Councillor Josh Matlow

Casa Loma could be our house

December 31 2012


Toronto Star

Patty Winsa


It looks like Toronto’s history will finally have a home in one of the city’s most historic venues.


Plans to use part of Casa Loma as a Toronto museum are moving ahead. Although like Sir Henry Pellatt’s 1914 dream home — which was never completed inside — the vision has been scaled back.


“We are not the Guggenheim Museum. We need to be thinking modestly and do something to move the ball in the right direction,” says Councillor Joe Mihevc, referring to former unrealized plans for a Toronto museum with $80 million to $100 million price tags.


“They were grand dreams,” he says. “It’s not going to happen at that scale.”


Instead, the museum will be housed in the buildings across the street from Casa Loma, which total 25,000 square feet and include the Hunting Lodge where Pellet stayed as well as the stables, greenhouse and a potting shed. A couple of rooms in the main house may also form part of the museum.


The city is looking for ideas from prospective operators and will send out a request for expressions of interest early next year. The councillor expects there to be some element of fundraising or philanthropy to cover all the costs.


Mihevc says there has been a lot of public support since he and Councillor Josh Matlow first floated the plan this fall. About 100 people attended an information session at Casa Loma last week.


“The key thing at this point is there’s been no negative reaction to it,” says Mihevc. “It was warmly received by the local community, by the Toronto-wide community and the heritage community, including some advocates such as David Crombie and Toronto historian Mike Filey.”


The buildings require about $ 9.4 million in exterior repairs, and more money may be needed for upgrades to plumbing, electrical and heat.


Mihevc says he’s already heard from a number of ethnic and faith communities about the need to showcase the city’s historic collections and exhibits, which will most likely rotate through the space.


“We already have thousands of museums of Toronto, but they’re in people’s basements and out-of-the-way corners,” he says, noting that “first families” like the Eatons have large collections tucked away. He’s also heard of “wonderful stuff” in the basement of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, at the corner of King and Simcoe Sts., which dates back to 1876.


There has also been talk of branding the area as a historic district.


Casa Loma is next door to Spadina House, another historic Toronto museum, as well as Maclean House, which was built by the magazine founder of the same name and is being converted into several private residences.


The Toronto Archives are down the hill from Casa Loma, on Spadina Rd., and the Toll Keeper’s Cottage, built in 1835, is a few blocks west at the corner of Davenport Rd. and Bathurst Sts. (The toll keeper in question collected fees on a stretch of Davenport Rd. that was originally built by a private company.)


Mihevc says there’s been talk of historic walking tours or even selling one admission ticket that would cover both museums.


Previous proposals for a Toronto museum have included the Canada Malting site at the foot of Bathurst St., as well as Old City Hall.


Meanwhile, the city is moving ahead to find an operator for Casa Loma’s main house and gardens. Requests for proposals went out December 18.


Operators will be required to continue running Casa Loma as a historic attraction as well as a special event venue.


The venue turned in a tidy $900,000 in profit last year after being taken over by the city, says Eva Pyatt, CEO of the Casa Loma Corporation. Pyatt was appointed after the city terminated its agreement with the Kiwanis Club, which ran the historic attraction for more than 70 years.


In 2011, about 280,000 paid visitors toured the former home.


Another 20,000 attended special events or programs such as archery, organ concerts, or Breakfast With Santa. About 60 weddings and close to 200 evening events are held at Casa Loma annually.


“At a high level, there is an expectation that it will (continue to) be accessible, the heritage will be protected and it will be respectful of the residential neighbourhood that it’s in,” says Pyatt.


“There’s a lot of expectation but there’s a ton of opportunity here,” she says. “It’s a great site.”


Pyatt says the operating surplus for 2012 is projected to be $1 million, but the amount doesn’t include property taxes or rent that a third-party operator would be expected to pay the city.


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