Casa Loma is Toronto's castle-shaped house on the hill. Built just over a century ago – but never quite finished – it cost the equivalent of $74 million in today's dollars. That's enough to pay for one hundred TTC buses, ten years of Harper's pre-election Economic Action Plan ads, or a supplemental funding bump for the Pan-Am games. That's a lot of money, even by the standards of Toronto's contemporary real estate market. The result, all these years later, is that it's a popular spot for visitors – and it's a key personal landmark for me as well.
It's where I married my favourite person five years ago.
So on our anniversary weekend we went back for a visit.
This is what people think of when I say that I was married at Casa Loma. These are just a few of the chandeliers in the library on the main floor – a tremendous and grand room, and it's only one of the three that together will host as many as 550 guests.
(Click on small photos to see them larger, if you wish.)
This is where the magic actually happened. It's the Austin Room, tucked away on the third floor. It's not nearly as ornate as the main level, but it's a nice space, and it has an unrivalled view.
And this is the view from the Austin Room. It faces the fountain in front of the house, and just to the right of it, on the grass near the wall, is where I first met Penny. We were married within sight of where our relationship began four years and four months earlier.
There was simply no better place for us to be.
That it just happened to be a castle is the way things have so often worked out for us.
Construction, renovation, and restoration is an ongoing process at Casa Loma. The building was never really finished before being left unoccupied for many years, and has been run as an attraction with limited financial resources for decades. A labour of love, certainly. But in the five years since our last visit the Casa has had a change in management and is a vastly different place.
It was good before, but it's so much better now.
We thought we'd linger at the castle for a couple of hours, having seen it all already; instead we stayed for five.
When I was here last this room on the third floor was a cramped office. It's where we met with the people on the other side of the wedding organizational task, filled with desks, papers, and at least one laser printer. It could have been a repurposed spare room in any of Toronto's abundant old homes. But now it's restored and part of the public experience, and that theme – opening and using spaces that had been off-limits or neglected – was repeated all through our visit.
And the changes go beyond leaving the doors open for rooms that might otherwise be used for functions and meetings. The theatre has moved into the swimming pool, which is brilliant and makes perfect sense. The gift shop has shrunk, and like the rest of the castle it's more tightly focused and less generic. Even the famous tunnel has been upgraded from bringing mere dankness and inhospitableness to the experience, without losing its essential character.
Casa Loma has two towers; on our previous tours, spanning four years, the eastern Scottish Tower was open for visitors. This time, all these years later, the western Norman Tower was open. It's a daunting climb – especially when the castle is busy – but offers an amazing view.
Toronto is a city of trees, and October is a beautiful time of year. The cooler weather and amazing colours, in the gardens and the surroundings of Casa Loma, were a big part of why we chose autumn as the best time to get married. Then and now, it doesn't disappoint.
This is looking roughly east-northeast. The modest little home nearby is Spadina (spa•dee•na) House, once home of the Austin Family and now a city museum with its own slate of programming and events.
And this is the view looking south from the Norman Tower. The street to the left, and most visible south of the rail line, is Spadina Road, which becomes Spadina (spa•dye•na) Avenue south of Bloor street. And that's where Penny and I live, just south of Bloor.
Although new construction has since blocked our view, when my favourite person and I first moved into our home together we could see the towers of Casa Loma from our living room.
A landmark for the city, and for us.
Casa Loma, October 2010.