Paintings Illustrate the History
Almost everyday I walk into building 58 in the Distillery District and I notice a lengthy informational plaque hanging on the wall. There are a few of them, as well as paintings, located in different buildings in the distillery community. I thought someone must have taken a lot of time to research this information. I thank them for this. The Distillery District is such a treat to walk around. It was a pleasure to take some time to read a little about the history. I soon realized after my research on the web that it is not recorded digitally. I took some time to copy out the information from the plaques about the paintings that reflect some interesting history of Toronto.
A series of paintings reproduced on the first and second floors of Buildings 58 and 59 depict the evolution of Gooderham and Worts from the 1830′s when it was simply a windmill in the wilderness to the 1890′s when it was the largest distillery in the British Empire. The paintings document not only the buildings, but also the people, activities and events associated with the site.
Gooderham and Worts from the 1830′s
In 1832, brothers-in-law James Worts and William Gooderham built a grist windmill on the shore Toronto Bay. Here the artist depicts the windmill, designed along the lines of the 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 hight brick windmill are ancillary wooden buildings that soon housed a steam engine and then a wooden buildings that soon housed a steam engine and then a wooen still that began producing whisky November 3, 1837. In the 1830s, the City established “Windmill Line” designate the southern limit of development, which was repeatedly transgressed in the shoreline-extending years to come.
Gooderham & Worts grew incrementally. This lovely 1855 painting by 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 exceedingly extensive establishment” that produced 80,000 gallons of whiskey per year and employed 31 full-time “hands,” most of whom lived in 27 houses located in the “immediate vicinity” 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, 1869 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 7pm a still exploded, sending debris into the air and fear into the hearts of bystanders. Fortunately, no one was hurt. Although the wooden interior was destroyed, the exterior walls and most of the machinery escaped serious damage. The loss estimated at about $120,000.
Reconstructed and Restored
Reconstructed according to David Roberts Sr.’s original plans of 1858, the classically proportioned, limestone building housed three main functions – milling, fermenting and distillery. Related functions were housed in Roberts’ slightly later brick buildings stretching north along 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 sheds 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 Cannery (buildings 58 and 59, where you are standing) 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 Goodham & Worts’ “Canadian Rye Whisky,” depicts G&W at it’s Victorian peak. By this time, the shoreline had been dramatically extended southward (but not nearly as far as it would ultimately extend), the core buildings along Trinity Street had been encircled by extensive redbrick rack houses and tank houses to age the alcohol, four immense chimneys belched smoke and signalled “progress”, and the 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 the family interests and radical changes in products and production.
Now that I have read the plaques, look at the paintings, and continue to walk through the historical heritage buildings in the Distillery District in Toronto I have even a stronger appreciation for the artist and historians who time their time to carefully document these events in time. Thank you!