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The man who built a castle

August 2016

When you mention the name Sir Henry Pellatt, most people don’t recognize the name.  Well, Major-General Sir Henry Mill Pellatt, CVO, was a Canadian financier and soldier, notable for bringing hydro-electricity to Toronto, Ontario.  Still doesn’t ring a bell?  Well, he was also the man who build a large château on a hill in Toronto called Casa Loma, now a well-known Toronto landmark and the biggest private residence ever constructed in Canada.

Henry Pellatt, Jr. was born on 6 January 1859 in Kingston, in what was then Canada West (now Ontario), to Henry Pellatt, Sr., a stockbroker originally from Glasgow, Scotland, and Emma Mary Pellatt (née Holland).  Pellatt was educated at Upper Canada College, but left the age of 17 to work as a clerk in his father’s stock brokerage firm, Pellatt and Osler.

In 1882, Pellatt completed his apprenticeship and became a full member of the stock exchange.  Pellatt’s father and his partner Osler dissolved their partnership the same year and he following year, father and son went into business together as Pellatt and Pellatt.

It was also in 1882 that Pellatt married Mary Dodgson, who bore him a son Reginald in 1885. Pellatt was a noted supporter of the Boy Scouts of Canada and Mary was the first Chief Commissioner of the Girl Guides of Canada.

Mary died in 1924 and Pellatt re-married, this time to Catharine Welland Merritt in Toronto in 1927, but she too died in 1929.

Pellatt was an astute investor, co-founding the Toronto Electric Light Company in the 1880s and helped secure the first contract for electric lighting for Toronto’s streets and later for street cars in Toronto.

By 1901, Henry Pellatt was chairman of 21 major companies with interests in mining, insurance, real estate and electricity.  He and some business partners built the first hydro-generating plant at Niagara Falls in 1902.

Besides the business world, military service also occupied Pellatt’s time.  He enlisted in The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada (QOR of C) as a Rifleman on 2 November 1876, rising through the ranks until he became the Commanding Officer, a post he held from 1901-1920.

Famous alums of the QOR include Captain John McCrae, author of the famous poem, “In Flanders Field”, Major General Lewis MacKenzie, known for establishing and commanding Sector Sarajevo as part of the UNPROFOR in the former Yugoslavia in 1992 and The Right Honourable Vincent Massey, the 18th Governor General of Canada.

During his time with the regiment, Pellatt was known for spending large amounts of his own money on the regiment, lifting it from a poorly equipped group to a respectable army regiment that formed part of Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee honour guard and achieved other distinctions.

In 1910, Pellatt personally paid for a five-week military exercise for over 600 Queen’s Own personnel, plus officers’ horses, to sail to England to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of The Queen’s Own Rifles.  The military exercises lasted from 13 August 13 to 3 October 1910.

Besides the army, Pellatt desired to do something more personal with his money. Pellatt had admired the castles of Europe since he was a teen and decided to design and build his own.  He bought a large plot of land atop the ridge north of Davenport Road, beginning construction in 1911.

Designed by E. J. Lennox, the same architect who designed Toronto’s Old City Hall, the Gothic Revival-style “castle” featured 98 rooms, 30 bathrooms, three bowling alleys, an indoor swimming pool, a rifle range within its 64,700 square feet of living space.  Casa Loma also had its own internal telephone system and built-in vacuum system for cleaning.  It also had the first electric elevator in a Toronto home.

Even an ornate stable was built to house Pellatt’s horses next to his castle.

The floors of the rooms were solid mahogany with bear skin rugs and the 10,000-book library had the Pellatt family coat of arms carved into the ceiling.  The doors from the dining room to the conservatory were made of solid bronze and cost $10,000 (equivalent to $215,000 in 2015 dollars) each. Henry’s study contained a replica of Napoleon’s desk and had two secret passages: one leading to the basement vault another to the second floor.

The total cost of building Pellatt’s dream castle was about $3.5 million or about $75 million in 2015 dollars.

Pellat used to parade and entertain the QOR of C at Casa Loma and even built a 1000-man barracks on the property to house them.

In addition to Casa Loma, Pellatt also maintained a summer residence and farm in King Township, north of Toronto, which later became Marylake Augustinian Monastery, a spiritual centre for the Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto.

Sadly, Pellatt saw his fortune disappear due to the stock market crash of 1929, many bad investments, mounting debts and losing two businesses by expropriation.  His electrical power generating business, the Toronto Electric Light Company, was expropriated by the Ontario government in 1906 when public opinion turned against private ownership of water power generation, although by this time he has transferred his shares to Sir William MacKenzie as repayment for funds to build Casa Loma.

During WWI, Pellatt’s aircraft manufacturing business was later taken over by the federal government as part of the war effort.

Difficulties such as these lead to near-bankruptcy and forced Pellatt and Lady Mary Pellatt to leave Casa Loma in 1924 due to tax arrears.  They moved to their farm at Marylake in King Township, where Lady Pellatt died shortly afterwards.

Pellatt later built Bailey House in Mimico overlooking the commercial stretch on Lake Shore. He later moved into his former chauffeur Thomas Ridgway’s modest bungalow at 28 Queen’s Avenue in Etobicoke, where he died on 8 March 1939, virtually penniless with just $85 to his name.

Sir Henry Pellatt was given a full military funeral and thousands of people lined Toronto streets for his funeral procession, the largest military funeral in Toronto’s history.  He was interred at Forest Lawn Mausoleum in a crypt just below Lady Pellatt.

During his life, Pellatt received many honours.  Pellatt was knighted for his service to the Queen’s Own in 1905, made a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (CVO) and was made Knight Principal of the Imperial Society of Knights from 1911-1913.  Upon his retirement from The Queen’s Own Rifles, Pellatt was made a Major-General.

However, his life was not without controversy, scorn and scandal.  Despite throwing large amounts of money on The QOR of C, many viewed Pellatt’s generosity as self-serving and never recognized him as a true philanthropist.

Pellatt may have achieved great wealth and success in business, but he was accused of doing this by manipulating stocks unethically and at times was heavily leveraged.  He was found in a conflict of interest in insurance industry dealings and “his dishonest” land transactions and mounting personal debts were cited in the collapse of the Home Bank of Canada in 1924, which Pellatt owned.

Pellatt reportedly even cheated family members out of money as administrator of his late father’s estate.

Major-General Sir Henry Pellatt’s regiment lives on through its Reserve Force 3rd Battalion, based in Toronto, and has received many battle honours stretching from the North West Canada rebellion, to South Africa, to the Great War and World War II.

The QOR of C Regimental Museum re-located to Casa Loma from Currie Barracks in Calgary in 1970 after the Regular Force 1st and 2nd Battalions of the QOR of C in Calgary had been reduced to nil strength.  It was decided that Casa Loma would be a suitable location for the regiment’s collection of equipment, uniforms and records going back to 1860.

The house itself is was managed by the Kiwanis Club of Toronto for 74 years, until 2011, when the ity of Toronto assumed control over a contract dispute.  It has been operated by Liberty Entertainment Group since January 2014.

Another interesting fact about Casa Loma is that in 1939, the Casa Loma stables served as a secret Royal Navy facility, housing secret ASDIC (an early form of Sonar) equipment within its walls.

Sources:  http://spacing.ca/toronto/2015/06/24/fall-sir-henry-pellatt-king-casa-loma/, https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2010/08/09/sir_henry_casa_loma_king_lived_in_a_world_unto_himself.html, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Pellatt, http://www.keepingalive.com/section4.html, “Sir Henry Pellatt – The King of Casa Loma” by Carlie Oreskovich.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

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