Both around a century old and located within streets of each other, their history could barely be more different.
Spadina - in 1866, James Austin, Irish-immigrant-turned-businessman, began renovating an 1836 summerhouse into a home. The original decor and continuity of the family''s occupation (3 generations lived there) means that it genuinely reflects artistic preoccupations from 1890 onwards. James Austin co-founded Toronto Dominion Bank and, on his death in 1897, left his gracious home to his son who kept up the family traditions by collecting art and artefacts and extending the house (commissioning the impressive billiards room). He left the house to his daughters, the last of whom died in 1984, leaving it to the city. Informative guided tours are run by knowledgeable volunteers every hour, or informative pamphlets are available if you prefer to wander. Look out for the billiard room, the ceramics and the original gas chandeliers. The charming gardens are also well worth a stroll. Admission $5. Open Tues-Sun. firstname.lastname@example.org
Casa Loma - "Pellatt the plunger" - Toronto industrialist and military man, Sir Henry Pellatt was born to British parents in Ontario and worked for the family stockbrokerage. He travelled in Europe, sparking a romantic notion of a fairytale castle (curious given his life-long obsession with service in the Queen''s Own Rifles, for which he was knighted in 1905).
Sir Henry, a visionary businessman, saw in Edison''s steam-generated electricity potential profits and founded the Toronto Electric Light Company, enjoying a monopoly on the supply of city street lighting, success which culminated with the first hydro-electric plant at Niagara. By 1911, he had amassed a $17m fortune and turned his attention to his castle, employing Canadian architect E. J. Lennox to build on a piece of land called Casa Loma ("house on the hill"). Construction of his "medieval" fantasy took $3.5m, and 300 men nearly 3 years to complete, and was then crammed with art treasures.
A social whirl blended with philanthropy but he eventually couldn''t sustain Casa Loma''s expense which drew him into debt. When his Midas touch failed him, bankruptcy followed (hence his sobriquet) and Sir Henry had no option but to sell castle and contents - Casa Loma was picked up by the city for unpaid taxes.
Various proposals were considered and shelved until, in 1936, the Kiwanis Club of West Toronto proposed to re-cast it as a tourist attraction, opening to the public in 1937. (Despite his ignominious end, his philanthropy was not forgotten and, on his 1939 death, 1000s lined the streets for his funeral and he was buried with full military honours.)
Having marvelled at the exterior and wandered through the peaceful gardens, hire multilingual audio-cassettes and tour brochures. Tours start in a gothic-style baronial Great Hall flanked by suits of armour, standards and rather oppressive furniture, through the lighter, brighter conservatory with glorious Tiffany domed ceiling, up to the bedrooms and ultra-modern (for 1914) bathrooms and loos. Admission $8. Daily May-Oct