Visit the Distillery District Before It Changes Forever

Things to Do, What's New — By shelaghmcnally on March 4, 2011 at 2:21 am

Walking along the brick-lined streets and stone buildings in Toronto’s Distillery District, it’s easy to imagine it as an economic hub of the late Victorian era. In a city notorious for tearing down its architectural gems, the distillery is considered one of Toronto’s last authentic historical sites.

Once the site of Gooderham and Worst — the world’s largest distillery in the 19th century — the 13-acre district is considered Canada’s largest and best-preserved collection of Victorian-era industrial architecture. It’s enjoyed a renaissance since its restoration in 2001 when its 10 streets and 40-plus stone buildings and factories were transformed into a pedestrian-oriented arts, culture, dining, and entertainment center.

The Stone Distillery and tower at night. Photo courtesy of Benson Kua, Wikimedia Commons

Now, this landmark is in danger of being swallowed up by encroaching urban developments. There are plans to build residential condominiums, offices and retail space on the vacant lands in and around the district. The acceleration of redevelopment has many worried that the site’s authenticity will be watered down, or worse, completely hidden.

Underneath the landmark sign. Photo courtesy of The Distillery District

But for the time being, it’s still a must-see for visitors. The landmark Stone Distillery is the oldest building on site, constructed between 1859 and 1860. Alongside it is the 100-foot chimney used to release the coal steam from the factory. The cooperage, with its prominent cupola and distinctive ornamental brickwork, is typical of the architectural style found throughout the complex. Scattered along the small streets are a variety of warehouses, tankhouses, stables, and offices — each with distinctive features of the Victorian era.

The Cooperage at the Distillery. Courtesy of Sookie, Wikimedia Commons

Its delicate blend of the past with the present has been praised and held up as a model for revitalizing other abandoned sites of historical significance. Don’t wait, drink it all in before the atmosphere disappears.

Part of a NileGuide Special Report: 25 Destinations to See Before They Change Forever.

Tags: booze history, Distillery District, festivals Toronto, Gooderham and Worst, historic sites Toronto, Victorian architecture, Victorian Era Industrial Architecture