Sunday, November 29, 2015

Casa Loma

Casa Loma, The House on the Hill, is a Gothic Revival castle in Toronto.  In 1903, Sir Henry Pellatt purchased 25 lots of land from developer Kertland and Rolf.  Pellatt, a financier and soldier, was born in Kingston, Ontario in 1859.  He married society lady Mary Dodgson in his twenties.  Pellatt commissioned Toronto-based architect E.J. Lennox to design Casa Loma.  Lennox had already designed some of Toronto's notable buildings, including the Old City Hall.

Construction on Casa Loma began in 1911.  The building took three years to complete, with three hundred workers involved in its construction.  The Hunting Lodge, stables and potting shed were built first.  Pellatt resided in the Hunting Lodge while the stables became the construction site.  At a cost of 3.5 million dollars, the house had 98 rooms, 52 phones, an elevator, a central vacuum system, secret passages, a pool, a bowling alley, and a stove big enough to cook an ox in.  The biggest private residence in Toronto, Casa Loma measures 64,700 sq ft ( 6,011m sq).

After WWI, during the depression, Ontario increased Casa Loma's annual property taxes from $600 a year to $1000 a month.  The already struggling Pellatt was thus forced to sell art work and furnishings.  In 1923, before a decade had passed, Pellatt had to leave Casa Loma.

The castle was abandoned until the late 1920s, when it was used as a luxury hotel and attracted wealthy Americans escaping prohibition.  When the property failed to pay its taxes in 1933, the city took Casa Loma over.  By then in a rundown state, the city considered demolishing the castle.  In 1937, the castle received a reprieve, and The Kiwanis Club of West Toronto, later of Casa Loma, began to run the castle as a tourist destination. 

During WWII, as tourists walked through the castle, Casa Loma was used as a top-secret sonar research and construction centre to assist in the detection of German U-Boats.  For 74 years, until 2011, the Kiwanis Club continued to manage Casa Loma.  The tenure suffered a few controversies in its time, including a bid made by the great-grandniece of Pellatt, Trelawney Howell, to open tender of the property. 

$33 million-worth of renovations, taking over 15 years, occurred to the facade of Casa Loma between 1997 and 2012.  The restorations were largely funded by the City of Toronto.  Following a failure on the part of the Kiwanis Club of Casa Loma to help pay for upgrades on the castle, despite having agreed to do so, the city resumed temporary management of Casa Loma.  The city opened bids to the private sector and, in January 2014, the Liberty Entertainment Group entered a long-term lease.  The lease involved a promise to spend $7.4 million on the continued restoration of the castle.  A popular tourist destination now, as well as being used as the setting for many feature films and TV series, Casa Loma is also a venue for social gatherings and weddings. 

Since the 1930s, there have been reports of paranormal activity at Casa Loma.  The most reported sighting is of the White Lady, believed to be a maid who worked at the castle and died in the influenza epidemic that killed around 60,000 people in Toronto.  Lady Mary Pellatt has been spotted walking the grounds, and a former gardener has been sighted tending plants in the conservatory.  Sir Henry Pellatt himself has reportedly been seen wandering around the castle.  He is most often seen at his desk.  A dark shadow allegedly walks across the Casa Loma library floor.  The sound of children has been heard in the castle when no children were present.  One of the most notorious ghosts of Casa Loma haunts the tunnels that lead to the stables.  Believed to be the ghost of one of Sir Henry's friends that was hired to look after his prized horses, the apparition reportedly pulls people's hair and tugs at their clothes. 

I have visited Casa Loma a few times, and always enjoy seeing this magnificent building.  It truly is like a castle in the middle of a very modern city.  I had two strange experiences at Casa Loma.  One happened in a room that, unbeknownst to me, was a favourite haunt of Lady Pellatt.  I was taking photographs and let the camera drop from my view just in time to be peripherally aware of a figure in the room.  What was strange is that the room is a cordoned-off display and, of course, there was no-one actually there.  I have tried several times to go through the tunnel that leads from the castle to the stables, but each time I have just felt "uncomfortable" and decided against it...there is a strange feeling down at the mouth of the castle tunnel, and it's not a welcoming one. 

Casa Loma is a beautiful place to spend a few hours just marvelling at its glory. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

St Andrews Castle

Legend says that an angel appeared to the monk, St Rule, telling him to remove the bones of St Andrew to the "ends of the earth for safe keeping".  Leaving Constantinople, St Rule was shipwrecked on the east coast of Fife in Scotland, where he built a chapel for the relics of St Andrew.  The site went on to be known as St Andrews, and became the ecclesiastical centre of Scotland before the Protestant Reformation.  On a promontory that reaches into the North Sea and overlooks a small beach called Castle Sands, there has been a castle since 1189, when the son of the Earl Of Leicester, Bishop Roger, constructed the original one. 

Once constructed, the castle became a place to house the wealthy and powerful bishops of the Burgh.  It was known as the Archbishop's Palace.  In 1296, following the Sack of Berwick by Edward I of England, St Andrews Castle was captured and became a place of residence for the English King in 1303.  The Battle of Bannockburn, a significant event in the War of Scottish Independence and the subsequent Scottish victory in 1314, saw the castle taken by Bishop William Lambert, a staunch supporter of Robert the Bruce.

By the 1330s, the English had yet again captured St Andrews Castle and, in an attempt to keep it, they reinforced its defences in 1336.  Following a three-week siege, Sir Andrew Moray, the regent of Scotland, a prominent figure in the Scottish War of Independence whose father was a comrade of William Wallace, recaptured the castle.  In 1336-37, it was decided by the Scots that St Andrews Castle needed to be destroyed to prevent it falling back into English hands and providing a military stronghold for them.

The castle remained a ruin until the 1400s, when it was rebuilt by Bishop William Trial.  He completed the work on the castle, but died within a year of the castle being completed.  The castle became a place where royalty stayed.  James I of Scotland lodged at the castle while receiving his education from Bishop Henry Wardlow, who was the founder of St Andrews University in 1401.  The Bishop James Kennedy, trusted advisor of James II, resided in St Andrews Castle and, in 1445, James III of Scotland was born in the castle.

St Andrews Castle was also used as a prison.  The likes of David Stuart, the Duke of Rothesay, Duke Murdoch and Archbishop Patrick Graham were imprisoned in the castle.  The castle was known for its  notorious "bottle dungeon": a dark pit, with no fresh air, cut out of solid rock.  John Knox, the Scottish Reformer, said of the "bottle dungeon" that, "Many of God's children were imprisoned here."  During the Scottish Reformation, St Andrews Castle became the centre of religious persecution. 

The Archbishop of Glasgow, James Beaton, won the seat of Glasgow in 1521 and took up residence in the castle.  With the obviously growing tensions between the English Protestants and the Scottish Catholics, Beaton decided to reinforce the castle's fortifications.  It was at the hand of Archbishop James Beaton that Scottish Churchman and Protestant Reformer, Patrick Hamilton, was accused of heresy and burnt at the stake.  It was said that it took 6 hours for the execution to be complete, and Hamilton's suffering from noon 'til 6pm attracted many to the doctrines for which he had been martyred. 

In 1538, the wealthy and powerful nephew of James Beaton succeeded his uncle.  Cardinal David Beaton was an ambitious man who was strongly opposed to the marriage of Mary Queen of Scots to Prince Edward, later Edward VI, son and heir of Henry VIII.  This opposition resulted in growing tension, and new fighting ignited in 1544. 

Scottish Protestants became viewed as aligned with the English and therefore dangerous.  In 1546, Cardinal Beaton imprisoned the Protestant preacher, George Wishart, in the castle's Sea Tower.  Cardinal Beaton had Wishart burnt at the stake, a spectacle he was said to have sat and enjoyed from the comfort of the castle.  Supporters and friends of Wishart conspired against the Cardinal and, disguised as masons, entered the castle.  They murdered Cardinal Beaton, and were said to have hung his naked body from the castle, some say, suspended by one arm and one leg, in reference to the cross of St Andrew.

As a result of this murder, the Protestants took refuge in the castle.  A long siege ensued, during which a mine was dug by the attackers and a counter-mine was dug by the defenders.  Both mines went through solid rock.  Following rumours that Henry VIII was sending assistance to the besieged Protestants, Scottish Regent James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Arran, asked Lairds like John Wemyss to assist with the battle.  The invasion, however, never came.

In 1547, an armistice was declared, and Scottish Reformer, John Knox, was able to enter the castle as the Garrison's preacher.  A French fleet ended this period of peace, arriving with Italian engineer and member of the famed Strozzi family of Florence, Leone Strozzi.  A devastating attack was directed at the castle under the guidance of Strozzi.  In just six hours, the Protestants were taken from St Andrews castle.  Some were imprisoned in France, while some, like John Knox, were chained in the French galleys.  Knox served 19 months chained in a French ship, forced to row all day.  It's unclear how he attained his freedom, but he went on to become the founder of the Presbyterian denomination in Scotland.

St Andrews Castle was subsequently rebuilt by Archbishop John Hamilton.  The successor to Cardinal Beaton, he was the illegitimate son of Regent Arran.  With the death of John Hamilton, the castle was occupied by various constables and, in 1606, parliament separated the castle from the Archbishopric, and awarded the castle to the Earl of Dunbar. 

In 1612, it was returned to the Archbishop George Gledstone.  The office of Bishop became eroded and, in 1689, William of Orange, the sovereign Prince of Orange since birth, the stadholder of the Dutch Republic and King William II of England, Ireland and Scotland, affectionately known as King Billy, abolished the office of Bishop.

By 1656, St Andrews Castle had fallen into disrepair and it was decided that, instead of rebuilding it, the materials from its structure should be used to repair the St Andrews Pier.  All that remains now is the bottle dungeon, the kitchen tower, the underground mine and counter-mine, and the south wall enclosing a square tower.

With such a long and tumultuous history, it is no wonder that there have been many reports of paranormal activity at the site of St Andrews Castle (not to be confused with the ghosts of St Andrews Cathedral, which will be discussed in another post).  The most famous ghost at St Andrews Castle is that of the murdered Cardinal David Beaton.  The ghost of Cardinal Beaton has been witnessed on many occasions.  A visitor to the castle reported seeing a dark shadowy figure moving between the windows of the ruined castle, where no floors exist anymore.  The Cardinal has been sited in full ornate gowns walking around the bottle dungeon.  Patrick Hamilton, martyred by being burnt at the stake, is said to haunt the tower at the castle, a vantage point from which he can see the place of his execution.  It is said that students at St Andrews University don't step on the monogrammed tiles on the floor that mark the place where Hamilton was executed, for fear of failing their exams. 

When I visited St Andrews, I was only aware of its place in the golf world.  The history of the town is astonishing.  Walking amongst the windswept ruins of St Andrews Castle is quite an experience.  Looking down into the bottle dungeon, you are aware it was a site of suffering and cruelty but, seeing its ancient stones as they stand up to the blustering North Sea, there is also something magical about it.  You are aware of a long history, and it has the feel of a place significant in the history of Scotland and, indeed, the world.