Save for a few industrious individuals, the Distillery District would be all but dead today. The urban sanctuary has had a rough and tumble history and in the era of reflective glass and diminishing street-level sunlight, the Distillery District provides a blueprint for coexistence.
Today, most of the buildings lining the bricked laneways were constructed between the early 1860’s and late 1870’s during one of Toronto’s first economic booms. The structures themselves are pointedly Victorian (a vague term and story for another day) in style while maintaining a modernity not often seen in industrial settings. In the 1800’s, cupolas placed atop the former office building and smoke house provided attractive viewing points – today they are easily superseded by the surrounding condos but refuse to be forgotten.
While purists may find the new development in the area drastic and unnecessary, realists have come to understand the necessity of private investment and need for mixed-use in what can only be described as an island of development. The Distillery simply isn’t close enough to the mainland that is Toronto’s core to attract regulars en masse. Bringing in a static population has helped alleviate the day to day concerns of many small shops and cafes in the area.
What you don’t see with this development is saturation – there are no major chains outside the TD Bank which has history here, the Toronto bank reached new heights under George Gooderham’s direction in the 1880’s. Over the next 10 years the area surrounding this island will change drastically with the addition of the 2015 Pan-Am Games village nearing completion and may become more akin to an archipelago of connected micro-neighbourhoods.
This area, once believed dead has become vibrant again thanks to a grand vision that few initially believed in during the first phase of redevelopment. That vision has now turned into an awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping and vibrant neighbourhood highlighted by progressive social design.
I was able to speak with representatives from Sid Lee Agency and Van Houtte Coffee recently about the value of the Distillery District in an ever-growing city.
Enjoy the video: