South of Front to the Gardiner Expressway. From Parliament Street east to the West Don Lands.
Mill Street and Trinity Street
Thriving art scene, industrial Victorian architecture, European commercial area, cobblestone streets, and condo living.
DID YOU KNOW?:
SOMA Chocolate Maker in the Distillery took home the gold at the International Chocolate Awards in the “plain/original dark chocolate bars” category in 2015. The first time a Canadian has ever won the gold at the International Chocolate Awards final competition.
The Distillery District has been around for a long time by Toronto standards. Since 1832, in fact, when the Gooderham and Worts Distillery, one of Canada’s largest distilleries at the time, moved in. But the good ole days didn’t last. For the next 150 years or so, this area prospered, got kicked in the gut by prohibition, then became just plain derelict.
It’s surprising that the remaining old guard distillery operation has survived until the 1990s, when it finally closed its doors. But what remained was one the largest and best preserved Victorian era industrial architecture in North America. And for a city like Toronto, who for decades, took a wrecking ball to many of it neglected historic buildings, it’s truly surprising, even a little shocking, that this much vintage brick and mortar survived. It’s like a million hungry locusts skipping the biggest farm on their lip-smacking rampage.
One of the reasons for the Distillery District’s architectural survival has to do with its location. Strangely, it’s fairly close to downtown, but 25 years ago, there was really nothing around it. Just vacant land and movie studios who could take advantage of the open space. So no one really noticed it was there unless you drove by it on the highway.
One day around 2000 though, some big plans were launched to turn this completely unpopulated area into a thriving neighbourhood. It wasn’t going to be a slow and organic rejuvenation of Toronto that happens in most emerging neighbourhoods. It was going to be the introduction of an entire neighbourhood where no businesses or residents existed at the time. The rules of the new neighbourhood were simple: no chains, but independent artists, galleries, boutiques, theatre companies restaurants and coffee shops were encouraged to come. I have to admit: I was a little suspicious this thing would work.
It was a strange experiment. A “build it and they will come” scenario. And somehow it worked. In fact, it really worked. Not only has it become a place for artists and residents, but it became a destination for Canadian and international travellers and tourists with one of the most successful Christmas markets in Canada. Brick Bakery, an English bakery, is one of the best in the city. Then there’s Balzak’s, not only one of the top ranked coffee joints in Toronto, but also a beautiful location. If tourists, and festivals drive you nuts, then you may not like to roam around the Distillery in the summer. It’s a relatively tame crowd though. More of a theatre-after-a-nice-meal crowd. Not Richmond Street on a Saturday night.
In terms of living quarters in the Distillery, you won’t find any thing Victorian. The condos are modern, but some do incorporate a remnant of the historic architecture as part of its structure. They vary from pleasant with large units, but looking a little like Communist public housing, to architecturally daring.
Though it’s a fully functioning and distinctive neighbourhood, the Distillery District has room to grow. There is more development to come with potential new condos and hotels on the horizon.
Location-wise, getting on the highway is a snap. Some may say the Gardiner is a little too close, but from a practical perspective, it’s pretty handy.
If you prefer carefree modern condo living with a revamped “old world” neighbourhood to visit, then this hood should be a good fit.