The Distillery Historic District
Liu Lingke   May 06.2016


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.

Reason to Be Selected

Gooderham and Worts distillery, circa 1860The Gooderham and Worts Distillery was founded in 1832 and by the late 1860s was the largest distillery in the world.[citation needed] 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.


Nearly 20 years ago a small group of visionary developers had a dream for Toronto. They looked at a derelict collection of Victorian Industrial buildings that had been pronounced a national historic site and imagined transforming it. Not into another “historic district” or “pioneer village” but into something exciting and unique. Something the city would be proud of. They wanted to create a place that would excite and inspire the senses. Where people could experience new ideas, new foods, new designs and new ways of living and working.“Our 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 or Chelsea, where creative minds get together and you feel as if anything could happen.”Their dream was to provide a place where creativity would flourish and passion would be aroused – where artists, artisans, entrepreneurs and businesspeople could rub shoulders and inspire each other. So they began plans to restore the 47 buildings known as the Gooderham & Worts Distillery.They harnessed the talent of hundreds of tradesmen and craftsmen who were skilled in working with 19th century timber, planks, stone and brick. They went to great lengths in the restoration process to repurpose original materials and brilliantly blend them with today’s modern materials and green technologies.The result is nothing short of perfection. As the Toronto Star says: “To enter The Distillery is to step back into an era of horse-drawn carts, windmills and sailing ships”. One can only marvel at the authentic exterior restoration that was achieved. But it is when you step inside the buildings that you truly realize the magnitude of what was accomplished.What you will find is a dramatic fusion of old and new. An inspired blend of Victorian Industrial architecture and stunning 21st century design and creativity. The result is an internationally acclaimed village of one-of-a-kind stores, shops, galleries, studios, restaurants, cafes, theatres and more.The Distillery Historic District opened in 2003 and today it is widely regarded as Canada’s premier arts, culture and entertainment destination. A place brimming with creativity and creative people, that can inspire dreams, and a place that can help them come true.


In2001, the site was purchased by Cityscape Holdings Inc., which transformed the district into a pedestrian-orientated area.[4] 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.

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 where the locations of the commercial, residential and other land uses are. 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”. In particular, 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 Cities master plan (official plan) and is reflective of the provinces Planning Act (1990), (which sets out the ground rules for land use planning).

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: auto;text-align:left;mso-pagination:widow-orphan;mso-outline-level:2">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 will soon be joining the local area. Current plans place it just north-east of the Distillery proper at the intersection of Cherry and Mill Streets. This along with the rest of the West Don Lands redevelopment to the east will undoubtedly bring an influx of visitors and from many locations as well as new residents to the neighbourhood.


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.




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