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Casa Loma and Toronto’s tourism landscape

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Built between 1911 and 1914 by Henry Pellatt, Casa Loma is one of Toronto’s most distinctive buildings. Financial difficulties forced Pellatt to give the house up in 1923 and it operated as a hotel and entertainment venue before being taken over by the Kiwanis Club in 1937.

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Under the Kiwanis Club’s management, the castle was a popular, if unchanging tourist destination. Exciting Toronto by TTC, a tourism pamphlet published in 1987, highlights it as an “architectural masterpiece.” Other sites mentioned in the pamphlet, such as the McLaughlin Planetarium or the  “Tour of the Universe,” (a look at life in 2019 that includes travel to Jupiter,) have long since called it a day. It’s clear Casa Loma has considerable staying power. Unfortunately, staying power doesn’t always equal profitability.

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By 2011, the castle’s upkeep cost more than it was bringing in, a shortfall that prevented its managers from investing in upgrades. As a result, the City of Toronto stepped in; eventually selecting Liberty Entertainment Group as Casa Loma’s new overseers. They’d taken control of an outdated building that was losing money: they had their work cut out for them.

Casa Loma Conservatory

So what does the future hold for this grand building? Its new managers seem to see potential in two distinct revenue streams.  In January 2014, Liberty Entertainment Group announced a $7.4 million revitalization plan that included additions like new technology to appeal to school groups and air conditioning and fine dining to increase the castle’s marketability as a venue for high-end events.

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Casa Loma has a lot going for it—after all, castles are rare and novel in North America. Nonetheless, as public demand changes and new nostalgias develop over time, Casa Loma will have to continue to fight for a piece of the more than $5 billion tourists spend in Toronto annually. By conserving the castle’s architectural heritage and accounting for social change, its managers will be able to keep it current.

First photo by Joseph Morris, second photo by Maia C, third photo by Special Collections Toronto Public Library, fourth photo by Billy Wilson, fifth photo by Carsten, all from Flickr (cc).

Lauren Miles is editor of OpenCity Projects.

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