Sir Henry Pellatt and Lady Mary Pellatt
Sir Henry Pellatt, the dreamer behind Toronto's famous landmark, Casa Loma was born in Kingston, Ontario on January 6, 1859 to British parents. Ambitious from his youth, Sir Henry left his studies at Upper Canada College when he was seventeen to pursue a career in commerce in the family business. By the age of 23 he became a full partner in his father's stock brokerage firm, from that time on known as Pellatt and Pellatt. That year was also marked by his marriage to Mary Dodgeson, whom he met when he was twenty.
Even as a young man, Henry Pellatt embraced the spirit of the family motto "Devant Si Je Puis" - "Foremost if I can." When he met his bride-to-be, Sir Henry has already achieved local renown in 1879 for beating the U. S. amateur champion in the running of the mile. Travels in Europe gave him the love for fine art and architecture which would spur his vision of Casa Loma, his "house on the hill." This romantic side was uniquely juxtaposed by his other lifelong passion: his involvement with the military, specifically the Queen's Own Rifles.
A businessman ahead of his time
As a partner in Pellatt and Pellatt, Sir Henry was a business visionary. In the same year that Thomas Edison developed steam generated electricity, Sir Henry realized that supplying electricity could be extremely profitable. He founded the Toronto Electric Light Company in 1883. By the time he was thirty, the Toronto Electric Light Company enjoyed a monopoly on the supply of street lighting to the city.
In 1892 his father retired enabling Sir Henry to invest with more risk. Despite vigorous discouragement from his friends he purchased stock in the Canadian Pacific Railroad and in the North West Land Company. As with steam-generated electricity, his intuition was right on the target. A liberal immigration policy led to opening of the Canadian west which led to healthy profits from his investments in both the Canadian Pacific Railroad and in the North West Land Company.
By 1901, Sir Henry was chairman of 21 companies with interests in mining, insurance, land and electricity. In 1902, he and his partners won the rights to build the first Canadian hydro-generating plant at Niagara Falls. He was knighted in 1905 for his military service with the Queen's Own Rifles.
Pellatt's Midas touch continued through most of his business life. In 1911 armed with a fortune of $17 million, Pellatt drew up plans to build his dream castle with Canadian architect E. J. Lennox. The land on which he planned to build had been given a name by its previous owner: "house on the hill" or Casa Loma.
Toronto's own Camelot
Casa Loma took three years and $3, 500,000 to build. Sir Henry filled Casa Loma with artwork from Canada and around the world. Casa Loma stood as a monument to its creator - it surpassed any other private home in North America. With its soaring battlements and secret passageways, it paid homage to the castles and knights of days gone by.
Sir Henry's numerous business and military connections demanded entertaining on a large scale. Casa Loma with its romantic borrowing from the past, tempered by necessary modern day conveniences, provided the perfect setting. In the height of their years at the Castle, the planning of such a busy social calendar consumed much of Lady Pellatt's time.
In addition to hosting grand social events, the Pellatts were involved in a number of Philanthropic projects. Sir Henry was a trustee and benefactor of Trinity College and a strong supporter of Grace Hospital. The organization of the St. John's Ambulance Brigade in Canada is due largely to his efforts. Lady Pellatt, in spite of her frequent confinement to a wheelchair, played an active role in the promotion of Girl Guides in Canada. She was appointed the first Commissioner of the Girl Guides of Canada and was honoured with the Girl Guides' highest award, the Silver Fish in 1919.
Unfortunately, Sir Henry's fortunes could not sustain the magic that was Casa Loma. To finance expansion, Pellatt and Pellatt went further and further into debt. The one sure source of income from the monopoly of electrical power vanished when political decisions allowed for public ownership of electricity. In a futile attempt to restore his wealth, Sir Henry turned to land speculation. He was convinced that well-to-do Torontonians would rush to build homes around his castle.
However, in this case his entrepreneurial sense did not take into account the effects of World War I; during the war Canadians put their money into war bonds, not homes. After the war the economy slumped tilting Pellatt and Pellatt into bankruptcy. The company owed the home Bank of Canada $1.7 million - or in today's terms $20 million. With his stock worthless and his business debts out of control, Sir Henry was faced with a heartbreaking decision - a decision which he would always claim was made for him by the City's immovable tax assessors. Faced with an extraordinary tax bill, Sir Henry had no choice but to auction off his prized possessions for a fraction of their worth and to abandon his dream of a noble castle.
The Pellatts moved to their farm in King township in 1924. Lady Pellatt, weakened by the strain of the move and the financial difficulties, passed away later that year at the age of sixty-seven.
Though he lost a great fortune, Sir Henry never lost spirit of philanthropy; a character
trait for which he was honoured late in life. His service of fifty years with the Queen's
Own rifles was celebrated on June 27, 1926 with a march past of 500 men complete with
the circling overhead of three military planes. When Henry died on March 8, 1939,
thousands lined Toronto streets to witness his funeral procession. He was buried with full military honours befitting an old soldier who had given so much.