Evolution of the Distillery District

The series of buildings reproduced in buildings 58 and 59 depict the evolution of the Gooderham and Worts from the 1830′s when it was simply a windmill in the wilderness in the 1890′s when it was the largest distillery in the British Empire. The paintings depict not only the buildings, but also the people, activities, and events associated with the site.

In 1832, brothers-in-law James Worts and and William Gooderham built a grist windmill on the shore of Toronto Bay. Here the artist depicts the windmill, designed along the lines of mills operated by Worts and Gooderham in their native England, with little York (later Toronto) stretching away off into the distance. Surrounding the 70-foot high brick windmill are ancillary wooden buildings that soon housed a steam engine and then wooden still that began producing whiskey November 3rd, 1837. In the 1830′s, the city established “Windmill Line” to designate the southern limit of development , which was repeatedly transgressed in the shoreline-extending the years to come.

Goodherham and Worths grew incrementally. This lovely 1855 painting by the well-known photographer and artist, William Armstrong, depicts a site in transition. Reliance on wind power is long gone; but the addition of the massive Stone Distillery is a few years in the future. By 1850, G&W was already “an exceeding extensive establishment” that produced 80,000 gallons of whisky per year and employed 31 full-time “hands”, most of whom lived in 27 houses located in the “immediate vincinity” of the mill, some evident here behind the mill. The industrial buildings are strictly functional in appearance, contrasting nicely with the elegant, if somewhat out of scale, new St. Lawrence Hall in the distance to the left.

On October 26, 1879 fire erupted in the decade old Stone Distillery, lighting up the Toronto sky, attracting crowds of spectators, and engaging Toronto’s volunteer firemen, shown here at one of the two hand-pumpers (centre left) and drawing water from the nearby lake (centre right). Around 7p.m., a still exploded, sending debris in the air and fear in the herd of bystanders. Fortunately, no one was hurt. Although the wood interior was destroyed, the exterior walls and most of the machinery escaped serious damage. The loss was estimated at about $120,000.

Reconstructed accoring to David Roberts Sr’s original plans of 1855, the classically proportioned, limestone building housed three main functions – milling, fermenting, and distilling. Related functions were housed in Roberts’ slightly later brick buildings stretching north along to the west side of Trinity Street. Set parallel to the original waterfront, the Stone Distillery was served by lake ships and railway cars passing along what is now Stone House Walk. This tranquil painting, dated May 1, 1870, celebrates the restoration of the building, but is not entirely accurate. (The boiler house on the north side was of brick, not limestone).

By 1884 when William D. Blatchly painted this view, the Distillery had expanded to the east side of Trinity Street, replacing the old cattle shreds with the Pure Spirits complex depicted here. Note that the Pure Spirits buildings fronting on Trinity Street once had a cupola. The site presents a much more “industrial” air, with expanded railway operations, and steam engines and tug boats chugging along the active waterfront. Today’s Canenery (buildings 58 and 59) was only three stories tall, had a slightly pitched roof, and a clear view of the harbour.

This colourful print, created around 1896 as an advertisement for Gooderham and Worts’ “Canadian Rye Whisky”, depicts G&W at its Victorian peak. By this time, the shoreline had been dramatically extended southward (but not nearly as it would ultimately extend), the core buildings along Trinity Street had been circled by extensive red brick houses and tank houses to age the alcohol, four immense chimneys belched smoke and signalled “progress” and thef final Victorian building, David Roberts Jr’s Fire Pump House, had been added to the landscape. At this time, G&W was the only distillery in Toronto, employed about 250 workers and produced over 2,000,000 gallons per year. In the not-too-distant future, war and prohibition would dramatically affect the company, leading to the withdrawal of family interests and radical changes in products and production.

5 Responses to About

  1. Please call me asap ..
    we may want to use parts of this for our distillery magazine “distilled”

    1. want to get your permission
    2. will need high res photos

  2. Hi , I am an artist involved with the redeye gallery in distillery (also carl the rabbit person!!)
    I can not find a way to flow your blog??? no sign up ???

    I also wanted to give you a sneak peek of a show upcoming at the red eye you might find of interest.

    Hope you can get back to me so I can follow you.

  3. Bill Van Vlack says:

    My Great Grandfather Wm. E. Van Vlack was the Captain for a personal yacht for Goderham & Worts.
    Have you any information of this era or about the ship?
    I would love to know more about his affiliation with the company.

    Thanking you in advance
    Bill Van Vlack (yes, I was named after my Great Grandfather)

  4. Hi Lauren,
    I was hoping you would post about a friend of mine who is having an exhibit at the ARTA Gallery?
    Steve Levinson is happy to announce “Outer Beauty”, his first major Toronto exhibit in nearly ten years at the ARTA Gallery in Toronto’s exclusive Distillery District. The show will run from November 7, 2012 until November 20, 2012. The official opening reception will be on Friday, November 9, 2012 from 5:00 PM to 9:00 PM.

    His work is really beautiful and I would also invite you to attend the gala opening reception on November 9th, 2012.

    Love your blog!!

  5. Pat Maitland says:

    Hi Lauren,

    Not sure if you run a calendar but want to notify folk that ‘Stone Diaries III’ is coming to Trinity Street from June 20-23, 2013. This is the 3rd year that ZimArt is brings the great Zimbabwean Shona sculptures to the district with an artist-in-residence (this year, Simon Chidharara).

    Now in it’s third year, hope everyone who’s been will come again to see the newest pieces brought back from Zimbabwe by curator Fran Fearnley.

    Admission is free, open to the public.

    Opening reception is Thursday, June 20th, 2013 from 5 pm to 7 pm with live Zimbabwean music.

    To see examples of Shona sculptures and some of Simon’s work, see the zimart (dot ca) website.


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