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Distillery District

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The Distillery District is a commercial and residential district in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Located east of downtown, it contains numerous cafés, restaurants, and shops housed within heritage buildings of the former Gooderham and Worts Distillery. The 13 acres (5.3 ha) district comprises more than forty heritage buildings and ten streets, and is the largest collection of Victorian-era industrial architecture in North America.


Map of The Distillery District, Toronto, ON, Canada

The district was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1988.

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The Gooderham and Worts Distillery was founded in 1832 and by the late 1860s was the largest distillery in the world. Once providing over 2 million US gallons (7,600,000 L) of whisky, mostly for export on the world market, the company was bought out in later years by rival Hiram Walker Co., another large Canadian distiller. Its location on the side of the Canadian National Railway mainline and its proximity to the mouth of the original route of the Don River outlet into Lake Ontario created a hard edge which separated the district from neighbouring communities. These did however, allow for a facilitated transport connection to the rest of Canada and the world and acted as Toronto's domination as an industrial centre or transshipping hub.

With the deindustrialization of the surrounding area in the late 20th century, and the winding-down of the distillery operations, the district was left increasingly derelict. Surrounding industrial and commercial buildings and structures were often demolished, leaving the former distillery surrounded primarily by empty lots. Nonetheless, the closing of the remaining distillery operations in 1990 created redevelopment and investment opportunities for a district that contained the largest and best preserved collection of Victorian-era industrial architecture in North America.

The economic recession of the early 1990s, however, and the resulting crash in residential condominium prices and office lease rates in downtown Toronto, delayed efforts to revitalize the district. Nonetheless, two residential condominium buildings were constructed on the periphery of the district during the late 1990s.

While the site awaited redevelopment and reinvestment, the district's ambiance began to attract numerous film shoots. Since 1990, the site has served as a location for over 800 film and television productions.


In 2001, the site was purchased by Cityscape Holdings Inc., which transformed the district into a pedestrian-orientated area. Work was completed and the district reopened to the public by 2003. The new owners refused to lease any of the retail and restaurant space to chains or franchises, and accordingly, the majority of the buildings are occupied with boutiques, art galleries, restaurants, jewellery stores, cafés, and coffeehouses, including a well-known microbrewery, the Mill Street Brewery. The upper floors of a number of buildings have been leased to artists as studio spaces and to office 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 travellers.

Government policy

The Official Plan designates the Distillery District as a mixed-use land parcel, which is an area that includes a combination of land uses such as commercial, residential, entertainment facilities and art galleries. In order to provide additional details regarding the breakdown of the types of mixed uses in the area, the King-Parliament Secondary Plan is used to determine the locations of the commercial, residential, and other land uses. In addition, the plan also outlines design guidelines and places emphasis on enhancing the existing historical buildings. The plan divides the 13 acre area into three different mixed-use designations. This includes the incorporation of a bike lane and private roadway where the current southern park lot is located. The remaining existing structures within the District all comply with the outlined land uses within the Secondary Plan.

In addition, the Ontario Heritage Act 1990 is a governing document for the historical buildings that have been redeveloped on the site. Any amendments to this act must be proposed to the Conservation Review Board for approval. In particular, the Secondary Plan reinforces these notions by stating that any additions to existing buildings within mixed use areas 2 and 3 “may be permitted only if it has been demonstrated that they respect the three-dimensional integrity of the heritage building, and the quality and the character of both the historic building being added to and its relationship to adjacent historical buildings within the area”. The Secondary Plan is important for guiding how development occurs within the area. It provides the course of action for what the future image of the Distillery should look like and ensures that development at a small scale (such as the 13 acre area of the Distillery) is compliant with plans outlined in the City's master plan (official plan) and is reflective of the province's Planning Act (1990), which sets out the ground rules for land use planning.

Various buildings on the site are protected under part IV of the Ontario Heritge Act since 1976. The property at 70 Mill Street is protected under a heritage easement since April 3, 1996.

Urban design

The Distillery District's traditional brick-paved streets and lanes are open to pedestrians and cyclists, with general motor vehicle traffic restricted to streets and parking areas outside of the district's historic centre. Several large sculptures installed along the lanes enliven its streetscapes, three being on Distillery Lane and the final one at the parking area at the end of Trinity Street. Another primary landmark is the chimney stack atop the Boiler House complex. There are informal public spaces on the pedestrianized streets with chairs and tables for general use, as well as formal patios for some of its coffee houses and restaurants.

Trinity Street is the widest street in the district and often functions as a public square for events such as market days. The main thoroughfares within the district are Distillery Lane from Parliament Street running southeast to Trinity Street, Trinity Street from Mill Street at its north end to the motor vehicle parking area at its south end, and Tank House Lane from Trinity Street east to Cherry Street. The four borders of the Distillery District are Parliament Street, Mill Street, and the parking area to the south with the condominiums along Distillery Lane forming hard edges to pedestrians. The Distillery District is animated with a mix of uses: residential areas at Parliament and Distillery and at the eastern end of Mill Street up to Cherry, restaurants along Trinity Street, Tank House Lane, Brewery Lane, and Case Goods Lane, and education uses at the eastern end of Tank House Lane.


The former distillery consisted of a series of buildings, centred around a seven-storey windmill and wharf. Although the windmill and wharf have long since been demolished, the inventory of the main structures on the site is as follows:

  • the Stonehouse Distillery, designed by David Roberts Sr., near the then shoreline of Lake Ontario;
  • a 31-metre (100 ft) chimneystack;
  • the Malt House (built in 1860), now called the Maltings;
  • Double-D Rackhouse;
  • the Molasses Storage building;
  • the Boiler House - landmark;
  • the Tank House - landmark;
  • the Stables;
  • the Cannery;
  • the Paint Shop;
  • the various tankhouses (originally seven of which only three survive today);
  • the Denaturing Room;
  • the Crapper;
  • Rack Houses M, G, and J;
  • the Pump House - landmark;
  • the Case Goods Warehouse;
  • the Wharf (now demolished);
  • the Cooperage;
  • the Outhouse;
  • the Grain Elevator and Warehouse, located at the wharf (and since demolished);
  • the Pure Spirits Building (built in 1870); and
  • the Grist Mill/Windmill, which was built in 1832 at a height of 21 m (69 ft). It ceased to be a windmill in 1846, and was rebuilt after damage from a storm in the 1850s and disappeared by 1866. A replica was built in 1954, but it was demolished to make way for the Gardiner Expressway.
  • Future development

    New condominium developments will be located at the south-east corner of the neighbourhood, bordering on Cherry Street and Tank House Lane.

    The PanAm Games Athletes' Village was built in the area in 2015. After the games, the athletes village was converted to townhouses, condos, affordable housing, and retail space.


    The 2006 Census revealed that the population of the Distillery is largely composed of young adult to middle aged persons aged twenty to fifty-nine. Most households contain one to two persons and the area has a lack of single detached housing. The immigrant population of the area is largely made up of persons of European descent with the overwhelming majority of the population not being visible minorities. The occupation data for the neighbourhood shows that almost a fifth of the residents work in social science/education/government service/religion. Those with jobs in sales and service, business, and arts/ culture/ recreation and sports make up a total of 48% of the occupation categories with an even split of 16% to each job category.


    Distillery District Wikipedia

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