Gift Guide: Toronto’s Distillery District — History by the Lake

A new book by Toronto archivist and historian Sally Gibson explores the Distillery District — “History by the Lake” — from its beginning in the 1830s to the present day. The book is not just a history of the distillery itself, but of Toronto’s evolution, using the Distillery as a way to look at cholera outbreaks, city development, and life in Victorian Toronto. Those with specific interests in distilling also won’t be disappointed, as the book includes a look at the minutia of the site — “the office safe” even — and includes many rare photos and illustrations. The book is available throughout the Distillery District, Book City, Indigo (Toronto stores only or online), and other good independents.

The Distillery Historic District, with its historic associations and thriving arts scene, is one of Toronto’s most intriguing places.  Between the 1830s and the 1890s, the firm of Gooderham & Worts grew from a small windmill in the wilderness to the largest distillery in the British Empire and, for a time, in the world.  In the process, it built some of the finest Victorian industrial architecture in Canada.  Today’s district contains over 40 heritage buildings on a 13-acre site that once formed a vital part of Toronto’s busy commercial waterfront.  With the cultural renaissance of the distillery site and the prospect of a revitalized waterfront, we can now explore the people, buildings, events, industrial artifacts and processes that made Gooderham & Worts Distillery such an important part of Toronto’s history.  What is mashing … a rack house … a scale tank … a corbel … or a tie plate?  Read on.  Who were James Worts, William Gooderham or David Roberts, Sr. and Jr.?  Read on.  What is the oldest building still standing on the site?  When did the railway arrive?  What happened on October 26, 1869?  Read on.

Sally Gibson is Manager of Heritage Services for the Distillery Historic District, where she is immersed in all aspects of the history of this National Historic Site. She has written two previous books about Toronto.  More Than an Island: A History of the Toronto Island was praised by urban thinker Jane Jacobs as “city history at its very best.”  Inside Toronto: Urban Interiors 1880s — 1920s was short-listed for the City of Toronto Book Award and received Heritage Toronto’s Award of Excellence in 2007.