August 09, 2010
The Toronto Star
No statue was erected to the man, no arena named for him, no postage stamp printed in his honour.
If you screamed “Sir Henry Pellatt” down Yonge St. almost nobody would recognize the name.
Rich out of all proportion, he built Canada’s largest private home — now one of Toronto’s top tourist landmarks — yet he remains almost anonymous.
A reading of Sir Henry Pellatt: The King of Casa Loma, a 1982 biography by Toronto writer Charlie Oreskovich, suggests the man lived apart from the city’s true development and primarily for his own self-aggrandizement.
Champion runner: In 1879, at the age of 20, Pellatt ran the mile in New York, beating the U.S. champion and setting a world record at 4:42.4. That same year, however, Toronto’s Edward “Ned” Hanlon captured the English championship in the far more popular sport of sculling and the next year clinched the world title.
Eye for beauty: Pellatt married Mary Dodgson in 1882 and commissioned an artist to portray the back of her head. He found the nape of her neck exquisite, he explained. Unfortunately, Lady Pellatt suffered chronic poor health. She died at 67 in 1924, the year they were forced out of Casa Loma.
Hydro-electric visionary: In 1903, Pellatt and two partners won exclusive rights to generate the first large-scale hydro-electric power for Toronto at Niagara Falls. Pubic opinion turned against private ownership of water power, however, and in 1906 the province claimed the resource on behalf of all Ontarians.
Lavish patron: Pellatt saw himself not only as king of his castle but also as commander of his own army — the Queen’s Own Rifles, at the time a reserve company that was unarmed, untrained and without uniforms. Showering money on the unit, Pellatt lifted it to a respectable outfit that formed part of Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee honour guard and achieved other distinctions. The public viewed Pellatt’s generosity as self-serving, however, and never recognized him as a philanthropist.
Knight bachelor: Pellatt’s love of empire and involvement with the Queen’s Own Rifles led in 1905 to a knighthood from King Edward VII. By then, however, such titles were largely scorned as anachronistic, and in 1919 Parliament banned Canadians from receiving them.
Top financier: In 1913, Pellatt was said to rank among 23 stock-market investors who controlled the Canadian economy. He achieved his success, however, by manipulating stocks unethically. A public inquiry into the insurance industry found him in conflict of interest and clarified the law to limit his dealings. Later, as an inquiry established, his dishonest land dealings helped lead to the collapse of a bank. When his father died, Pellatt administered the estate “and in the end he cheated everyone in the family out of their rightful legacy,” writes biographer Oreskovich.
Castle builder: Between 1911 and 1914, the construction of Pellatt’s hilltop house, with its 30 bathrooms, drew little media or public interest. “It just did not fit into the Toronto world,” Oreskovich writes. After 10 years, he was in tax arrears on the house and the city forced him out. He died with just $85 to his name.
*Photos courtesy of Casa Loma