Toronto’s Historic Distillery District

by Amanda McInerney on 09/12/2013

Distillery District, Toronto

My visit to Toronto was brief and busy. I was there for the massive TBEX convention and had limited spare time aside from that, but was still keen to get a sense of this town.

My first impression is that Toronto is huge – it is the largest city in Canada, one of the biggest in North America and can be just a little intimidating. Nevertheless, it’s easy to get around and I spent an afternoon wandering through the very generous offering of stores – so, for retail therapy junkies, it is a very happy place – but I wanted to get more of a feel for the history of the city. As luck would have it, I scored a place in a small walking tour of the historic distillery district, a national historic site and the largest and best preserved collection of Victorian industrial architecture in North America.

Victorian architecture, Distillery District, Toronto

We start our tour in this pedestrian-only district at the original site of Gooderham and Worts, who were once the largest distiller of booze in Canada. The distillery had a tragic history which included the death in childbirth of James Worts’ wife, shortly after establishing the business with his brother-in-law William Gooderham, and the almost immediate subsequent suicide of James, leaving William Gooderham quite literally holding the babies – in the form of the business and the large tribe of Worts children. Gooderham took the bit between his teeth and forged successfully ahead as sole manager, building what was to become the largest distillery in the British Empire.

Sculpture, Toronto Distillery district

The district is now devoted to promoting arts and culture, housing boutiques, artisan producers, galleries and cafes and is home to Christmas markets, restaurants and music festivals. . Every laneway hides yet another interesting little shop, so it is a great spot for finding that something special as a gift or souvenir.

Mill Street Brewery, Toronto

Mill Street Brewery, Toronto

Our one-hour walking tour took in a few of the local specialty spots, including the Mill Street Brewery, the first commercial micro-brewery to open in the East-Toronto district in more than 100 years. It’s well worth a visit for beer lovers, with some distinctive brews available for tasting, drinking and taking home, including an organic lager and an unusual coffee porter.

Sake brewers hard at work, Toronto.

If beer isn’t your poison, there is also a sake brewery to visit. Ontario Spring Water Sake Company is the first ever sake brewery in Eastern North America. They combine the traditional sake brewing methods of old Japan with Ontario’s fresh, abundant spring water in a range of unpasteurised, unfiltered sakes which are now finding their way into some of Toronto’s finest restaurants. I’d not had sake before so was intrigued to discover a rounded hint of fruity sweetness in the drink that I really hadn’t expected – a nice surprise.

Crescendo, Toronto

One stop that made my heart beat a little faster was Crescendo, a store that stocks a range of flavoured oils, vinegars, aged balsamic vinegars and spices that made me go weak at the knees and just a little sulky about the fact that I wouldn’t be able to get them home with me. Picture an entire wall lined with vats and amphorae full of the most wonderful infused oils and flavoured balsamic vinegars with names like Quince Balsamic Vinegar and Orange Extra Virgin Oil and imagine my pain.

Soma Chocolate, Toronto

Soma Chocolate and a cacao pod Toronto

And if oils and vinegars made my heart beat a little faster, it was positively pounding by the time we stepped into the fragrant air of Soma, one of the few North American artisan chocolate makers making chocolate directly from cacao beans. They source their beans widely from Fair Trade and organic producers to make an exquisite range of chocolates including micro-batch bars, truffles, cookies and gelati. This was most definitely one of my happy places.

Our tour was rounded off with a crash course in mastering the art of Segway riding, for a whizz around the district. Another new experience for me, this was a lot of fun – not least because I managed to miraculously complete the ride without falling off or colliding with anyone or anything. No mean feat for me!

Lambs’ Ears and Honey was a guest of the Canadian Tourism Commission and Segway of Ontario, who conduct both walking and Segway riding tours of the Distillery District.

Segway of Ontario
30 Gristmill Lane,

Phone:(416) 642-0008 / 1-866-405-8687
Fax:(416) 642-0051


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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Maureen | Orgasmic Chef December 10, 2013 at 11:37 am

I’m not sure why but when I think of Toronto I think of a happy city. I’ve loved every visit I’ve made there. Lucky you!

Hotly Spiced December 10, 2013 at 12:25 pm

I wouldn’t mind visiting Soma – looks amazing! I didn’t know Toronto is the largest city in Canada xx

@ChristineSalins (FoodWineTravel) December 10, 2013 at 12:27 pm

Sounds like a great tour Amanda. And Soma sounds like a wonderful chocolate shop!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella December 10, 2013 at 1:05 pm

I really must get to Toronto one day! I’d love to visit there and meet with Eva of KitchenInspirations!

Kate December 10, 2013 at 5:58 pm

I love this insight into Toronto. I would never have associated sake with this city, I only think of the cold !! But it looks like from your photos that it does warm up so will add it to the bucket list !!

InTolerant Chef December 11, 2013 at 1:15 pm

I’d so love some of that Quince vinegar, yummo!

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