Castles are one of the prime tourist attractions of Europe and the Middle East. These romantic fortresses and royal homes make for great photographs and fascinating reading. They offer an insight into history and are an easy sell to kids. But you don’t have to cross the Atlantic to see them.
Back around the turn of the last century, there was a boom in the number of millionaires in Canada and the United States. Industry was expanding and fortunes were being made, for some. It was called the Gilded Age, golden for the rich, rotten for the working class. The new millionaires, many of whom started from modest circumstances, wanted to show off their wealth, and what better way to do that than to build a castle? After all, the rich in Europe had them. Castles starting popping up all across North America. And now, many of these exclusive playgrounds for the rich are open to visitors.
(above) Casa Loma and part of its garden. Photo courtesy flickr user InSapphoWeTrust.
Familiar to every local schoolchild, Casa Loma (pictured above) is one of Toronto’s best-loved landmarks. This stately home was built by Sir Henry Pellat in 1914. Sir Pellat was one of a handful of millionaires who were said to “own” Canada. He made vast sums wiring Toronto for electricity and speculating in mining and other businesses. He poured much of his fortune into making his dream castle. The final price was $3.5 million, more than $40 million in today’s dollars.
Hallways of Italian marble lead to oak-paneled libraries filled with rare books, a soaring Great Hall that looks like something out of the Middle Ages, and a conservatory with a huge stained-glass skylight. Every room is filled with antiques, including Louis XIV furniture and suits of armor. There’s even an exact replica of the Coronation Chair from Westminster Abbey, where monarchs are crowned, as well as the Stone of Scone, the legendary coronation stone of Scottish kings.
Sadly, Pellat only got to live in his castle for a few years before unwise investments and an economic slump left him deeply in debt. He had to sell off Casa Loma. It was eventually reopened as a tourist attraction in 1937 and is a popular wedding venue and school field trip. The castle is also a favorite for filmmakers, with rooms being used in scenes in movies from Robocop to X-Men.