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The Restoration of Toronto’s Most Beloved Historic Site – Casa Loma


The Casa Loma estate, constructed between 1907 and 1914, was home to the prominent Toronto financier Sir Henry Pellatt and his wife Mary. During its construction, the enormous Gothic Revival building was a ‘must- see’ for the curiosity seekers of Edwardian Toronto.

Today, Casa Loma is owned by the City of Toronto and has been operated by The Kiwanis Club of Casa Loma, a charitable organization, since 1937. Hosting over 400,000 visitors a year, Casa Loma is one of Toronto’s most popular tourist and hospitality venues.

With the dawn of the new millennium, remnants of the past are treasured with a renewed vigor. Over the past years there has been an increased focus on taking care of our historical sites to ensure that future generations will have the opportunity to appreciate them.

As owner, the City of Toronto is responsible for maintaining the exterior roofs and walls of Casa Loma and the stables, as well as the perimeter walls of the Estate. In 1994, the City initiated a project to assess the exterior, which had been battered by time and the elements. Summit Restoration Inc. was hired to conduct a survey of the castle and the surrounding structures. As a result of the deterioration revealed in this 1995 survey, the City began to plan for an extensive restoration of the famous landmark to stabilize its superstructure.

The Plan
To carry out the restoration project, Vanbotts Construction Corporation was selected as Construction Manager in 1996, along with Taylor/Hazell Architects. Detailed surveys in 1997 revealed that certain areas of the exterior roof and wall structures were in an advanced stage of deterioration and would require stabilization and restoration to eliminate public safety concerns and preserve the historic integrity of the buildings. A master plan was prepared for the restoration that identified areas in need of stabilization and /or restoration, and outlined a work schedule for the project.
Conservatively estimated at $ 20 million, the project was divided into a number of phases, which will be spread out over the next decade. Fourteen chimneys, the Norman and Scottish towers, parapets, three turret roofs, two sandstone sculptures, the Entrance Tower and Porte-cochere, the Conservatory roof and portions of the Stable were identified as needing priority restoration.

The Process
While the restoration of any older building should be carried out with the utmost care, with Casa Loma it was even more important.
In 1973, the City of Toronto officially recognized Casa Loma as being architecturally and historically important to the City. In 1987, the estate was designated under the Ontario Heritage Act for similar reasons. As this major restoration program gets underway, each step of the restoration will be monitored by Heritage Toronto, the agency of the City of Toronto that is responsible for the preservation of Toronto’s architectural heritage.
As a designated property, it was essential that the building materials, style and spirit of the Castle be respected during the restoration. While the primary building materials were buff brick and gray sandstone, cast stone was used extensively.
A patented form of concrete, cast stone, was used to create decorative effects on the perimeter wall and parapets, as well as around the window and door openings. Sir Henry Pellatt was the President of the Roman Stone Company, (a manufacturing plant that produced cast stone). Its liberal use at Casa Loma no doubt promoted his patented product. Because of the use of inappropriate coatings and inconsistent maintenance the cast stone has weathered badly, particularly at the roof line.

Phase One
In 1996, with a budget of $ 750,000, Phase One was begun. This work consisted of stabilization dismantling and restoration of the most critical building elements. A chimney was dismantled, hoarding and netting was applied to other projections at the roof line, leaking flat roofs were replaced at the Castle and exterior restoration was undertaken at the Stables. Under a separate initiative the tile roof at the Scottish Tower was replaced.
Extensive testing was carried out on the composition of the original cast stone in order to successfully reproduce a modern cast stone product which could replace the damaged portions. The final product is similar in colour and texture to the original and is expected to equal or exceed the best qualities of the original.

Phase Two – The Entrance Tower
This ambitious scope of work focused on the restoration of the main entrance to the castle and was completed over a 5-month period during the winter of 1999. The work addressed conditions of advanced deterioration at the roof level of the tower and porte-cochere. In addition, the work included restoration of the steel and lead windows and the bronze lantern at the entrance. Masonry work included manufacture of Roman Stone, a proprietary product introduced by Sir Henry Pellatt and used on many of Toronto’s most prestigious buildings until the 1930’s. Lead and lead coated copper have been introduced to protect original materials and improve the resistance of the structure to damage by acid rain and nature erosion. Layers of paint which had been applied to the Roman Stone were carefully removed revealing its chiseled texture and allowing it to “breath”. The restored tower is a vivid example of the technology and final appearance, which will typify all future restoration efforts at Casa Loma

Phase Three
With the main entrance secured, work proceeded in the summer of 1999 with the stabilization of all buildings and structures on the site. Advanced deterioration of the exterior masonry had lead to extensive damage which the present funding program could not keep pace with. In response to these conditions it was decided that structures that were in the most jeopardy would be documented and then either dismantled or stabilized. Several chimneys and gables were dismantled while other areas were crated in place. Restoration of these important building components will be a priority in future phases of restoration.

Phase Four
Following the emertgency dismantling work required in Phase 3, the City decided to combine the remainder of that year’s allocation into Phase 4 to be able to afford the challenge of restoring the Stable’s Tower. The Phase 4 scope of work was three times greater than that of the Castle entrance tower in 1999. Massive deterioration was found and the entire upper third of the tower had to be dismantled. The work will be completed in June of 2001 and its “unveiling” promises to be an important event.
At the same time as these accomplishments are marked, deterioration accelerates over the rest of the site. This year’s spring survey of the Castle revealed many dangerous conditions and an extensive program of dismantling and banding was required to avoid closure of the garden terrace. The reality of Casa Loma is that it is being dismantled at a greater rate than it is being restored and rebuilt.
To date, four chimneys have been dismantled; five have been banded and may have to be removed; significant gargoyles, such as the rooftop lion, have been removed; many parts of the exterior facade have been crated or netted and numerous loose areas have been chipped and patched. It can be expected that until a comprehensive restoration program is adopted, an increasing proportion of the monies that are available will be spent on emergency work and more areas will be off limits to the public.

Next Steps
Further phases of this critical restoration program will be carried out over the next several years as budgets are approved by the City of Toronto.
Each year, Casa Loma contributes significant revenue to the City of Toronto through licence fees and property taxes- $971,044 in 1999/2000. The majority of the licence fees are now being allocated directly to the annual cost of the restoraion work at the Castle.
As well, this year the City of Toronto and Casa Loma are undertaking a joint feasability study through Ketchum Canada to test the receptivity of the philanthropic and sponsorship sectors to a capital campaign for the restoration program and other development initiatives. Grant opportunities through federal and provincial programs such as SuperBuild are also being explored.
Every effort will be made to secure funds for the timely restoration of Casa Loma to ensure that Toronto’s famous landmark will continue to be enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

Contact: Virginia Cooper
CEO, Casa Loma
(416) 923-1171
Ext. 203
Bob Ferguson
Facilities and
Real Estate,
City of
Updated May 29, 2001