Aug-10-2010 The Star – Getting to know the King of Casa Loma

Sir Henry Pellatt lived in a world unto himself: lavish, bombastic and out of touch with Toronto
No statue was erected to the man, no arena named for him, no postage stamp printed in his honor.

If you screamed “Sir Henry Pellatt!” down Yonge St., almost nobody would recognize the name.

Rich out of all proportion, he built Canada’s largest private home – now one of Toronto’s top tourist landmarks – yet he remains almost anonymous. Why?

A reading of Sir Henry Pellatt: The King of Casa Loma, a 1982 biography by Toronto writer Charlie Oreskovich, suggests the man lived apart from the city’s true development and primarily for his own self-aggrandizement.

Champion runner: In 1879, at the age of 20, Pellatt ran the mile in New York, beating the U.S. champion and setting a world record at 4:42.4. That same year, however, Toronto’s Edward “Ned” Hanlon captured the English championship in the far more popular sport of sculling, and the next year clinched the world title.

Eye for beauty: Pellatt married Mary Dodgson in 1882 and commissioned an artist to depict the back of her head. He found the nape of her neck exquisite, he explained. Unfortunately, Lady Pellatt suffered chronic poor health. She died at 67 in 1924, the year they were forced out of Casa Loma.

Hydro-electric visionary: In 1903, Pellatt and two partners won exclusive rights to generate the first large-scale hydro-electric power for Toronto at Niagara Falls. Public opinion was against private ownership of water power, however, and in 1906 the province claimed the resource on behalf of all Ontarians.

Lavish patron: Pellatt saw himself not only as king of his castle, but also as commander of his own army, the Queen’s Own Rifles. At the time it was a reserve company unarmed, untrained and without uniforms. Showering money on the unit, Pellatt lifted it to a respectable outfit that formed part of Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee honor guard and achieved other distinctions. The public viewed Pellatt’s generosity as self-serving, however, and never recognized him as a philanthropist.

Top financier: In 1913, Pellatt was said to rank among 23 stock-market investors who controlled the Canadian economy. He achieved success, however, by manipulating stocks unethically. A public inquiry into the insurance industry found him in conflict of interest and clarified the law to limit his dealings. Castle builder: Between 1911 and 1914, the construction of Pellatt’s hilltop house, with its 30 bathrooms, drew little media or public interest. “It just did not fit into the Toronto world,” Oreskovich writes. After 10 years, Pellatt was in tax arrears and the city forced him out. He died with $85 to his name.

Credit: John Goddard Toronto Star

Caption: A champion runner, Pellatt won several athletic prizes by age 20. Sir Henry Pellatt in Aldershot, England, with members of the Queens Own Rifles. The self-bought army reserve led to the British knighthood in 1905. Courtesy of Casa Loma

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