Photographer's guide to Ontario's castles and forts
Get started at these striking heritage homes and historic strongholds in picturesque settings, with tips on how to make your architecture photography pop.
Keep in mind, advanced booking and special permits are required for any commercial or professional photography sessions and shoots, as well as for drone photography or video. And be sure to respect the privacy of other guests.
Forts and castles in Southern Ontario
Fairmont Chateau Laurier in Ottawa
Completed in 1912, this landmark Ottawa hotel was constructed by the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway Company and overlooks both the Ottawa River and Rideau Canal.
Lovely grounds and gardens surround the commanding limestone chateau and complement its French Gothic Revival features like the ornate gables and dormers, pavilions, towers and turrets.
Location: 1 Rideau Street, Ottawa
Casa Loma in Toronto
Another mansion built in the Gothic Revival style embraced in Canada in the early 20th century, this Toronto landmark museum is perhaps the most iconic castle in Ontario.
Spanish for ‘hill house’, Casa Loma sits high atop Davenport Hill with spectacular views of the city below. It’s a popular tourist spot, so make sure to get there early if you want to shoot the stained-glass windows, the grand fountain at the entrance and upscale furnishings in solitude.
Location: 1 Austin Terrace, Toronto
Dundurn Castle in Hamilton
The 40-room Italian neoclassical-style villa on York Boulevard in Hamilton took three years to construct, finally ready in 1835 for lawyer and politician, Sir Allan Napier MacNab and his family to take residence.
Warm golden columns and pale white walls make the mansion perfect to shoot at the golden hour of dusk as the setting sun illuminates the building. As a bonus, Dundurn Castle has the beautiful backdrop of Burlington Bay to the northeast.
Location: 610 York Boulevard, Hamilton
Fort Henry National Historic Site of Canada in Kingston
Great wooden gates, strong stone defense walls, the sprawling main square, and the award-winning Sunset Ceremonies featuring a drill squad and artillery detachment re-enactments make for an array of engaging photo options at this 19th-century British military post.
Location: 1 Fort Henry Drive, Kingston
Old Fort Erie in Fort Erie
Aim your camera and shoot the dramatic scene of a fortress under siege with cannon fire and redcoats in action at Old Fort Erie, a key defense site during the War of 1812 that was originally constructed in 1764.
Location: 350 Lakeshore Road, Fort Erie
Castle Kilbride near Kitchener
Located outside of Stratford, Castle Kilbride is a grand Victorian home.
It was built in1877 in the Italianate style of architecture, complete with a belvedere lookout and decorated to the hilt with Trompe I’oeil (creating optical illusions using imagery and depth) ceiling and wall murals and lavish Victorian era furnishings.
Location: 60 Snyder's Road West, Baden
Forts and castles in Northern Ontario
Fort William Historical Park in Thunder Bay
Located on the outskirts of Thunder Bay in northern Ontario, Fort William is one of the largest living history sites in Northern Ontario and certainly one of Canada’s most unique heritage attractions.
The park is a re-creation of what a Canadian fur trade post would have looked like in 1816 at the height of the North West Company. Capture the fascinating culture of fur trade life from farm to craft to cuisine with amazing costumed re-enactments and events.
Location: 1350 King Road, Thunder Bay
Not many know about the legend of Jimmy McOuat at White Otter Castle, an incredible three-story wooden structure constructed single-handedly on the shores of White Otter Lake in 1914.
Just getting to the site of this remote ‘castle’ is impressive enough, before you consider what a feat it was for one man to build.
Location: White Otter Lake, accessible by float plane or canoe in the summer and snowmobile in winter.
Tips for taking great photos of castles and forts
Shooting photos of castles, forts and similar heritage architecture presents a different challenge than landscape photography. These buildings are often large in scale, and if you don’t take care with your composition it can be tricky to capture their majesty. Although the beautiful grays and striking surroundings look amazing in person, it’s easy to lose those neutral tones and textures in your shots.
Here are our tips to make sure your photos look great, stand out, and most of all, capture the significance of the site.
Scope out your location
Walk around and scout out the places where you might shoot in advance. Give yourself time to identify details you might want to shoot and determine which compositions you’d like to try without worrying about the light leaving too fast.
You might notice, for example, that a long shot of the castle looks better than one taken up close or at a tighter angle. To get that long shot, you might have to walk further away from the site, and you’ll want to have that time in your schedule before you lose the light.
Choose the right lens
When it comes to shooting buildings, it’s important to pick the right lens for the day.
If the building is extremely tall, consider using a telephoto lens so that your image compresses the background and your subject. If you use a super wide lens, you’ll notice a lot of distortion on the lines, like the ones that make up the sides of the building. Don’t fret if you don’t have a telephoto — wide lenses are great, and you can always work to fix distortion when you’re editing.
If you prefer to take a lot of detailed shots, consider the simplicity of a 35mm lens. Although you might have to take a few steps back to get a photo of the whole building, you’ll get lots of awesome detail in your compositions without having to change lenses to shoot the building itself.
Understand the lighting
Make sure you figure out in which direction the sun is moving when you decide on your shooting location.
A south facing wall and a north facing one will look best at different times of day, for example. Shadows from neighbouring buildings or trees might obscure your primary subject if the light is coming from the wrong direction. Understanding the lighting at your locale of choice will ensure that your photos come out great.
Last updated: August 22, 2023