The Distillery District, Toronto




The construction of a windmill on the waterfront of the young city of Toronto in 1832 by James Worts and William Gooderham heralded the development of what would become the largest distillery in the world by the late 1800s.  In addition to the distillery and flour mills, the buildings included a wharf, storage facilities, an icehouse, and a dairy.  Prohibition curtailed production in 1916, and the distillery was converted to the manufacture of gunpowder for the war.  By the 1950s, the Toronto shoreline had moved 500 meters south, and the area became landlocked.  The distillery, designated a National Historic Site in 1988, was permanently closed in the mid 1900s, and the area fell into disuse.


Shortly thereafter, the district, with its 47 Victorian buildings, developed into a destination for film shoots, becoming the number one film location in Canada and the second in North America after Hollywood.  Its future prospects were tenuous until it was purchased by Cityscape Holdings in 2001.  With the goal of preserving its unique heritage, Cityscape created The Distillery District, a car-free neighborhood dedicated to arts, culture and entertainment.  Their vision was “to combine the romance and relaxing atmosphere of European walking and patio districts with the hip, cool dynamic of an area like New York City’s SoHo”.


The restoration process involved using tradesmen with experience in working with 19th century materials.  They committed to repurposing original materials, and combined them with modern materials and green technologies.  Now, The Distillery District has become one of Canada’s top tourist attractions, a village of unusual stores, shops, galleries, studios, restaurants and theatres.




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