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Kiwanis out at Casa Loma

After 74 years, city takes over historical landmark on the hill
By Karolyn Coorsh

June 7, 2011

Neighbourhoods: Casa Loma

Originally published in our Forest Hill print edition(s).

It wasn’t exactly a fairytale ending for Toronto’s castle on the hill, but it was an ending, nonetheless.

On May 24, council’s executive committee voted to terminate a 74-year arrangement between the city-owned Casa Loma and its operators, The Kiwanis Club of Casa Loma.  

The Forest Hill-area tourist attraction will now become wholly the city’s responsibility, falling under the jurisdiction of Economic Development and Culture. Over the course of the next 12–18 months, that department will determine the best governance structure for Casa Loma’s future.

Under the new transition agreement, the city is to pay Kiwanis $1.45 million for artefacts and trademarks owned by Kiwanis, including “Casa Loma” and “Toronto’s Majestic Castle.”

While the city will assume service contracts for continued operation of the castle, Kiwanis will hold weekly meetings and retain an administration office on site. Kiwanis is also to receive unpaid management fees valued at $300,000.

The recommendation to sever ties closes the book on a tumultuous relationship between the city and Kiwanis. In 2008, the city entered into a new 20-year contract with Kiwanis, but with no marked improvement in revenues or interior renovations in the years following, city officials began to question Kiwanis’ abilities to transform Casa Loma into a world-class attraction.  

The castle, built between 1911 and 1914 by Sir Henry Pellatt, doesn’t live up to its tourism draw potential in Toronto, and that is partially due to limitations of the service club’s ability to fundraise and market the castle, said Joe Mihevc, local councillor and Casa Loma board member.

“In this highly competitive tourist and special event market you need to have folks with specialized skills right up at the top because you’re competing not just with the AGO … but you’re actually in competition with other major centres around the world,” he said.

Kiwanis is simply too small an organization and too focused on the day-to-day operations to realize that the ground underneath Casa Loma had changed, Mihevc added.

Adding to longstanding operations woes, were conflict of interest problems. Back in July, council insisted Kiwanis remove board chair Richard Wozenilek over what the city deemed a conflict of interest with his job as a partner at law firm Keel Cottrelle. According to the city manager, the law firm had billed work that reflected that Wozenilek had personally worked on behalf of Casa Loma without declaring an interest. As of the May vote, Wozenilek was still the chair. Wozenilek could not be reached for comment by press time, but stood firm back in March that he would remain as chair as long as Kiwanis was managing Casa Loma.

The recommendations made at executive committee will go to a final vote at a June session of city council.

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