dreamer capitalist |
(Posted Date: Tuesday, May 10, 2005)
The life of the rich and famous
Sir Henry Pellatt
By Kris Scheuer
|BIG DREAMER and
visionary Sir Henry Pellatt built his country estate, Casa
Loma, for a mere $3.5 million — that’s $60 million in today's
Many people hope to leave a lasting
legacy after they are gone and Sir Henry Pellatt's Casa Loma is as
grand a landmark as one can imagine, but there is more to the man
than the famous castle on the hill.
One thing many people
don’t know about Pellatt is he was quite the athlete in his youth,
said Lou Seiler, spokesman for Casa Loma.
In 1879 at age 20,
the same year Pellatt met his future wife Mary Dodgeson, he held the
record in the North American Champion Mile Race.
He was born
in Kingston, Ont, on Jan. 6, 1859, but moved to Toronto at age two.
Pellatt left his studies at Upper Canada College when he was 17 to
pursue a career in the family business, and by age 23 he became a
full partner in his father's stock brokerage firm then called
Pellatt and Pellatt.
“He was a venture capitalist and had
properties across Canada,” said Seiler.
Pellatt founded the
Toronto Electric Light Company in 1883 and by the time he was 30,
his company had a monopoly on lighting the streets of Toronto. Less
than a decade later, he purchased stock in the Canadian Pacific
Railroad and in the North West Land Company. By 1901, Pellatt was
chairman of 21 companies, with interests in mining, insurance, land
and electricity. He and his partners built the first Canadian
hydro-generating plant at Niagara Falls, which is still there today,
Pellatt was knighted in 1905 for his 50 years
of military service with the Queen's Own Rifles, and was afterwards
referred to as Sir Henry.
By 1911, he had amassed a fortune
of $17 million (worth considerably more nowadays) and Pellatt drew
up plans to build his dream castle with Canadian architect E. J.
At the time, the Pellatts lived on downtown and Casa
Loma was to be their country estate, said Seiler.
“He was a
dreamer and a visionary and spent $3.5 million on it (Casa Loma). In
today’s terms that’s $60 million.”
He built the castle for
his wife Mary. “It was just the two of them there with 39 servants.
He was one of the wealthiest men in Canada at the time.”
Pellatt also bought some land around St. Clair Ave. West and
Bathurst St. in what became known as Cedarvale. But things took a
turn for the worse after the First World War; during a recession
that preceded the Great Depression, no one was thinking of buying
land. Sir Henry’s firm Pellatt and Pellatt owed the Home Bank of
Canada and had to declare bankruptcy. Pellatt was forced to auction
off the contents of the castle. But Casa Loma, which was in his
wife’s name, could not be taken, said Seiler.
“He sold it
for $400,000 to a Mr. Sparling, who turned it into a hotel for 18
The hotel failed and was sold back to Pellatt, but
now that the castle was in his name, he was forced to give it to the
city, as he owed back taxes.
Casa Loma was then taken over
by the Kiwanis Club, and in 1937 was opened to the public, something
Pellatt was happy about.
“His hope was that it would be
turned into a military museum, and that pretty much happened, as the
Queen’s Own Rifle has an exhibit on the third floor,” Seiler said.
Casa Loma is the city’s second most visited attraction,
after the CN Tower, and now attracts 450,000 people a year.
Pellatt died on March 8, 1939. According to the book
<I>Casa Loma and the Man Who Built It,</I> by John
Denison, “Sir Henry’s funeral was the largest in Toronto’s history.
Thousands lined King Street to catch a glimpse of the horse-drawn
gun carriage bearing the casket.”
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