The Distillery District, Toronto – A Victorian oasis in a mega metropolis!
Toronto is an amazing awe inspiring modern metropolis. My neck was beginning to ache with the length of time I was looking up at the sky scrapers whilst exploring, I lost count the number of times I tripped over something or nearly bumped into a lamp post or person due to not looking where I was going!
In appearance Toronto is the most modern city I have ever visited and it has some really exciting experiences due to this, just check out my post on the EdgeWalk at the CN Tower to see what I mean!
I wanted to see another side of the city though, away from the huge buildings, hotels, offices and department stores. I wanted to see some history, maybe get an idea of what this city was once like, downtown it is a little difficult to imagine this. We decided to head for the Distillery District in Old York east of the downtown area. Our base was on York Street, very central, so we walked north a couple of blocks then went east through Old Toronto, past pretty St Lawrence Market, along The Esplanade, through Parliament Square Park and entered the Distillery District from Parliament Street. A nice walk which took about 30 minutes and gave us a glimpse at the mixture of old and new in Toronto.
Immediately as we stepped into the Distillery District it was as if we had been teleported to another world. We were met by a huge red metal heart with couples posing for photographs, there was a strong bohemian feel which hit me almost straight away.
The Distillery District dates back to 1832 when brothers in law William Gooderham and James Worts built a windmill at the site which then was on the edge of a bay described as being a wilderness, this was whilst the area was still under control of the British Empire, Worts had experience of being a miller in England. Two years later Worts unfortunately died but Gooderham continued the business and upgraded from wind power to steam and in 1837 added a distillery both businesses were extremely successful.
In 1861 the huge white stone mill and distillery building was opened, the building still stands on the site and is the oldest building present. Production at the site continued, even through the era’s of prohibition production of components in the making of explosives were produced here to help during the first world war. Goods were produced here right up until 1990, however the site was then abandoned and it wasn’t till 2001 that the current owners redeveloped the district as an arts and cultural centre re-using the buildings already present.
Entering the district there are several inviting galleries promoting local artists work, restaurants, cafes, work shops, it is a real hub for local independent businesses. The buildings have been renovated and barrels and old vehicles decorate the street. It really is an attractive area and somewhere which is a pleasure to wander around.
This really is such a great way of rejuvenating an area without throwing the history away and the craft shops and other businesses located here really seem to fit in perfectly with their surroundings, it attracts a lot, and I mean a lot of people, it is a bit of a tourist trap and the main areas were very busy during our visit. This may have been boosted by the great weather we had (nearly 30 degrees!) and that there was a craft fair taking place with outside stalls again selling independent traders goods. We had a great time browsing the stalls and shops. However…there are some very very expensive shops here too! There was a shoe shop which sold really cool unique designs, but way out of our budget!
Craft beer in Canada is huge, really massive! It seems to be everywhere with craft beer pubs prevalent in all the locations we went to. Here in the U.K we think we are the only people who know how to make ales…we are definitely wrong. Canada is massively passionate about craft beer and there are so many small breweries popping up creating amazing different beers. John one of my friends from school who we were to go on to visit in Ottawa works for one of these, Beyond The Pale, who have loads of great beers, my favourite being Pink Fuzz brewed with grape fruit zest…amazing!
My first taste of craft beer in Canada was here in the Distillery District where Mill Street Brewery opened the doors to their brewery in 2001. They have since expanded and have become widely known in Canada and have converted this brewery into a brew pub and extended it with a large beer hall. Unfortunately it was too busy for us to get into the actual pub on our visit…plus a 45 minute wait to sit outside, we ended up sitting in the beer hall, which is really lively…and LOUD! I had a slider of four different beers and we shared a snack, the beer was good, but if we visited again, especially if it were just my fiance and I, we would insist on sitting in the pub. There are beer tours taking pretty large groups of people around who understandably take in this location…but definitely add to the noise! There were also beer cocktails and beer shots! I wasn’t brave enough to take these on though!
We also tried out a lovely little chocolate cafe Cacao 70 where they serve drinks and food made with chocolate with up to 70% cocoa content, you can choose the type of chocolate you want with your drink or food and the percentage of cocoa content. It was really nice and a nice place to escape the heat again for a while! Stepping outside in front of the cafe was a statue which reminded me of war of the worlds, I never checked out exactly what it was, perhaps it was from the War of the Worlds, but it was another reminder of the artistic focus given to this district.
The Distillery District, despite being a bit of a tourist trap, is a colourful, historic oasis in the middle of what sometimes can feel like a huge, slightly impersonal super metropolis…even by modern standards. We really enjoyed spending a few hours here and felt as if the city had been well and truly left behind as we relaxed and strolled between craft shops cafes and pubs. It really is a cool place to take in if you are visiting Toronto!
I couldn’t help thinking that Gooderham and Worts would approve of and love how the area was being used today.
With numerous new airlines entering the transatlantic marketplace there really has been no better time to travel from Europe to Canada and the east coast of America. We flew out to Toronto from Gatwick for under £200 and a quick search on Opodo revealed return flights with WestJet to Toronto from Gatwick in March for £355. We flew with WestJet and you can read my review of them here.
Thanks again for reading…look out for my posts from Ottawa, Montreal, Iceland and New York coming soon!