Distillery District Walking Tour, Toronto

Distillery District Walking Tour (Self Guided), Toronto

The architectural treasure of Toronto's Distillery District dates back to 1859 as the site of the largest distillery in the British Empire. This former industrial complex is now a National Historic Site of Canada and represents a unique pocket of Victorian-era architecture, featuring the continent's best-preserved collection of cobblestone pathways and historic buildings housing restaurants, boutiques and art galleries.

Turned into a pedestrian-only hub for forward-thinking art and design, there are still a few spaces in the Distillery District carrying on the tradition of alcohol production, whose products you can try. To explore the romantically European cobblestone streets of the District and to be transported back in the olden days, follow this self-guided walk!
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Distillery District Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Distillery District Walking Tour
Guide Location: Canada » Toronto (See other walking tours in Toronto)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 11
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 0.8 Km or 0.5 Miles
Author: ann
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Trinity Street
  • Artscape Distillery Studios
  • Blackbird Vintage Finds
  • Stone Distillery
  • Ontario Spring Water Sake Company
  • Arta Gallery
  • The Beer Store, Mill Street
  • Corkin Gallery
  • Mill Street Brewery
  • Cluny Bistro
  • Young Centre for the Performing Arts
Trinity Street

1) Trinity Street

The widest street in the Distillery district, Trinity Street often functions as a public square for the community, harboring events such as market days. All the main thoroughfares within the district pass through/from/to Trinity Street, one way or another, including: Distillery Lane – running southeast from Parliament Street to Trinity Street; Trinity Street from Mill Street at its north end to the motor vehicle parking area at its south end; and Tank House Lane from Trinity Street east to Cherry Street.

Similarly to all the streets within the district, traditionally brick-paved, Trinity Street is restricted to pedestrians and cyclists, whereas general motor vehicle traffic is limited to the streets and parking areas outside of the district historic centre.

Several large sculptures installed along the lanes enliven the Distillery streetscapes, including three on Distillery Lane and one at the parking area at the end of Trinity Street. Right in the center of the square stands a unique sculpture by American artist Dennis Oppenheim, called “Still Dancing.” This impressive 50-foot-tall steel creation is an established Toronto landmark.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Artscape Distillery Studios

2) Artscape Distillery Studios

The Artscape Distillery Studios are a multi-purpose property which accommodates an eclectic mix of 60+ artists, non-profit arts and cultural organizations. Nowhere else will you find sculptors, woodworkers, metalsmiths, opera and theatre companies, dancers, cultural presenters, painters, fashion designers and multi-disciplinary artists all working under the same roof. The facility opened in May 2003 on the premises of two prominent industrial heritage structures, namely the Case Goods Warehouse (built 1928) and the Cannery Building, and was one of the first to populate the Historic Distillery District.

The former of the two buildings is a four-storey structure that is easy to spot from the outside for its distinguished dark-colored bricks. Originally a warehouse, this was the second to last building constructed in the area and, just as its name suggests, was purpose-built to stock cases of whiskey destined for export, predominantly to the gangster clientele in New York and around the Great Lakes during the prohibition era in the United States and Ontario. The other one, Cannery Building, is a much older structure; its first two floors were built in 1877 and the third floor was added in 1884. A variety of goods canned here included consumption alcohol and antifreeze.

The presence of an artistic community helped to spur the broader effort to regenerate this former industrial zone. Many of the two buildings’ original features are intact–come take a look. Visitors to the Artscape Distillery Studios are welcome to shop at the first floor where they can find incredible art and artisan goods created right here, and then check out the upstairs galleries, open artist studios, performances and unique architectural features steeped in history. Quite entertaining!
Blackbird Vintage Finds

3) Blackbird Vintage Finds

Nestled in the heart of Toronto's Distillery District, Blackbird Vintage Finds is an eclectic, uniquely curated gift shop featuring an impressive assortment of vintage trophies, forgotten signage, books, accessories, jewelry, house wares and plenty of other similar stuff that make gift giving rather simple. In fact, it is somewhat difficult to classify precisely what kind of a store Blackbird Vintage really is — not exactly a furniture store, nor an antique or curio shop, but rather all wrapped into one.

Here, you can find anything, from 1940s globes to replica turn-of-the-century toothbrushes to books by Edgar Allan Poe, plus a wide range of furniture, scientific instruments, pharmacy bottles, old kitchen scales, railway silver, century-old typewriters, objets d'arts, small paintings, restaurant ware, a fabulous selection of heavenly scented candles, deluxe beauty products, quirky cards, chemistry beakers, 20th-century apothecary jars and taxidermy animals, and many other magical, unique and unusual items from the bygone eras. All these antique and nostalgic goods are displayed in old general store and medical cabinets, representing a veritable feast for the senses.

The owner, Paula DiRenzo, closed her previous store at Avenue Road, while hoping to open something special. And she did exactly that by starting the Blackbird Vintage Finds once her beloved Building 57, featuring a rectangular room with worn brick walls and an impressively high ceiling, became available in January 2011. When asked as to what the focus of Blackbird Vintage is, DiRenzo explained that she wanted to sell things that aid in keeping people’s memories. Simple as that.

The collection changes often, so hurry to check things out while they last.

Operation Hours:
Monday - Thursday: 11 am - 7 pm; Friday: 11 am - 8 pm; Saturday: 10 am - 8 pm; Sunday: 11 am - 5 pm
Stone Distillery

4) Stone Distillery

The Stone Distillery is an 1859 heritage industrial building, the oldest and largest in the Distillery District complex of Gooderham & Worts Distillery.

Designed by David Roberts, Sr. the building was constructed between 1858 and 1861 using limestone shipped from nearby Kingston, Ontario and double-timber beams worth $150,000 at the time, which is the equivalent of $3,800,000 in today's money. The building was constructed to house a grist mill, power house, and mashing and distilling functions in the five-storey main building, and fermenting in the one-storey western extension.

The Stone Distillery has a dominating presence in the Distillery District, owing largely to its massive size and materials. The 300 by 80-foot (24 m) edifice is an outstanding representation of Victorian industrial architecture, while also echoing ancient Florentine style. Each storey in the main building is separated by a course of stone, and the larger first floor and square windows seat it firmly to the ground. The simple facade is punctuated by a rhythmic pattern of windows separated by circular iron tie plates. The entire building is also tied together by a simple colour scheme of warm grey limestone with dark green accents on the windows, doors, and other ornamentation.

Presently, the building houses a number of restaurants, galleries, offices, and other services.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Ontario Spring Water Sake Company

5) Ontario Spring Water Sake Company

The hard-core sake loving community of Toronto, back in the day saddened by the state of sake availability in the city, got a virtual “shot in the arm” when The Ontario Spring Water Sake Company opened their facility in the Distillery District. This marked the first opportunity for the locals to try and buy a freshly brewed unpasteurized batch of this rice-based alcoholic beverage, widely available on the west coast already, without having to leave their province.

The Ontario Spring Water Sake Company specializes in manufacturing unpasteurized sake, otherwise known as nama sake, which is a rarity on this half of the continent because it spoils if not kept refrigerated. This type of sake is seldom found in sushi restaurants and is quite expensive to ship over from Japan while kept at a cool temperature.

The proprietor, Ken Valvur, came up with an idea of bringing Canadians this liquid delight after visiting a 350-year-old sake brewery in Japan. With water and rice being the core ingredients, it took a bit of an effort to identify the source of water similar to the specific characteristics of the water used in the Fushimi ward of Kyoto, Japan's premiere sake production district. Eventually, they found the spring water from Muskoka being just what's needed, combined with California-made rice.

Apart from enjoying a variety of completely unpasteurized, freshly pressed, handmade sakes in the bar, the distillery offers visitors a rare opportunity to witness, through the glass window, the handcrafted distilling process. They also sell by-product of the sake production, known as sake lees or kasu (used in gourmet cooking).
Arta Gallery

6) Arta Gallery

Arta Gallery is a major cultural and artistic center in Toronto, nestled in the heart of the Historic Distillery District. A proud part of the local community since 2003, Arta has been aimed at promoting art in daily lives and making talented artists visible to a larger and varied audience. Pursuant to this agenda, the gallery hosts an impressive array of regularly changing exhibitions showcasing commercial contemporary works, by both Canadian and international artists, for collectors and general public.

Following major expansion in June 2008, the Arta Gallery continues to thrive in its unique ambiance under the leadership of Director, Fay Athari. Apart from being a functional platform for professional art, the gallery provides art consultations for those wishing to add to their collections, as well as acts as a fully operational event space for weddings, fundraising and corporate events, etc.
The Beer Store, Mill Street

7) The Beer Store, Mill Street

Brewers Retail Inc., running The Beer Store, is a Canadian privately owned chain of retail outlets selling beer and other malt beverages in Ontario. The company began in 1927, with the end of prohibition in the province. Although prohibition had proven unsuccessful, the provincial government still needed to placate angry temperance advocates and agreed that beer would be sold through a single network of stores. Thus the government permitted brewers to organize the Brewers Warehousing Company Ltd., which later became Brewers Retail/The Beer Store.

The Beer Boutique on Mill Street has a more customer-friendly layout than a typical Beer Store outlet elsewhere in the country, and specializes in smaller package sizes that are convenient for downtown residents who are more likely to walk or take public transit.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Corkin Gallery

8) Corkin Gallery

Stemming from Jane Corkin Gallery, the brainchild of Jane Corkin, founded in 1978 in a loft space in John Street, Corkin Gallery came into being after the former migrated to a converted tank house in the Distillery District. Since then, the new space has been focused on contemporary photography and abstract visual art, allowing several exhibitions to run at a time, interacting with each other.

The 10,000-foot facility showcases a vast collection of vintage photographs, representing a roster of artists whose works explore issues concerning the environment, identity, consumerism, and narrative in a variety of mediums, including photography, concrete abstract painting, digital media, and sculpture. These exhibits swing between looking to the future and back at the past, making the gallery dynamic, unpredictable and worth coming back to, time after time.
Mill Street Brewery

9) Mill Street Brewery

Mill Street Brewery is a part of Anheuser–Busch InBev and was named after its original location at 55 Mill Street in the historic Distillery District. The brewery was founded in December 2002 in Toronto by Steve Abrams, Jeff Cooper and Michael Duggan, and was aimed at connecting Canada's proud brewing heritage with the innovative craft beer scene of today. Mill Street quickly gained a reputation for offering unique, award-winning beers on tap, bottles and cans across Canada. Its celebrated draught portfolio includes a combination of lagers and ales, including an array of seasonal specials.

In early 2006, the brewery moved all its large-scale production to a bigger facility in Scarborough, Ontario, while the Distillery District location reopened in October, 2006 as a brewpub. The latter features 14 Mill Street beers on tap, including seasonal and other special/one-off releases. In Spring 2013, Mill Street expanded their Distillery District operation and added a distillery that produces schnapps from beer.

In July 2018, Mill Street Brewery – winner of multiple international and provincial brewing awards – announced that its core lineup of beers will be fully certified organic.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Cluny Bistro

10) Cluny Bistro

Whenever the Distillery District is mentioned by a curious stranger to someone from Toronto, oftentimes the immediate advice they get is to visit Cluny Bistro as a matter of must. Indeed, this spacious French Bistro with dazzling decor is an attraction in its own right – depending on the season, it has a patio sparkling with some 8,000-to-80,000 twinkle lights, so it's hard to miss.

Open 364 days a year, this place serves an award-winning brunch on weekends and holidays, lunch from Monday to Friday, and delightful dinners seven days a week. Whether you’re in for any of these, you'll be delighted to know that nearly all items on the menu are made from scratch. For extra fun, they also have a curated wine list with nearly 200 bottles. The available seafood options are just as exiting and absolutely mouthwatering, e.g. the tuna tartar.

Subject to preference, you are welcome to dine-in or take Cluny home – from coffee to cocktails, delicate eclairs to fresh-baked baguettes, made-to-order crepes to sandwiches, this cafe has anything you want. The in-house collection of pastries or a box of macarons, house-made terrines and preserves, or artisanal pantry items, including the signature frite spice or imported canned escargot, makes picking up a perfect host gift easy! Just make sure to book a reservation so as to skip the line!

Also, similarly by Parisian cafés which are, in essence, centres of social and culinary life in Paris, Cluny Bistro has its own boulangerie next door which is more than the sum of its parts, but a fully fledged neighbourhood hub, a rendezvous spot, a place to relax and refuel.
Young Centre for the Performing Arts

11) Young Centre for the Performing Arts

The Young Centre for the Performing Arts in the Distillery District is a brand-new theatre built into 19th-century-era Victorian industrial buildings. Originally constructed as tank house 9 and tank house 10, these were part of the Gooderham and Worts Distillery founded by James Worts, a British immigrant, in 1832. By 1859, it had become the largest distillery in Canada, one of the largest in North America.

The two buildings emerged in 1888 following the 1885 passage of the Canadian law which required that all whiskey must be aged for at least two years before being consumed. Prior to this law, whiskey was often consumed soon after it was distilled; the new law meant that Gooderham and Worts needed an increased storage space for their product. Both structures were designed by David Roberts Jr., who built many of the Distillery's facilities.

What is now home to a performance center, combining four studio spaces with four theatre spaces shared by the Soulpepper Theatre Company and the George Brown Theatre School, was designed in 2002 by the architectural firm of KPMB Architects, hired to convert the existing tank houses into a centre incorporating flexible, dedicated, indoor performance venues, an outdoor concert venue and artist garden, four studios, two classrooms, a wardrobe production facility, a student lounge, and administration for GBC and Soulpepper.

The groundbreaking ceremony for the Young Centre took place in June 2004. On January 15, 2006 the centre officially opened its doors to the public. If you are in mood for a bit of laugh, cry, or feel like being inspired, make sure to visit this energetic venue!
Sight description based on Wikipedia.

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