Casa Loma's 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 money.

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, said Seiler.

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. Lennox.

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 months.”

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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Posted Date: Tuesday, May 10, 2005
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