Featured Book

Featured Articles

Travel Safety

Featured Advertisers

Hotel Savoy Prague

Sea Kayak Advenures

Search

go

Search By Country:


Search Now:

Experiences

go

Romancing the Stones: Castles of Lake Ontario


Once upon a time, a hundred years ago, an American millionaire buys an island and starts building a Rhineland castle for his "princess bride" – but she dies. He sends a telegram to stop all construction, and never returns to the site. A few years later, a Canadian nobleman starts building a medieval castle to fulfill a lifelong dream. He runs out of money and the castle is never finished. Long before either of these was started, a Canadian premier builds an Italian castle to make his mark on the New World.

 

Today, a blissful couple ties the knot in the Rhineland castle, in the stone gazebo on the lawn overlooking the channel. A young man in shining armor proposes to his ladylove in a tower of the medieval castle. And every year, the premier's favorite daughter comes back to relive her extravagant wedding day.

There's nothing like an ancient European castle to bring back the days when ladies' satin gowns swished the gleaming floors, children's happy shrieks echoed in vast hallways, and chamber music floated up to the tall, tall ceilings. But we're not in Europe – we're in Toronto, Canada, on Lake Ontario, within easy access of three bona-fide castles: Boldt Castle in the Thousand Islands, Casa Loma in Toronto, and Dundurn Castle in Hamilton.

Boldt Castle

Copyright E. Lisa Moses. Beautiful Boldt Castle with Alster Tower in the foreground.This has to be one of the greatest love stories of all time. At the turn of the 20th century, George Boldt, proprietor of New York's Waldorf Astoria Hotel, resolved to build a full-sized Rhineland castle as a monument to his love for his wife, Louise. He bought Hart Island, in the Thousand Islands Region of the St. Lawrence River at the east end of Lake Ontario, from New York congressman, E.K. Hart, and started building the 120-room castle in the late 1890s. Boldt Castle is a stone's throw from Gananoque, Ontario, and within shouting distance of Alexandria Bay, New York.

The first structure, the Alster Tower, or Playhouse, (the compound's "entertainment center") was completed by 1900, and the family spent four fun-filled summers there while 300 stonemasons, carpenters and artists continued working around them.

Used with permissions. A stained-glass window depicting the Boldt family coat of arms.With money posing no object, Boldt had them build a huge dovecote, a yacht house, a Roman arch, a powerhouse and stone gazebo in addition to the imposing, six-story castle. He even reshaped the island into a heart, and rechristened it "Heart Island." Yet another hart, the symbol of Boldt's Prussian lineage, graces one of the spires and the family's coat of arms.

The object of Boldt's affection died suddenly in 1904, leaving him with a broken heart and dream. After spending more than US$2 million, he halted all work, and never set foot on Heart Island again, although he lived out his life on nearby Wellesley Island. The castle's 16 fireplaces, Italian gardens, swan pond, indoor swimming pool and service tunnels equipped with trolleys never materialized. Purchased by Edward John Noble (inventor of the Life Savers candy) in the early 1920s after Boldt's death, the castle was left to fend for itself against vandalism and the elements until it was donated to the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority in 1977. Since then, millions of dollars have been poured into restorations, with a major renaissance now under way. So far, the main floor and parts of the second have been meticulously recreated with faithful attention to the original plans. I suspect that Boldt continues to keep an eye on the construction from the great beyond, where he has joined his beloved partner for eternity.

Copyright E. Lisa Moses. Boldt Castle Boathouse as seen from inside the castle.Boldt Castle still fuels passion and imagination today. Brides and grooms in medieval costumes, Scottish kilts or traditional dress add their stories to the great saga. Aspiring grooms come up with some unusual proposal ideas. One young man surprised his ladylove by asking for her hand in Boldt's office, which he had filled with roses. Another proposed to his dear on bended knee in front of the fireplace in the great hall, with dozens of tourists as witnesses. The west-facing stone gazebo is a favorite venue for weddings, and, although no receptions are held in the castle, wedding parties have been known to picnic on the lawns and promenade through the Italian garden.

When you go: Boldt Castle

 

Boldt Castle is accessible by water and tours are self-guided. Tour boats leave from both Alexandria Bay and Gananoque regularly from mid-May to mid-October; in addition, a shuttle to Heart Island leaves from Alex Bay. Admission to the castle is US$4.50; tour-boat rates vary. Docking for private boats and water taxis is also available. Gananoque is a three-hour drive east of Toronto and west of Montreal along Highway 401. Alexandria Bay is two hours due north of Syracuse along Interstate 81. Both the Canadian and American sides are dotted with historic inns and B&Bs; one of my favorites is the waterfront Gananoque Inn ( www.gananoqueinn.com ). If you want to stay directly across the channel from the castle, your best bet is the Riveredge Resort Hotel ( www.riveredge.com ) in Alex Bay.

For more information about Boldt Castle and tour boats, see www.boldtcastle.com. For details about the Thousand Islands, check out www.thousandislands.com/tisite. Autumn is a particularly magnificent time to visit the area: the tourist crush is gone, the air is crisp and the trees are lit up with magnificent fall colors.

Casa Loma

Courtesy of Tourism Toronto. At night, Casa Loma gleams in the darkness.Another fairy tale with a less than happily-ever-after ending is Sir Henry Pellatt's very own Camelot – a breathtaking hilltop castle in the heart of Toronto. The Kingston, Ontario native's vision to create a hybrid based on the great medieval castles of Europe led to one of the most ambitious private building projects Canada has ever seen. And Casa Loma has been an important Toronto landmark for almost a century, echoing with the sounds of lavish entertainment, dances and weddings.

The "Camelot compound" stars a 98-room castle with 15 bathrooms, 22 fireplaces, stables connected to the main house by a tunnel, a greenhouse, a wine cellar and different designs for every room. Sir Henry also built in surprisingly modern conveniences: 59 telephones, an electric elevator for his wheelchair-bound wife, a central vacuuming system. But the US$2 million he spent on the place broke the bank, leaving the marble swimming pool, indoor rifle range and bowling alley incomplete.

If I were a horse, I'd want to live in the luxurious Casa Loma stables, in my mahogany stall inscribed with my name in gold leaf. My hooves would touch gently on the Spanish tile floors as I was led out for my exercise, and the hinged casement windows would keep out the drafts.

Used with permissions. Lady Mary Pellatt's favorite room at Casa Loma was reputedly the beautiful conservatory.As a human living in this Camelot, however, I'd be spending most of my time in the conservatory, reputedly Lady Mary Pellatt's favorite room. It continues to be used for wedding receptions and other events to this day. Many older Torontonians recall meeting that special person at Casa Loma dances during the Big Band era, when Glen Gray's popular Casa Loma Orchestra (Happy Days are Here Again, Casa Loma Stump, Smoke Rings) played there. Young lovers continue to find the place as enchanting as ever. One hopeful groom, dressed in a full suit of armor, recently proposed to his ladylove one starlit night in the Scottish Tower, overlooking the city and Lake Ontario.

Casa Loma has not escaped the eye of Hollywood – it has played bit parts in TV shows and movies (Kung Fu, Scales of Justice, Hidden Agenda, X-Men, RoboCop) and been featured by A&E. And it will definitely catch the eye of history buffs and architectural fans with its secret passages, the mysterious white stone in the wall, the dragon tree sculpture in the Secret Garden, military artifacts, Peacock Alley (identical to that in England's Windsor Castle), and the Coronation Chair – a copy of the one inWestminster Abbey. The stone in the seat of this chair is a replica of the Stone of Scone or the Stone of Destiny, which Braveheart took back to Scotland with him.

When you go: Casa Loma

 

Casa Loma (Spanish for "House on the Hill") is open year-round, catering to both locals and visitors. Admission is approximately US$6, and tours are self-guided. Its annual Christmas decorations are as magnificent as the summer gardens. The Holiday 2000 program includes a mini-musical of Beauty and The Beast (Nov. 27 - Jan. 7), along with strolling characters, marionette puppet theater and delightful costumes.

Casa Loma is about a 15-minute drive north of downtown Toronto on Spadina Road. It's also easy to access by public transit, and is a stop on the city tours. While hotels and B&Bs abound in the neighborhood, the nearby Casa Loma Inn, a well-kept Victorian mansion, is a charming choice ( www.toronto.com/casalomainn ). For more information about Casa Loma, visit www.casaloma.org. For more about Toronto and accommodations, visit www.torontotourism.com.

Dundurn Castle

Copyright E. Lisa Moses. An exterior view of stately Dundurn Castle.A trip to the 150-year-old Dundurn Castle will transport you into a set reminiscent of the British television series, Upstairs, Downstairs. Liveried servants greet you at the door, and guide you graciously through the three-story villa, where the lords and ladies "above stairs" lorded it over the servants who lived "below stairs" where Cook and the butler (the most important servant in the house) lorded it over the lesser servants.

While Dundurn (Gaelic for "fort on the water") is actually a 43-room Regency-style villa, it was immediately dubbed "The Castle" by Hamiltonians, because they had never seen such a huge home. Owner Sir Allan Napier MacNab, Premier of Canada West (Ontario) from 1854 to 1856, was also a boy hero of the war of 1812 and a multi-faceted industrialist. Born in nearby Niagara-on-the-Lake, he lived at Dundurn with his ailing wife and three daughters, one of whom was married in the house.

For daughter Sophia's 1855 winter wedding, Laird MacNab spared no expense, even adding a massive portico to the front of the house. Sophia married outside her religion, so had two ceremonies: one in the drawing room (Anglican for herself) and one in the library (Catholic for her husband). The local newspaper, the Hamilton Spectator, printed this description: "The bride was attired in white glacé silk, trimmed with Honiton lace and wreaths of orange blossom, and veil. Her extreme beauty was the theme of every tongue..."

Used with permissions. A re-enactment of Sophia’s wedding takes place each November at Dundurn Castle.Each November, the castle stages a reenactment of this lavish Victorian wedding, complete with the spectacle of the bride sweeping down the grand, hanging staircase in the front hall and a wedding dinner at Dundurn's Coach House Restaurant.

Above stairs, the family lived in the kind of luxury one would expect from people of their station in life. They spent a lot of time eating – Cook was busy preparing four elegant, leisurely meals a day for the MacNabs and their guests, and three meals a day for some 15 servants. (Today's visitors to the castle are still treated to gingerbread cookies, baked in the castle's wood-burning oven.) The ladies had their sitting rooms and needlepoint; the children had their own bedrooms and sitting/playroom; MacNab had his smoking room, library and cockpit – a miniature castle, used for cockfights, that overlooks Burlington Bay at the west end of Lake Ontario. Some of the MacNabs' well preserved original furnishings, such as cranberry glass candelabra, faux marble walls and canopied beds are still on display.

Below stairs, in the servants' hall, a scullery maid washes up, a shoeshine boy polishes the gentlemen's shoes and a housemaid irons petticoats. The women servants had rooms here; the men slept in quarters above the stalls. The butler was the only servant allowed to sleep above stairs, next to the dining room and the butler's pantry.

When you go: Dundurn Castle

 

Dundurn Castle is open year round, and houses more than 18,000 items in its collection, some of which are exhibited in the Hamilton Military Museum on the grounds. Admission is about US$4. Events throughout the year include an Easter pageant of hats and bonnets, lectures and walking tours of the estate and its gardens, Scottish celebrations, and Victorian Christmas events. The Coach House Restaurant serves delectable meals that are faithful recreations of those served to the MacNabs. (See below for one such recipe.) And modern lords and ladies still choose the scenic grounds for weddings and receptions.

If you're staying in Toronto, Dundurn Castle is about an hour's drive west along the QEW, and not far from Hamilton's famous Royal Botanical Gardens. About an hour farther southwest along the QEW is the Niagara region with its vineyards, orchards and historic sites, including Niagara Falls. For more about Dundurn Castle, visit www.hamilton-went.on.ca/cultureandrecreation/dundurn.htm. For more information about Hamilton and nearby accommodations, visit www.hamilton-went.on.ca/visitor.htm. You may want to check out staying at the Victorian-era Inchbury Street B&B next door: www.bbcanada.com/inchbury.

Recipe from the Coach House Restaurant, Dundurn Castle, Hamilton

Croquettes de Macaroni au Fromage de Stilton

From The Gastronomic Regenerator – The Kitchen of the Wealthy (1846) by Mr. Alexis Soyer.

Note: Macaroni was once a luxury item in Europe and was popularized in North America by Thomas Jefferson, who brought back an Italian pasta machine to facilitate making "Macaroni Pie." Many period cookbooks in 19th-century Canada included recipes for macaroni dishes, which were considered an elegant addition to the dinner table. Guests of Dundurn Castle were important enough to be served macaroni.

1 cup macaroni
2 1/3 tablespoons flour
Salt & pepper
Cayenne
Grated nutmeg
1 1/3 tablespoons butter
2 cups milk
1 large whole egg, well beaten
2 cups grated blue or white Stilton
2 generous handfuls of fresh brown breadcrumbs
Oil for frying

Cook the macaroni in plenty of boiling water until soft but not completely cooked. Drain and return to pan to keep warm. Melt butter in another pan, add flour and stir for a few minutes. Gradually add milk and stir until sauce thickens slightly. Add the macaroni, grated cheese and seasonings to taste. Then add the egg yolks and cook for a few minutes until the yolks have set.

Remove the pan from heat and allow mixture to get completely cold in pan. This will make it easier to handle. When you are ready to make the croquettes, use a large teaspoon to shape ovals out of the mixture. Coat each croquette with the beaten egg and then roll in breadcrumbs until coated. Heat the oil in a deep pan and fry the croquettes for 2 to 3 minutes, depending on the size. They should be brown and crisp on the outside, but not burnt. Drain, dress them in a pyramid upon a plate and serve them very hot.

When you go: Boldt Castle

Boldt Castle is accessible by water and tours are self-guided. Tour boats leave from both Alexandria Bay and Gananoque regularly from mid-May to mid-October; in addition, a shuttle to Heart Island leaves from Alex Bay. Admission to the castle is US$4.50; tour-boat rates vary. Docking for private boats and water taxis is also available. Gananoque is a three-hour drive east of Toronto and west of Montreal along Highway 401. Alexandria Bay is two hours due north of Syracuse along Interstate 81. Both the Canadian and American sides are dotted with historic inns and B&Bs; one of my favorites is the waterfront Gananoque Inn ( www.gananoqueinn.com ). If you want to stay directly across the channel from the castle, your best bet is the Riveredge Resort Hotel ( www.riveredge.com ) in Alex Bay.

For more information about Boldt Castle and tour boats, see www.boldtcastle.com. For details about the Thousand Islands, check out www.thousandislands.com/tisite. Autumn is a particularly magnificent time to visit the area: the tourist crush is gone, the air is crisp and the trees are lit up with magnificent fall colors.

Casa Loma

Courtesy of Tourism Toronto. At night, Casa Loma gleams in the darkness.Another fairy tale with a less than happily-ever-after ending is Sir Henry Pellatt's very own Camelot – a breathtaking hilltop castle in the heart of Toronto. The Kingston, Ontario native's vision to create a hybrid based on the great medieval castles of Europe led to one of the most ambitious private building projects Canada has ever seen. And Casa Loma has been an important Toronto landmark for almost a century, echoing with the sounds of lavish entertainment, dances and weddings.

The "Camelot compound" stars a 98-room castle with 15 bathrooms, 22 fireplaces, stables connected to the main house by a tunnel, a greenhouse, a wine cellar and different designs for every room. Sir Henry also built in surprisingly modern conveniences: 59 telephones, an electric elevator for his wheelchair-bound wife, a central vacuuming system. But the US$2 million he spent on the place broke the bank, leaving the marble swimming pool, indoor rifle range and bowling alley incomplete.

If I were a horse, I'd want to live in the luxurious Casa Loma stables, in my mahogany stall inscribed with my name in gold leaf. My hooves would touch gently on the Spanish tile floors as I was led out for my exercise, and the hinged casement windows would keep out the drafts.

Used with permissions. Lady Mary Pellatt's favorite room at Casa Loma was reputedly the beautiful conservatory.As a human living in this Camelot, however, I'd be spending most of my time in the conservatory, reputedly Lady Mary Pellatt's favorite room. It continues to be used for wedding receptions and other events to this day. Many older Torontonians recall meeting that special person at Casa Loma dances during the Big Band era, when Glen Gray's popular Casa Loma Orchestra (Happy Days are Here Again, Casa Loma Stump, Smoke Rings) played there. Young lovers continue to find the place as enchanting as ever. One hopeful groom, dressed in a full suit of armor, recently proposed to his ladylove one starlit night in the Scottish Tower, overlooking the city and Lake Ontario.

Casa Loma has not escaped the eye of Hollywood – it has played bit parts in TV shows and movies (Kung Fu, Scales of Justice, Hidden Agenda, X-Men, RoboCop) and been featured by A&E. And it will definitely catch the eye of history buffs and architectural fans with its secret passages, the mysterious white stone in the wall, the dragon tree sculpture in the Secret Garden, military artifacts, Peacock Alley (identical to that in England's Windsor Castle), and the Coronation Chair – a copy of the one inWestminster Abbey. The stone in the seat of this chair is a replica of the Stone of Scone or the Stone of Destiny, which Braveheart took back to Scotland with him.

When you go: Casa Loma

Casa Loma (Spanish for "House on the Hill") is open year-round, catering to both locals and visitors. Admission is approximately US$6, and tours are self-guided. Its annual Christmas decorations are as magnificent as the summer gardens. The Holiday 2000 program includes a mini-musical of Beauty and The Beast (Nov. 27 - Jan. 7), along with strolling characters, marionette puppet theater and delightful costumes.

Casa Loma is about a 15-minute drive north of downtown Toronto on Spadina Road. It's also easy to access by public transit, and is a stop on the city tours. While hotels and B&Bs abound in the neighborhood, the nearby Casa Loma Inn, a well-kept Victorian mansion, is a charming choice ( www.toronto.com/casalomainn ). For more information about Casa Loma, visit www.casaloma.org. For more about Toronto and accommodations, visit www.torontotourism.com.

Dundurn Castle

Copyright E. Lisa Moses. An exterior view of stately Dundurn Castle.A trip to the 150-year-old Dundurn Castle will transport you into a set reminiscent of the British television series, Upstairs, Downstairs. Liveried servants greet you at the door, and guide you graciously through the three-story villa, where the lords and ladies "above stairs" lorded it over the servants who lived "below stairs" where Cook and the butler (the most important servant in the house) lorded it over the lesser servants.

While Dundurn (Gaelic for "fort on the water") is actually a 43-room Regency-style villa, it was immediately dubbed "The Castle" by Hamiltonians, because they had never seen such a huge home. Owner Sir Allan Napier MacNab, Premier of Canada West (Ontario) from 1854 to 1856, was also a boy hero of the war of 1812 and a multi-faceted industrialist. Born in nearby Niagara-on-the-Lake, he lived at Dundurn with his ailing wife and three daughters, one of whom was married in the house.

For daughter Sophia's 1855 winter wedding, Laird MacNab spared no expense, even adding a massive portico to the front of the house. Sophia married outside her religion, so had two ceremonies: one in the drawing room (Anglican for herself) and one in the library (Catholic for her husband). The local newspaper, the Hamilton Spectator, printed this description: "The bride was attired in white glacé silk, trimmed with Honiton lace and wreaths of orange blossom, and veil. Her extreme beauty was the theme of every tongue..."

Used with permissions. A re-enactment of Sophia’s wedding takes place each November at Dundurn Castle.Each November, the castle stages a reenactment of this lavish Victorian wedding, complete with the spectacle of the bride sweeping down the grand, hanging staircase in the front hall and a wedding dinner at Dundurn's Coach House Restaurant.

Above stairs, the family lived in the kind of luxury one would expect from people of their station in life. They spent a lot of time eating – Cook was busy preparing four elegant, leisurely meals a day for the MacNabs and their guests, and three meals a day for some 15 servants. (Today's visitors to the castle are still treated to gingerbread cookies, baked in the castle's wood-burning oven.) The ladies had their sitting rooms and needlepoint; the children had their own bedrooms and sitting/playroom; MacNab had his smoking room, library and cockpit – a miniature castle, used for cockfights, that overlooks Burlington Bay at the west end of Lake Ontario. Some of the MacNabs' well preserved original furnishings, such as cranberry glass candelabra, faux marble walls and canopied beds are still on display.

Below stairs, in the servants' hall, a scullery maid washes up, a shoeshine boy polishes the gentlemen's shoes and a housemaid irons petticoats. The women servants had rooms here; the men slept in quarters above the stalls. The butler was the only servant allowed to sleep above stairs, next to the dining room and the butler's pantry.

When you go: Dundurn Castle

Dundurn Castle is open year round, and houses more than 18,000 items in its collection, some of which are exhibited in the Hamilton Military Museum on the grounds. Admission is about US$4. Events throughout the year include an Easter pageant of hats and bonnets, lectures and walking tours of the estate and its gardens, Scottish celebrations, and Victorian Christmas events. The Coach House Restaurant serves delectable meals that are faithful recreations of those served to the MacNabs. (See below for one such recipe.) And modern lords and ladies still choose the scenic grounds for weddings and receptions.

If you're staying in Toronto, Dundurn Castle is about an hour's drive west along the QEW, and not far from Hamilton's famous Royal Botanical Gardens. About an hour farther southwest along the QEW is the Niagara region with its vineyards, orchards and historic sites, including Niagara Falls. For more about Dundurn Castle, visit www.hamilton-went.on.ca/cultureandrecreation/dundurn.htm. For more information about Hamilton and nearby accommodations, visit www.hamilton-went.on.ca/visitor.htm. You may want to check out staying at the Victorian-era Inchbury Street B&B next door: www.bbcanada.com/inchbury.

Recipe from the Coach House Restaurant, Dundurn Castle, Hamilton

Croquettes de Macaroni au Fromage de Stilton

From The Gastronomic Regenerator – The Kitchen of the Wealthy (1846) by Mr. Alexis Soyer.

Note: Macaroni was once a luxury item in Europe and was popularized in North America by Thomas Jefferson, who brought back an Italian pasta machine to facilitate making "Macaroni Pie." Many period cookbooks in 19th-century Canada included recipes for macaroni dishes, which were considered an elegant addition to the dinner table. Guests of Dundurn Castle were important enough to be served macaroni.

1 cup macaroni
2 1/3 tablespoons flour
Salt & pepper
Cayenne
Grated nutmeg
1 1/3 tablespoons butter
2 cups milk
1 large whole egg, well beaten
2 cups grated blue or white Stilton
2 generous handfuls of fresh brown breadcrumbs
Oil for frying

Cook the macaroni in plenty of boiling water until soft but not completely cooked. Drain and return to pan to keep warm. Melt butter in another pan, add flour and stir for a few minutes. Gradually add milk and stir until sauce thickens slightly. Add the macaroni, grated cheese and seasonings to taste. Then add the egg yolks and cook for a few minutes until the yolks have set.

Remove the pan from heat and allow mixture to get completely cold in pan. This will make it easier to handle. When you are ready to make the croquettes, use a large teaspoon to shape ovals out of the mixture. Coat each croquette with the beaten egg and then roll in breadcrumbs until coated. Heat the oil in a deep pan and fry the croquettes for 2 to 3 minutes, depending on the size. They should be brown and crisp on the outside, but not burnt. Drain, dress them in a pyramid upon a plate and serve them very hot.