The Distillery District is unique in Toronto, with its combination of history, arts and entertainment, pedestrian-friendly streets and small-town charm all contained within a 13-acre site that features the largest collection of Victorian-era industrial architecture in North America. Opening in 2003, the Distillery District is simultaneously one of Toronto’s oldest and newest neighbourhoods.
The area — bordered roughly by Parliament Street on the west, Mill Street on the north, Cherry Street on the east and the CN rail lines to the south — is designated as a national historic site and has been protected under the Ontario Heritage Act since 1976. The neighbourhood — which operates under a policy of no chains or franchises — is made up of a mixture of independent boutiques, art galleries, restaurants, jewellery stores, cafés, and coffeehouses. True to its historic roots as the 19th-century home of the Gooderham and Worts distillery, there is even an increasingly well-regarded microbrewery, the Mill Street Brewery, in the District. The mixture has made the area a popular destination for tourists and Torontonians alike, for day tours or night-time concerts and shows.
Many of the tours focus on the Victorian-era buildings in the district. While the Gooderham and Worts distillery is long defunct, many of its structures remain and are considered historically important. These includes buildings such as the Boiler House, the Tank House and the Pump House, all listed as official landmarks. The nature of the district has also made it a popular site for film shoots including X-Men, Chicago and Cinderella Man.
The neighbourhood is also very much focussed on the arts, with a number of the historic buildings having been renovated to turn the upper floors into studio spaces and offices for arts organizations and designers. The Young Centre for the Performing Arts, opened in 2006 and built in 19th-century industrial buildings, houses the acclaimed Soulpepper Theatre Company, as well as dramatic productions from nearby George Brown College. Also located in the Distillery District are such performing companies as the Native Earth Performing Arts company and Dance Ontario.
The area features a young and educated professional demographic, with many residents working in the arts, social sciences or education. There are a number of new condos being built in the neighbourhood, and the athletes’ village for the Pan Am Games in 2015 is also being built in the area, with plans for later conversion into housing units.
History and Social Profile
The Gooderham and Worts Distillery was built in 1832, and by the 1860s was the largest distillery in the world, producing millions of gallons of whiskey a year. With its proximity to the lakeshore and to the original route of the Don River, the site became a major shipping and transport centre. But by the end of the 20th century, most of the businesses had closed. And the final closure of the distillery in 1990 marked the demise of the area as an industrial operation.
The area languished during the recession of the early 1990s. But by the turn of the century, redevelopment was well under way to turn the area into a pedestrian-friendly and arts-focussed district combining livability with tourist attractions, historic sites and entertainment and culture. In 2003, the Distillery District was officially reopened. It has since become a popular spot for both visitors — National Geographic recommends it as a top pick for travellers to Canada — and those looking to live in an area with an unparalleled combination of downtown convenience, history and artistic focus.
- The Sweet Escape Patisserie
- Balzac’s Coffee
- Caffe Furbo
- The Boiler House
- Café Uno
- King Streetcar. The 504 King car stops at Parliament. Walk two blocks south to Mill St.
- Parliament 65A bus. Leaves from Castle Frank station on the Bloor line. Get off at Front St. and walk a block south to Mill St.
- Cherry St. 172 bus. Leaves from Front and Bay Sts. to Cherry Beach via The Esplanade and Mill St.
- Distillery District Early Learning Centre: Preschool Centre www.distillerydistrictelc.com; 416-360-4042
- Voice Intermediate School; Grades 4-8. www.voiceintermediate.com; 416-691-4639
- Regent Park/Duke of York Junior School; 20 Regent St, 416-393-1730
- Nelson Mandela Park Public School; 440 Shuter St, 416-393-1620