I’d like to say that visiting the Distillery District in Toronto is like stepping back in time, but that wouldn’t be quite true. It’s a little too touristy for that. The shops are high-end. The prices are high end. This is not a working-class, blue collar neighborhood, as I’m sure it once was. As usually happens with historic restoration projects, it feels gentrified, made for people with money to burn. It is, however, a lovely neighborhood, and very photogenic—and taking photos costs absolutely nothing.
This National Historic Site is a pedestrian (car-free) neighborhood, with ten streets, 13 acres, and forty historic buildings of the Victorian industrial style. The centerpiece is the Stonehouse, a building formerly housing Gooderham and Worts, a whiskey distillery which was once one of the biggest distilleries in the world and a key player in Toronto’s economy. The city has done an amazingly good job restoring this once-neglected district and creating a neighborhood that locals and tourists might want to visit, with shops, restaurants and cafes, performing arts groups, and artists.
If you’re a shopper, you’ll find it refreshing that there are no chain stores here. (Same with the restaurants and coffee shops—no chains.) If you’re into history, I highly recommend signing up for a tour of the District, as you’ll certainly learn a lot more from a knowledgeable local than you will by visiting on your own. As for me, I visited for the architecture. I wanted to see for myself exactly what “Victorian industrial architecture” looks like.
I was there on a Thursday morning in late May. It was very hot, with the sun beating down on the stone and brick buildings and brick walkways. The District was not as busy as I expected, which worked out well for me in terms of taking photos without hordes of tourists in them. It was also blissfully peaceful as I explored the various streets and alleyways. I wasn’t the only one who thought so, obviously; it’s also a nice quiet spot to read a book outside on a sunny day.
My friend Lisa (Chickybus) tells a great story of her time at the Distillery District, where she had one of her trademark quirky encounters at a bed shop there. I have no such stories to tell. I spent my time interacting with inanimate objects—the buildings, the sculptures, the old artifacts—rather than people. It was my jealously-guarded “alone time” for the trip, something I need as an introvert no matter where I go. (Kind of like the woman reading in the photo above.)
With the exception of my stop here at the Distillery District, my day in Toronto was completely focused on visiting all the sci-fi locales in Toronto that I could. So I don’t know if it was just that my imagination was leaning in that direction anyway, but some of the public artworks in the Distillery District look distinctly futuristic rather than historical, don’t you think?
Doesn’t this look like the alien in War of the Worlds (the Tom Cruise version)?
In any case, the Distillery District is definitely worth a visit when you’re in Toronto. It’s one of the stops on the hop-on, hop-off sighsteeing bus, and is very close to St. Lawrence Market. And really, how many times in your life are you going to have the opportunity to visit the best-preserved collection of Victorian industrial buildings in North America?