Industrial - The Toronto Distillery District

One only has to look east to Toronto’s Distillery District to see an outstanding example of an industrial site turned into an award winning mixed use district which retained every building, either in its entirety or significant portions of their structures. In December of 2001 the former Goodman's & Worts distillery was purchased by Cityscape Holdings Inc., later partners with Dundee Realty Corporation. In May 2003, after a 16 month $42 million dollar restoration (2019 dollars) the Distillery District was officially opened.


It’s now the site of shops, restaurants, events, some brick storage buildings used to create a courtyard for higher density towers. The district has been used for hundreds of film and television projects, it employs almost 800 people and in 2013 was assessed at over 600 million dollars providing 7 million dollars in property tax revenues annually.


“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. A place brimming with creativity and creative people, that can inspire dreams, and a place that can help them come true.”


The Distillery District is located west of Old Toronto, just across the Gardiner Expressway from Center Island and Lake Ontario. There are about 40 heritage buildings on the site, including the Stone Distillery, the Cooperage, a Malt House and a Fire Pump House, to name just a few.


It was recognized as a National Historic Site in 1988 because of its unique collection of unusually harmonious, high-quality Victorian industrial buildings.  Most of the buildings on the site were designed by David Roberts, Sr. (1810-1881) and his son, David Roberts Jr. (1845-1907). The Irish-born engineer-millwright David Roberts Sr. emigrated to Toronto in 1844 where he made contact with Gooderham & Worts.


Toronto’s by-law No. 154-76 cited these reasons for designating The Gooderham & Worts Complex' at 2 Trinity Street in 1976. (It) “... is of outstanding architectural importance as one of the best preserved, if not the ·best preserved, nineteenth century industrial complex in Canada. Industrial operations have been continuous on this site since the early nineteenth century and the buildings are symbolic of much of Toronto's development. The complex itself, by being a self-contained unit, forms an extremely important streetscape, the character of, which is not equaled elsewhere in Toronto.”


The City of Toronto identifies the Distillery District as a Heritage Conservation District (HCD) “in development” (as at Feb 2021). “HCDs provide place-based policies that conserve and enhance historic neighbourhoods, while pointing to opportunities for contextually appropriate growth and change.”



Sources and further reading….


Potential Industrial Heritage Districts in Calgary