Casa Loma is one of Toronto’s more incongruous sights, a Gothic Revival castle topping Davenport Hill in the north of the city. When first built, the property was illuminated by more than 5,000 lights, and its switchboard operator handled more calls than were made in the rest of Toronto put together.
The Great Hall, 20m high and lit by a 40-foot window comprised of 738 individual panes of glass, merely scrapes the surface of a building that cost over $40 million to construct and bankrupted its original owner almost as soon as it was completed.
Highlights include a conservatory with a Tiffany domed glass ceiling and Italian marble floor, a network of steam pipes to heat the estate’s flower beds, Canada’s first electric lift, and a bathroom with white marble walls and heated shower units that cost C$10,000 to construct in 1911.
The turreted towers at the top of the castle, reached by ascending a wooden staircase under the ceiling beams and then a tightly spiralling set of metal steps, provide some wonderful views of Toronto, though the locked windows don't make photographs very easy. Don’t miss the Oak Room on the ground floor, with its exquisite panelled walls full of spirals and pheasants holding ribbons, fruit, and flowers that took European artisans 3 years to carve.
Below ground level, the castle café was originally intended to be exercise room, while the three arches in the large gift shop were planned as lanes of a bowling alley. A corridor leads to the wine cellar, cooled by pipes full of ammonia and brine and the largest in North America when first built, and an unfinished swimming pool, no more than a concrete pit with an artist’s impression of what it was to have been - a mass of marble surrounded by full sized golden swans, arches, and cloisters.
The 800m-long tunnel to the stables is also located on this level. Passing a furnace where 800 tons of coal a year were burnt to heat the building, the stone tunnel opens to Spanish tiles and mahogany, with stalls bearing the letters of each horse in gold. Walk through to the garage and potting shed, where petrol cans and plants fill rooms the size of a school assembly hall. It's a truly remarkable end to a piece of medieval Europe on the outskirts of Canada's modern metropolis.