It’s 12 days ‘til Christmas, so what better way to start the countdown than a stroll through the Distillery District’s annual Winter Village?
The Distillery Historic District east of downtown Toronto is a commercial and residential district housed within heritage buildings of the former Gooderham & Worts Distillery.
Founded in 1832, Gooderham & Worts once produced over 2 million gallons of whisky for export on the world market. Its location adjacent to the Canadian National Railway mainline and mouth of the original route of the Don River outlet into Lake Ontario created a hard edge separating the district from neighboring communities, while facilitating a transport connection to the rest of Canada.
The surrounding area became increasingly de-industrialized through the late 20th century, and with winding down of distillery operations, the district became largely derelict. When the distillery formally closed in 1990, the area was redeveloped into a commercial district. During this phase of reinvestment, it became and remains the site of several film projects — you can in fact catch views of it in notable Hollywood features such as X-Men, Cinderella Man, and Chicago.
In 2001, the site was purchased by Cityscape Holdings Inc., which transformed it into a pedestrian-oriented area, and the Distillery Historic District was opened in 2003. The owners have enacted a strict philosophy of not leasing any of the retail and restaurant space to chains or franchises, so the majority of the preserved buildings are occupied with independent boutiques, galleries, and restaurants. The Young Centre for the Performing Arts and affiliated Soulpepper Theatre Company can be found here, as well as the George Brown Theatre School.
For locals and tourists alike, the most popular attraction in the Distillery District is its annual Winter Village and Christmas Market. The market has been a tradition since 2010, featuring Santa’s house, gift vendors, and a beer garden. Of course, this is cancelled for 2020 but the lighted displays are still up for outdoor enjoyment. I recommend visiting on a weekday to avoid the crowds, which were still plentiful during peak weekend hours.