back in time to a period of European splendor and visited North America’s only full-sized castle, Casa Loma. Considered one of the grandest residential buildings ever constructed in Canada, it has 98 rooms, opulent bathrooms, secret passageways, an 800-foot tunnel, beautiful gardens, and much more. Not surprisingly, Casa Loma is a popular filming location for movies and TV shows.

Casa Loma, Spanish for “hill house,” is a Gothic Revival castle-style mansion and garden in midtown Toronto, three miles down Davenport Road from my apartment. It was constructed from 1911 to 1914 as a residence for financier Sir Henry Pellatt and his wife Lady Mary. It took 300 men nearly three years to complete the 200,000-square-foot castle and is said to have cost $3.5 million at the time. Situated on five acres, Casa Loma was the largest private residence in Canada.

The Pellatts lived at Casa Loma for less than 10 years before financial difficulties forced them to leave, and the castle was seized by the city for unpaid taxes. Now owned by the city, it’s regarded as the premiere historic attraction in Toronto.

I read about all of that before visiting and knew it would be a memorable experience. I got goosebumps upon arriving and walking into the Great Hall, with its 60-foot ceiling and Wurlitzer organ pipes along one wall. From the Great Hall, I walked outside through the back terrace gardens and fountain, snapping photos of both Casa Loma and its views of Toronto.

Back inside, I walked through the huge library and conservatory and was transported back in time with the fully furnished Oak Room and study. There are secret passageways on both sides of the study’s fireplace—one to the second floor and one to the basement. It wouldn’t be a castle without secret passageways!

I took the passageway down to the basement, where much of it has been converted into touristy things: a café, gift shop, and restrooms. Behind closed glass doors I was able to see the original wine cellar, which can hold over 1,000 bottles. The original idea for the basement was as grand as the rest of the castle, including an indoor basement swimming pool and three bowling lanes—all of which were never completed.

The best part about the basement? The secret tunnel! Sir Henry’s property was split by a busy city street. The city refused to close it to traffic, which upset Sir Henry because of Toronto’s fierce winters, so he built an 800-foot tunnel linking the castle to the hunting lodge, potting shed, garage, and stables. Walking through the tunnel was a bit freaky because the entire tunnel and stable areas are being set up for Casa Loma’s annual Legends of Horror experience which takes place in October. All the Halloween decorations and lights made for great photos, though!

After I walked through the tunnel and back up the stairs, I was amazed at the hunting lodge and stable. I walked outside and couldn’t believe another mansion was there. How come I didn’t see it when I was looking at the views from Casa Loma? Well, because it is a block away with other homes in between.

A fun and unique thing about the stables is the Celebrity Walk located throughout the entire second floor. Did you know that around 25% of Hollywood movies are actually filmed in Toronto? Because of its unique architectural character, dozens of movies and TV shows have been filmed at Casa Loma—Chicago, X-Men, Hannibal, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and The Handmaid’s Tale to name a few. One of my and my brothers’ favorite films growing up, Billy Madison, used Casa Loma for the interiors of Billy’s mansion.

Back through the tunnel and returning to the castle, I made my way to the second floor where Sir Henry and Lady Mary’s bedroom suites are. WOW. Both suites have multiple rooms, a terrace with fantastic views of Toronto’s skyline, and impressive bathrooms. Sir Henry’s bathroom had a huge tub and shower with multiple spray jets—not bad for over 100 years ago! There’s also an expansive suite for guests.

The third floor is where all the castle’s servants lived. Getting a gig at Casa Loma was a pretty big deal back in the 1910s and 1920s because, in addition to staff receiving clothing, food, housing, and a small wage, Casa Loma had central heating and indoor plumbing.

From the third floor, I took two spiral staircases up to the Norman Tower. Casa Loma has two large towers, both open to visitors—though the Scottish Tower was closed because there was an escape room set up in it. How fun would that be? Once at the top of the Norman Tower, it was awesome to soak in the 360-degree views of Toronto.

I slowly made my way back down from the tower, viewing some of my favorite rooms in the castle again, before taking off and walking around the neighborhood to see what was above that 800-foot tunnel. Turns out, other mansions! Not as grand as Casa Loma, but it’s hard to compete with a castle.

Not a bad way to spend a Tuesday afternoon!

Here’s a photo gallery of favorites from my visit to Casa Loma. Enjoy!

San Antonio River Walk
Fiume Pizzeria and Wine Bar
San Antonio River Walk
San Antonio River Walk
Arneson River Theater
Arneson River Theater