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Tall red brick buildings, expansive red brick sidewalks, wood, brass, and green trim, these are the features of the Distillery District. Toronto once had a blight on itself in this neighborhood, but revitalization projects have led to the Distillery District being a trendy, urban part of town.
Once Upon a Time
In 1832, the Gooderham and Worts distillery was founded, brewing whiskey a stone’s throw from the railroad mainline. As the years progressed, the operations changed hands and grew to encompass an area of 40 buildings and ten streets. Then, as industrialization moved away from city centers and away from North America, the area became more and more derelict, with brewing operations ceasing entirely in 1990.
Today, the Distillery District of Toronto is the largest and most well-preserved assembly of Victorian-area industrial architecture in North America, making it truly a sight to be seen.
With the dot-com bust of the 1990s, development plans did not progress in the Distillery District. Toronto was devoid of investors in the condo market, so only two projects were undertaken. In 2001, a buyer came in and purchased the area, doing extensive renovations and creating a pedestrian-oriented streetscape. They unveiled the Distillery District to the public, and much acclaim, in 2003.
Small boutique shops festoon the Distillery District of Toronto, a commingling of coffee shops, art galleries, artisanal shops, restaurants and jewellery stores. The developers were resolute in not permitting chains or franchise stores to lease space, which directly contributed to the current flair and personality of the district.
Urban-style loft conversions in the original buildings provide residential and commercial spaces, especially for artist studios on upper floors. To add to the artsy culture, a theatre now calls the Distillery District home, and of course, there is the very-popular Mill Street Brewery, maintaining a tie back to the district’s roots.
During the 90’s lull in use, one group made extensive use of the Distillery District – Toronto film crews. These artists were repeatedly found in the area, creating popularity for future shoots, albeit of a different style. Today, it is virtually impossible to venture through the Distillery District without encountering a wedding photo shoot, or several. The classic Victorian Industrial architecture, contrasting green doorways, steel beams and gold serif printed names are a delightful photographic backdrop for wedding parties, engagement shoots and still some fashion shoots.
The art is not only for sale, at the various shops and galleries, but it is wide out in the open, for you to confront, interact with, and of course snap a picture. Several large public art installations reside in the pedestrian only core of the Distillery District.
To draw crowds from dawn until dusk, the Distillery District’s various shops and spaces can be rented out for business meetings, weddings, celebrations and more. Consider the Arta Gallery, for example, which will provide a stunning backdrop for your private event. Restaurants like Archeo will also provide on-point food to regulars and to private events.
Take an afternoon and an evening to explore the Distillery District, Toronto’s edgy, urban, artsy neighborhood. Funky boutiques, one of a kind art works and delectable food await, all set against a red brick backdrop – full of patios that beckon you and photo opportunities that can’t be missed.