Built in the shadow of Toronto's very own castle — with which it shares a name — and surrounded by ravines, hills and a forest of large trees, the neighbourhood of Casa Loma often seems more like a fairytale village than a fashionable enclave in the heart of downtown.
Bordered by St. Clair Avenue on the north, Avenue Road on the east, Dupont Street and the CP railway tracks on the south, and Bathurst Street on the west, Casa Loma (Spanish for Hill House) looms over the Annex on an escarpment called Davenport Hill. The neighbourhood is populated by houses built mostly in the early 1900s, and contains some of the city’s finest examples of large Tudor, Georgian, Edwardian, and English Cottage-style homes.
The neighbourhood offers some of the most spectacular views of the southern half of the city, and the quiet streets lined by large homes, the nature trails, historical tours and parks — along with Casa Loma itself — lend the area a distinctive character. But at the same time, the neighbourhood is literally only steps away from some of the city’s main streets.
History and Social Profile
The first home erected in the neighbourhood was put up in 1818 by Dr. William Baldwin. Baldwin originally christened his 200-acre property and estate Spadina, from the native word espadinong, meaning “hill” or “sudden rise of land.” The house burned down in 1835, and the grounds were purchased by James Austin, the founder of Consumers Gas, in 1866.
In the latter half of the 19th century and early part of the 20th, Austin sold much of his territory, allowing the area to be subdivided into homes occupied by the wealthy elite of the city. Austin’s own home currently remains open to the public as as museum known as Spadina House.
But the area really started to come into its own in 1903, when financier Sir Henry Pellatt bought 25 lots, and instructed architect E.J. Lennox to design what was to be the most spectacular home in the city. Construction in fact ran from 1911 to 1914 and required a team of 300 men. In fact, construction was only halted by the advent of World War I. Most of the third floor, in fact, was never finished, and today it serves as the Regimental Museum for The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada. Even then, the home cost $3.5 million, and with 98 rooms, was the largest private home in Canada.
Unfortunately for Sir Henry, the post-war economic downturn hit him hard and he was forced to abandon the house in 1923. Casa Loma was briefly a luxury hotel and then a nightclub, before being seized by the city in 1933 for non-payment of taxes. In 1937, the property was leased to the Kiwanis Club — the city took back operational control in 2011 — and has functioned as a museum and showcase. The building’s five acres of luxurious gardens have also long been a popular destination for those seeking a quiet place to relax and enjoy a beautiful summer or spring day.
The spectacular building has also become a popular location for filmmakers, featuring prominently in features as diverse as The X-Men, Strange Brew, Chicago and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.
At the time of Casa Loma’s construction, the neighbourhood was probably the wealthiest in Toronto. Many rich Torontonians followed Pellatt’s example and built their own luxury homes in the area. Many of those houses still exist today, and the area is heavily populated by single-family homes. More recently, a number of high-end condos and townhomes have started to be constructed in the Casa Loma neighbourhood.
Today, residents are attracted not only by the houses and the self-contained nature of the neighbourhood, but by green spaces like the Beltline Trail, which runs through the Nordheimer Ravine, a thick retreat of mature oak and maple trees. There’s also the large Sir Winston Churchill Park at Spadina and St. Clair, which features 10 tennis courts and its own running track.
Casa Loma is also home to one of the downtown campuses of George Brown College and to the Tarragon Theatre, one of Toronto’s leading venues for independent drama. It’s also within walking distance of the University of Toronto, the Royal Ontario Museum and the shops and restaurants of Yorkville and Bloor Street.
- Frangipane Patisserie
- Live Organic Food Bar
- Ezra’s Pound
- Magic Oven
- Corner House Restaurant
- Dupont Station
- St. Clair West Station
- St. Clair Streetcar
- Buses serve Bathurst Street and Dupont Street
- Palmerston Avenue Junior School, 734 Palmerston Avenue, 416-393-9305
- Huron Street Junior, 541 Huron Street, 416-393-1570
- Jesse Ketchum Junior and Senior, 61 Davenport Road, 416-393-1530
- Harbord Collegiate, 286 Harbord Street, 416-393-1650
- Central Technical School, 725 Bathurst Street, 416-393-0060