Here’s what Casa Loma looks like right now
In a city as young as Toronto, old buildings and lingering spirits aren’t in huge supply. But if there’s one local space that ghost-hunting shows have their eye on, it’s Casa Loma. Nick Di Donato, the CEO of Liberty Entertainment Group—which owns and manages the castle—has fielded more than a few requests from paranormal investigators anxious to scope out Casa Loma overnight, but he believes they’d come up empty. “I’ve been here for almost three years now, day and night, around the clock,” says Di Donato. “If the castle’s got anything at all, it’s a great spirit. It’s happy to be alive, happy to be here, happy to be a big part of the fabric of Toronto and its history.”
This Halloween, in lieu of actual monsters, Casa Loma is spending roughly $1.5 million on actors and illusions for a theatrical experience that’s sure to spook guests. Legends of Horror, which opens Friday, September 30, is a 1.5-kilometre trail that winds through Casa Loma’s gardens, stables and plenty of creaky metal gates. The terrifying tour takes advantage of the estate’s mysterious (if not genuinely haunted) history and includes a mad monster party of famous beasts. We took a tour of the fright fest. Here are a few creature features you can expect.
In one of the first areas, influenced by The Wolfman, Di Donato pulled up a large tarp to reveal a giant snarling beast head, an animatronic stained with blood and white hair matted in fresh death. He knew his way around the impressive wolf puppet—which moves about, gnashes its teeth and blares its eyes—having fiddled with it for about six months. The best thing about werewolves isn’t their claws and howls, of course, but the transformation between human and hairy terror, so, as guests walk along the path, they’ll see each phase of the beast’s full-moon fever.
One of Di Donato’s favourite classic horror scenes is from 1933’s The Invisible Man: the mad scientist in his parlour, smoking a pipe and disrobing in an act of cinematic illusion. Casa Loma opts for a clothed version of the character and some special effects of its own: in a disorienting mirror maze full of glowing crystal chandeliers, sight is bound to betray you. Another hi-tech highlight: the 3D projection systems that show Dracula reigning over the south face of Casa Loma. (Di Donato plans to use the systems for other holidays throughout the year).
Haunted house creators would probably kill to use a building as historic as Casa Loma, and the Legends tour takes full advantage of the castle’s storied past. In the tunnels that run beneath Spadina, long-forgotten local horrors live again: the great fire of 1904, the 10-year plague that began in 1912, the few years in the late 1920s in which Casa Loma operated as a hotel. This area is an homage to that chapter, mixing original objects—the sign used to hang in the front of the hotel—and props inspired by films like Psycho and The Shining.
The swamp creature, mummy and Phantom of the Opera each get their own lair, while the entire stable house is dedicated to Frankenstein (the macabre tale’s 200th anniversary is fast approaching). Inside, where horses once stood, there are dissection tables and imprisoned victims, surrounded by fog feeding into the room from troughs underneath the floor tiles. Above is Frankenstein’s lab, with a massive selection of strange tools and,for that extra dose of authenticity, antiques from Casa Loma’s archives, including old cars and dentist chairs and, pictured here, the standing furnace on the left and the chandelier.