Tag Archives: industrial architecture
The Distillery District is a historic district to the east of the downtown core of Toronto, Canada, spanning 13 acres (52,000 square metres) and comprised of more than 40 heritage buildings and 10 streets.
Until 1990, the district housed the Gooderham and Worts distillery, founded in 1832, and which was once the largest distillery in the world, and which was owned in later years by Hiram Walker Co. Its location on the side of the Canadian National Railway mainline and located at the mouth of the original route of the Don River outlet into Lake Ontario which facilitated transport connections to the rest of Canada and indeed the world, and the entire area was once the industrial centre of Toronto and transhipping hub.
With the deindustrialization of the surrounding area in the late 20th century, and the winding-down of the distillery operations, the Distillery 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.
While the site awaited redevelopment and reinvestment, the Distillery District‘s unique ambience began to attract numerous film shoots. Since 1990, the site has served as a location for over 800 film and television productions.
In 2001, the site was purchased by Cityscape Holdings Inc., which transformed the district into a pedestrian-oriented arts, culture and entertainment neighbourhood. In 2003, the Distillery District was reopened to the public to great acclaim.
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 unique boutiques, art galleries, restaurants and coffee shops, including a well-known micro brewery, the Mill Street Brewery.
The upper floors of a number of buildings have been leased to artists as studio spaces and to offices 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 Distillery District.
There has been some criticism of the Distillery District‘s redevelopment. Some have suggested that the area’s gentrification has resulted in yet another upscale shopping district competing for the pocket-books of a wealthy demographic, and that opportunities for more publicly-funded uses have been lost. In contrast, others have noted that the district provides important space to local artists, and are supportive of the fact that the Distillery District is not dominated by large retail chains.
Regardless of any criticism, the preservation and active re-use of the historic buildings has been widely praised. The Distillery District is a National historic site, and has been designated for protection under the Ontario Heritage Act since 1976. It was listed by National Geographic magazine as a “top pick” in Canada for travellers. The redevelopment of surrounding vacant lands is expected to accelerate the district’s transformation from an abandoned industrial site into one of Toronto’s most unique neighbourhoods.
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