Jun. 13, 2006. 01:00 AM
The Kiwanis Club of Casa Loma has manned the battlements to defend its guardianship of the city landmark.
But it had to dodge some missiles launched by Trelawny Howell. She told a Toronto council committee meeting packed with Kiwanians yesterday that, as a great-grandniece of the castle's builder, she'd like to see others get the chance to care for Casa Loma.
The skirmish had councillors on the economic development committee ducking for cover: They put off a decision on who should run the castle and asked for further consultation — a decision that's likely to stall things until after November's municipal elections.
The battle was launched by a report from an advisory committee, headed by former MPP Ron Kanter, which recommended turning management of the castle over to a new "Casa Loma Trust."
The castle is owned by the city — which took it over from the builder, Sir Henry Pellatt, in 1924 for non-payment of taxes — but has been run since 1937 by the Kiwanis Club of Casa Loma under a licence agreement.
While the Kiwanians run the castle and maintain the interior, the city maintains the exterior. The city is in the midst of a multi-year, $20 million project to repair the outside walls.
Kanter said a new management structure is needed for Casa Loma because competition for visitors is stiffer than ever, and under the current set-up the castle gets no funding from corporate sponsors or senior governments.
"We're trying to create a champion for the castle," he said.
But Richard Wozenilek, who chairs Casa Loma's board of trustees, bristled at the suggestion that after 70 years of Kiwanis management the castle should be put up for grabs.
"What we have in the city today is this icon we call Casa Loma that we built as our business,' he told reporters. "And now they're just going to hand it off to someone else? It's absurd."
Most people think they (the Kiwanis) own the castle ... It's Torontonians'.Trelawny Howell
The advisory committee gave the Kiwanians a minimal role in their review process, he said: "We could have told them a lot of things they missed or distorted in their report."
The advisory committee wants Casa Loma to focus on "telling the story of Edwardian Toronto" and to link with the nearby City Archives and Spadina Museum to form a heritage district.
It also says Casa Loma could pull in much more revenue with a high-end restaurant and a swankier gift shop.
But Casa Loma chief executive Virginia Cooper said installing an expensive restaurant on the ground floor "for the Forest Hill and Annex crowd" would eat up valuable space that now helps to generate $2 million of the castle's $5.4 million in revenue each year. The city got $948,886 in licence and other fees, Kiwanis says.
Cooper said the gift shop is profitable and defended the restaurant: "Yes, we have a Druxy's in our basement. So does the Royal Ontario Museum."
The committee room was packed with supporters of the Kiwanis Club, which has hired former Toronto councillor Paul Sutherland of public relations firm Hill & Knowlton to bolster their case.
But Trelawny Howell, who said her great-grandmother's sister was Sir Henry Pellatt's wife, turned up at City Hall to call for an end to the Kiwanis Club's "monopoly control" of the castle. She said it has become too identified as a Kiwanis facility: "This is a great way to brand their charity, their international charity, which is headquartered in Michigan, Detroit," said Howell.
"I say this is our Canadian castle. It's Torontonians'. It's Canada's castle. It's time that the City of Toronto as the owners take their rightful position to showcase it as our castle, and not to have it branded as the Kiwanis Club's."
"I'm hoping council will open up a request for proposal and have an open, public tender process."
What do you think?