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The Historic Distillery District in Toronto, Canada

JDeQ from Burlington, Ontario

The Distillery District is a historic district to the east of the downtown core of Toronto, spanning 13 acres (52,000 square metres) and comprised of more than 40 heritage buildings and 10 streets.

This haven in the midst of the big city is North America's best preserved collection of Victorian industrial architecture is located in this historic enclave in downtown Toronto. Formerly the Gooderham & Worts Distillery (founded in 1832), The Distillery has been developed as a centre for arts, culture and entertainment. It is filled with galleries, artist studios and workshops, boutiques, retail stores, restaurants, bars and cafes.

Location: Trinity and Mill Street in the Parliament and Front St. vicinity.

How to get there: Car (ample street parking and parking lots); TTC (bus 72A, 172, A from Union Station).

When to go: During the summer this place is hoping (and parking may be difficult to find)! There are many festivals throughout the year during which things will be even busier. We often go during the winter when things are quieter – the downside through is that some of the shops, restaurants, and studios aren't open or have odd hours.

The Details

Historic Distillery District in Toronto

In 1831, James Worts invested in a piece of property along Toronto's shoreline with the intention of establishing his own milling business. Together with his brother-in-law, William Gooderham, what began as an elementary milling operation flourished into Canada's landmark distillery - the Gooderham & Worts Distillery. By 1871, the Gooderham & Worts distillery produced almost half of Ontario's total spirit production and exported its whisky and spirits to Canadian markets - even New York. At one time this was the largest distillery in the world!

In 1926, the Gooderham & Worts Distillery was merged under the parent company of Hiram Walker-Gooderham & Worts Ltd. Small amounts of Gooderham & Worts-brand whisky and rum as well as antifreeze continued to be produced at the Toronto distillery until all production ceased in 1990.

In November, 2001 a large developer and Wallace Studios purchased the property for $15 million, breathing new life into the region. The 13-acre site, complete with forty-five 19th century buildings, is now the subject of careful restoration efforts and its new name - The Historic Distillery District - embraces the site's rich historical and architectural legacy. Today the picturesque, pedestrian-only village houses over a hundred tenants including: galleries, museums, rehearsal halls, boutiques, retail shops, artist studios, restaurants, bistros and cafes. The Distillery bustles with activity day and night. You can catch live music, outdoor exhibitions, fairs and special events at the Distillery year 'round.

The Historic Distillery District continues to be the destination of choice for international filmmakers. The cobblestone paths, grid-street design and the best-preserved collection of Victorian Industrial architecture in North America have established District as the most attractive movie and television filming site in Canada. Recent productions shot at the site include Chicago, X-Men, The Recruit and The Hurricane. Since 1990 the Distillery District has been the location for more than 900 films and television productions.

The developers refused to lease any of the retail and restaurant space to chains or franchises, and accordingly, the majority of the buildings are occupied with unique boutiques, art galleries, restaurants and coffee shops, including a well-known micro brewery, the Mill Street Brewery. The upper floors of a number of buildings have been leased to artists as studio spaces and to offices tenants with a "creative focus". A new theatre, the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, has opened on the site and serves as the home of the Soulpepper Theatre Company and the drama productions of nearby George Brown College. There are plans to develop residential condominiums, offices and more retail space on the vacant lands that surround the district.

The Distillery District is a National Historic site, and has been designated for protection under the Ontario Heritage act since 1976. It was listed by National Geographic magazine as a "top pick" in Canada for travelers. The redevelopment of surrounding vacant lands is expected to accelerate the district's transformation from an abandoned industrial site into one of Toronto's most unique neighbourhoods.

Some of my favorite places

Balzac's Coffee House. In a wonderful two-storey building. This is the branch of the popular Stratford, Ontario coffee house which was written up in National Geographic Traveler earlier this year. Their coffee is fair trade and organic. You can get a light snack here as well to go with your coffee. We buy the beans by the pound for use at home. The patio is a 'happening' place in nice weather.

Brick Street Bakery. This is a small shop but well worth a visit. They use organic flours and make everything in-house. Here you can also buy a light snack (although I have never tried their sandwiches). I can vouch for their meat pies, bread, cookies, and desserts all of which we have enjoyed a number of times!

Brick Street Bakery

Brick Street Bakery

SOMA Chocolates. This amazing bit of heaven is worth a visit on itself! Consistently rated as the best chocolate in Toronto, this shop makes their own chocolate rather than relying on imported chocolate. The pride themselves on making single-origin chocolate where the beans come form one small geographic area. Like tasting wine form various regions, one can really taste the difference terroir makes on the taste of the cacao beans.

Resources

Slow Photos: Jerry's photos of The Historic Distillery District in Toronto, Canada

Get more information from the Wikitravel Toronto Travel Guide.


JDeQ from Burlington, Ontario shares his thoughts and food stories on his blog Jerry's Rants, Musings, and Recipes.

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