Iconic Casa Loma enters final restoration phase


by Dan O'Reilly Mar 27, 2015 last update:Apr 7, 2015

A century after it was built by legendary financier Sir Henry Pellatt, a multi-year, multi-phase restoration of the exterior of Toronto’s iconic Casa Loma is in the final stretch.

"We're not finished yet though, there is a lot of work left to do," says Mark Wronski, project architect with Taylor Hazell Architects, the heritage consultant which has overseen the eight-phase, 20-year-plus exterior restoration of the castle and its stables.

A number of planning and strategy studies were undertaken in the early 1990s, with actual construction work commencing in 1997. The most critical areas were addressed first, he says.

The last of those phases is the complicated restoration and rebuild of the castle's Norman Tower by Toronto-based Clifford Restoration, the contractor on seven of the phases. Work began in July 2014 and is scheduled for completion this December.

Read Jones Christoffersen Consulting Engineers is the structural consultant.

A random rubble sandstone structure with Roman stone accents, the tower has a flat roof observation deck which offered spectacular views of the grounds and the city until it was closed in 2005 for safety reasons, says Wronksi.

"It (the tower) wasn't safe. It was actually bowing out,"

A full masonry and window assessment of the tower was performed by Taylor Hazell in 2010 using booms, boom lifts, and scaffolding. A second follow up assessment was conducted with Clifford once the contractor was on site, he says.

To get to the top of the tower Clifford's in-house scaffold department erected a 95-foot-high (28-metre) scaffold, says Project Manager Robert Laurie.

All the stones including its two chimneys and the crenellations, which is the staggered ornate stonework comprising the parapet, are being removed right down to the belt course. The belt course is a horizontal band of stone which protrudes beyond the face of the tower and transfers some of the structural loads to the drum of the tower, Laurie says.

"Almost every stone is unique and there are thousands of them," he Laurie, pointing out that each has to be cleaned, identified, photographed and then placed in crates with other stone from the precise location it was taken from. Each crate also has an identifying master sheet and number.

"This (the various steps) will ensure each is reinserted back in the same location."

Ongoing reviews of the stone are conducted by architects and Clifford to determine if they need replacing or can be repaired. For the most part it's the roman stone units which need replacing. That's a process which requires creating shop drawings so new precast concrete sections can be fabricated by Castle Precast Ltd.

"We are also using Castle Precast to recreate the belt course, 90 per cent of which needs replacement."

Other work includes the installation of a concrete reinforcing ring in the roof deck, he says.

"Right now, the project is going fairly well. There hasn't been too many surprises," says Laurie, who gives credit for that performance to Site Superintendent Ryan Costello who has worked on six of the previous phases.

"There is no room for error. Everything (the stonework) is not perfect, but that's the beauty of old buildings," says Clifford Masonry President Sam Trigila, in reference to the numerous challenges of the approximately $6.6-million project.

When asked to sum up the work his firm has conducted on the castle for so many years Trigila, says: "We're paying homage to the original builders."

Mar 27, 2015 last update:Apr 7, 2015


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First-year stonemason apprentice Michael Knight helps install a new precast concrete section on the belt course - Photo: Dan O’Reilly

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