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Toronto’s Casa Loma and Its Ghosts

I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.

Sir Henry Pellatt was a wealthy industrialist who decided to build a 98-room castle in Toronto as a tribute to his business prowess. It didn’t work out so well for Sir Henry— his vanity project ruined him financially. No wonder the building is said to be haunted by ghosts.

torontos-casa-loma-and-its-ghosts

Building Casa Loma

Born into a well-heeled Canadian family in 1859, Henry Pellatt entered his father’s brokerage business and prospered.

A measure of the family’s prominence is that it had its own French motto; it was “Devant Si Je Puis” or “Foremost If I Can.”

Henry amassed a fortune through clever investments, and he was instrumental in bringing electricity to Toronto.

Sir Henry Pellatt.

Sir Henry Pellatt.

As with many wealthy people burdened with too much money he decided he needed a mansion, but not just any mansion. He engaged the services of architect Edward Lennox who designed a Gothic revival confection to be built on one of the higher points in Toronto.

Construction began in 1911 and was still ongoing when the outbreak of World War I brought a halt to the work, with the third floor remaining partially unfinished. During the building, between 300 and 400 tradesmen were employed, including stonemasons brought in from Scotland.

The finished project boasted 64,700 sq. ft., making it the biggest private residence in Canada. It cost $3.5 million (about $80 million in today’s money).

Construction is underway.

Construction is underway.

Hard Times for the Pellatts

Sir Henry (he was knighted in 1905 for service to the militia) and Lady Mary Pellatt moved into their castle with its astonishing array of amenities:

  • An oven that was big enough to roast an ox
  • Two secret passages
  • Central vacuum
  • Swimming pool (uncompleted)
  • Bowling alleys
  • A ballroom
  • An elevator
  • Stables with extensive gardens

But, the Pellatts were not to enjoy their monster home for long. Some politicians began to whip up anti-rich-people sentiments and this prompted the city to increase the taxes on Casa Loma from $600 a year to $12,000. The same political swing saw the province of Ontario take over Pellatt’s private ownership of the electricity utility.

At the same time, Pellatt switched his business empire to land speculation that didn’t work out well. Soon, he began defaulting on his municipal taxes. Almost bankrupt, they were forced to leave their property in 1923, which was later seized by the City of Toronto for unpaid taxes.

It became a hotel that failed, then a nightclub that failed, and was left derelict for a while before being handed over the Kiwanis service club to run. Today, it is a popular tourist attraction, wedding reception venue, and host to ghost tours.

Search for the Supernatural

This is where we meet Patrick Cross and Michelle Desrochers, who describe themselves as paranormal researchers. They told The Toronto Star that using electro-magnetic field detectors they picked up a message: “British redcoats. Where’s general 11.” Sir Henry Pellatt had housed a regiment of redcoats on the grounds in 1911.

They also say they have captured electronic voice phenomena (EVPs to the cognoscenti of the paranormal); these are noises that resemble speech for which there is no obvious source from our world. Wind in the eavestrough perhaps? A raccoon in the attic?

Several people have reported seeing the figure of a woman in white (presumed to be either Lady Mary or a maid) and Michelle Desrochers says there have been some curious incidents involving this apparition in the good lady’s apartments; compass needles have spun around, a hand has clutched a shoulder, and a sudden chill has been felt from time to time.

And, there are noises in some of the castle’s tunnels; literally bumps in the night.

Sadly, Casa Loma lacks stories of macabre ax murders, or young maidens bricked up in secret tombs, or jilted lovers plunging from turrets.

Still, this huge pile of Gothic revival architecture screams out to have ghosts associated with dark happenings in its past. But, the brooding and somber masonry holds no such secrets within its walls. We are only left with the supposed anguished spirits of the palace’s first owners trudging about the place looking for hidden caches of money.

Casa Loma garden party in 1914.

Casa Loma garden party in 1914.

Casa Loma Haunting Sceptics

The folks who operate the Toronto and Ontario Ghosts and Hauntings Research Society take a jaundiced view of the ghostly claims; the group mentions rumours “that the elevators had ‘minds of their own’ and that Sir Henry had been seen in his indoor gardens and at his desk.”

But then, the phrase “take with a grain of salt” crops up in their analysis.

There is also reference made to the increase in paranormal sightings shortly after the ghost tours started up. The research group stops short of suggesting there might be a connection between a higher level of reported spooky activity and tour ticket sales.

They note “we cannot and would not say Casa Loma truly isn’t haunted and doesn’t have a resident ghost …”

Author John Robert Colombo has written many books about hauntings including those at Casa Loma. He’s a bit more forthright saying the castle “lacks a ghost to call its own.”

Pity. It really should have one or two.

Bonus Factoids

  • Casa Loma is Spanish for “hill house.”
  • When Sir Henry Pellatt died in 1939 he was sharing a house with his former chauffeur. Thousands of people lined the streets to view his funeral procession.
  • Numerous movies and television shows have been filmed in part at Casa Loma including, Chicago, Goosebumps, X-Men, and Strange Brew.
  • During the Second World War, a secret weapons research laboratory was set up in Casa Loma’s stables. People were kept out by a sign that read “Construction in Progress – Sorry for the Inconvenience.” Even Toronto’s city councillors did not know what was going on.

Sources

  • “‘Tracking The Ghosts’ Of Casa Loma.” Burlington Ghost Walks, 2019.
  • “Once Upon a City: King of His Casa Loma Died Penniless.” Valerie Hauch, Toronto Star, October 1, 2015.
  • “Casa Loma.” Toronto and Ontario Ghosts and Hauntings Research Society, undated.
  • “The Secret History of Casa Loma.” Dr. Oishimaya Sen Nag, Culture Trip, September 30, 2016

© 2019 Rupert Taylor

Comments

Kari Poulsen from Ohio on December 05, 2019:

Rupert Taylor, you write the most interesting articles about people, places, and events I have not heard of previously. I chuckled at the image of the owners trudging around.