Casa Loma at War

By David Suatac

At the outbreak of war in 1914, a wealthy Toronto financier by the name of Sir Henry Pellatt had just constructed one of the most luxurious residences in Canada, Casa Loma.  The effort cost him 3.5 million dollars and three years of planning and building. A passionate military man, Pellatt and his wife, Lady Mary Pellatt, used their considerable social connections to fundraise on behalf of the war effort. Below, one can see photos of a September 1915 Red Cross and Girl Guides of Canada rally held on the grounds of Casa Loma that typified their war contribution. 

Red Cross tent and nurses at Girl Guide Rally, at Pellatt's [Casa Loma, Toronto]Red Cross tent and nurses at Girl Guide Rally, at Pellatt's [Casa Loma, Toronto]. 25 September 1915. Credit: John Boyd / Library and Archives Canada /

Pellatt’s military passion also extended to The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada. He joined as a young man in the 1870s, and remained with the regiment until in 1910 when he retired with the rank of Major-General. A year before the war, he funded an overseas trip for all 600 members of the regiment – and their horses – so that they could participate in a military drill in England.

In 1923, Pellatt and Lady Mary were forced to sell Casa Loma and the City of Toronto took possession of the residence in 1933. A proposal to use Casa Loma as a veteran’s convalescence home came to naught, and through the Second World War the residence was operated as a tourist attraction. Unbeknownst to outside world however, Casa Loma’s stables housed a secret sonar production and research facility where ASDIC devices were built. These sonar detectors were used by convoys bringing vital war supplies across the Atlantic to detect the precise location of enemy U-Boats at a distance of a few kilometres, and helped secure a safer supply line to Europe.

Since 1970, Casa Loma has been the home of The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada’s regimental museum, a fitting testament to Sir Henry Pellatt’s patronage.

Sources:

1. Library and Archives Canada.
2. http://www.casaloma.org/about.history.gk
3. Eric Leclerc. “Casa Loma: The House that Henry Built: How a Castle in Downtown Toronto helped us win the Battle of the Atlantic in WWII.” Esprit de Corps. 18.6 (July 2011). 

Featured Image: Credit: Kenneth E. Kidd / Library and Archives Canada / PA-057944

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