Toronto’s Distillery District in Photos

by Gray Cargill on July 31, 2013

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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.


Old Truck


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.


Brick Street Bakery


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.


Victorian Industrial Architecture


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.


Distillery District


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.)


Old Truck


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?


Public Art


Doesn’t this look like the alien in War of the Worlds (the Tom Cruise version)?


Distillery District Sculpture

Just me then?


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?


Anita Mac August 13, 2013 at 9:53 pm

Love the Distillery District…I am a fan of the shops and cafes in the area. Did the segway tour – an interesting to get a little of the history of the area!

Gray Cargill August 14, 2013 at 5:48 am

Oh, you did the segway tour, Anita? I bet that was fun.

Tracy Antonioli August 7, 2013 at 5:27 pm

Nope–not just you. I totally thought War of the Worlds. Like it was my first thought. Really.

Gray Cargill August 7, 2013 at 7:47 pm

I knew there was a reason we get along so well. 🙂

kaleidoscopicwandering August 1, 2013 at 6:50 pm

I adore the Distillery District! We didn’t buy anything, but we had so many interesting conversations with people working down there!

Gray Cargill August 2, 2013 at 5:35 pm

Glad to hear it! It’s definitely a unique neighborhood.

RobRob July 31, 2013 at 8:16 am

So… was there anything that explained how the War of the Worlds alien fits in with the distillery district? I mean, usually there is some homage to the history in places like that but, try as I might, I don’t get it. I like it…just don’t get it. Which is actually not unusual. 😉

Gray Cargill July 31, 2013 at 10:49 am

I’m sure it really wasn’t an alien. There are several works of public art in the Distillery district, and most of them, I’d say, didn’t necessarily fit any historical theme. They’re just art. I can’t explain art.

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