The Story of the Stone Distillery in The Distillery District, Downtown Toronto.

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The Story of the Stone Distillery in The Distillery District, Downtown Toronto.


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The Stone Distillery Building has gone down the annals of Canadian history as a part of the industrial and architectural heritage of the Distillery District in Canada. At the moment, this magnificent building has been renovated to act as a centre of arts and culture, a culture that dates as far back as the Victorian ages, at the time of its construction. Located within the parliament vicinity, the Stone Distillery Building has to be “the best-preserved 19th century factory complex in the country” (Travel and Transitions 2006).  It is important to note here that this building was even spared from demolition during the 1960s, a time when a riotous renewal program was on a high gear in Canada, whose main aim was to demolish a majority of the archaic buildings within the capital center. As such, the Stone Building remained as a distillery for the better part of the 1990s. It was also during this time that the Distillery gained fame as a leading film location in the whole of Canada.

Currently, the building has been surrounded by apartments, condos as well as lofts. This has dramatically altered the landscape, which is also today adorned with shops, restaurants, and a live theatre. Somehow, the Stone Distillery Building gives Toronto a touch of both the architectural heritage of the Victorian times, as well as the modern-day building design. The Distillery Complex is made up of a complex that is housed in 13 acres of land, with a total of 44 buildings (Hood 2007). Following the revitalization project to this district, this act has served to enrich the city of Toronto by way of transforming industrial relics in the district that had become quite outdated, to turn the place into one of the most-sought after entertainment avenues in the whole of Toronto.

Historical perspective

The history of the Stone Distillery District dates as far back as 1831, a time when William Gooderham and James Worts formed a partnership for flour milling. At the time, the two partners had a signature building in the form of a windmill, situated near a waterfront. However tragedy would befall the two partners in 1859, in the form of a storm that totally ruined the mill, leading to its eventual demolition. In the meantime, both Worts and Gooderham had diversified their business to include the distillation of liquor (Bell 2009).  Over time, their investment would grow in reaps and bounds to become Canada’s biggest corporate taxpayer. The British government sought to loan the buildings of the company free of charge during the First World War, to enable them produce acetone, meant for use in explosives.

During the middle part of the 19th century, the Stone Distillery was ranked as the leading distillery in the whole world. In addition, about half of the tax that the Canadian government collected in Canada came from this particular distillery. Gorderham & Worts were into the business of whiskey manufacturing, in addition of a number of other hard liquors. Also, the partners sought to venture into the manufacture of antifreeze and alcohols. These found valuable use during the First, then the Second World War. In the 1920s, Hiram Walker bought out Gooderrham & Worts, but he would later be taken over by Allied Domecq during the 1980s, in what was the seen as a corporate takeover of the firm. The production of the facility had to shut down in 1990, with the result that the complex was transformed into “the largest production location in North America” (McClelland 2006).There are many big screen productions that have since been shot at the building, in addition to music and TV video productions, not to mention such blockbuster movies as “Cinderella Man”, “X-Men”, “The Recruit” and “Chicago”. Moreover, there are also a number of Hollywood stars who have since been immortalized at the building. They include Meg Ryan, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Al Pacino, Richard Gere, Colin Farrell and Rene Zellweger.

Today, Toronto’s Distillery District has come to be regarded as one of Canada’s national historic sites, thanks in larger part to the over 40 Victorian buildings that bears a testimony to the industrial and architectural heritage of the nation. From 1831 up to the late 1890s, the firm that Gooderham & Worts established transformed from what was once a little windmill located in an isolated environment, to become one of the largest distilleries at the time, not only within the British Empire, but also to the rest of the world (Brown 1994).  During the twentieth century, prohibition, war, decline, rebirth and globalization helped to establish the Stone Building as both an arts as well as a cultural district within Canada. The brick windmill was erected in 1832. The mill that was made of brick, stood when completed, at 70-foot high. Williams Godderham is credited with having contributed the highest amount of capital towards the construction of the mill while his brother-in law James Wort had worked for over twenty years as a miller back in England, and so he brought with him all that experience (Caulfield 2005).  Sadly, Wort would later on committee suicide in 1834, following a prolong spell of depression over the loss of his wife. She died of child-birth complications. Apparently, he never really recovered from her death, with the result that he committed suicide by drowning into a well located within the distillery. This saw the name of Worts deleted from the partnership logo. It was only added back much later, but this time, after that of Godderham.

The Stone Distillery Complex is adjacent to the Cooperage Building. In between these two buildings, we have a passageway that is rather narrow. It is here that we have the “Bronze Tree Root” sculpture this represent one amongst the many artwork exhibitions that have temporarily been housed by the Distillery District. The construction of the Stone Mill & Distillery is said to have commenced in 1859, and the factory was officially opened in 1861. The architect who is credited with having designed this magnificent building is David Roberts Sr. In addition the limestone that was used to construct this edifice was obtained from Kingston. From an initial production capacity of approximately 80,000, the factory increased its capacity to well over 2 million gallons of whiskey on an annual basis (Whisky 2006).

The Stone District Building is not only the largest building, but also the oldest within the Distillery District. Its designer was David Roberts, and the building opened its doors to the outside world in 1861. This magnificent building that has been constructed using limestone from Kingston stands as the only building in existence to have been constructed by Gooderham & Worts. One distinctive characteristic of the Stone Building was the fact that this building bordered the Toronto Bay. In addition, the exterior of the building bears a correlation to the current building, save for the lake having been replaced with a parking lot. On the other hand, the interior spaces of the building have extensively undergone change (Roth 2006). The original building consisted of a total of five storeys.

In addition, there were four main functions that this building served, all of which were situated in indefinite areas. All of the four areas had to be accessed via a massive and arched doorway. As time went by, the aforementioned areas would be identified by various building numbers. For example, in building three, we had a grist mill, located on the building’s east end. In building five, there was a power house as well as a mashing and distilling section that occupied close to two-thirds of the western part of the Stone Distillery Building. The associated fermenting function was located on the building’s western extension (Travel & Transitions 2006).  This part consisted of one-storey. On the building’s northern side, we had the boiler function, whose main role was the generation of steam, for purposes of providing power to drive the distillery.

At the moment, the ground floor of this building has been replaced by a culture center for the deaf and an art gallery. Initially, this part of the building used to be a single room with an L-shape. It would however be partitioned later on, to create two rooms that were somewhat distinct. The building’s western portion used to hold two massive tubs made of wood this was at around 1863. The tubs had a large base of 12-feet, with a height of 10-feet.  This means that one tub could hold alcohol of about 8 thousand gallons. The main purpose of this part of the building was two-fold. First, it acted as a racking section for the alcohol, while it was still contained in the barrels. Secondly, the sections also facilitated the taxing process by an excise officer. Reports indicate that at the time, Gooderrham & Worts managed to produce an average of $ 150,000 on an annual basis (Travel and Transitions 2006).

 On the other hand, the eastern part of the Stone Distillery Building housed machinery that was used for a number of purposes, the first of which was to aid in beer pumping to the building’s upper floors, in readiness to the commencement of the process of distilling. Then there is the role of energy transfer to the powerhouse, from the main engine, in addition to assisting in the driving of “rotary agitators” that were to be found at the mashing section (Hood 2007).

It is important to note here that the mashing area of this Distillery Building was adorned with four mash tubs that were made of wood, but lined with copper. This is where starchy grains would undergo a conversion process to produce a product known as ‘wort” that renders itself easily to the fermentation process, thereby producing liquor.

Upon completion, the building is believed to have consumed well over $ 25,000, making it “the most expensive building project in Toronto at the time” (Bell 2009). The population of Toronto in 1831 was just about 2,000 individuals. However, this had grown tremendously within a space of 30 years, to stand at 60,000 in 1860. A large part of the inhabitants of this building during the late 1890s happened to have been Irish Catholics, who constituted about 37 percent of the entire population. Most of them were fleeing from the Great Potato Famine that had struck their homeland. They would later find jobs working as laborers in a majority of the mills that were located within their vicinity and this included Gooderrham and Worts as well. The Stone Distillery would later on turn to be a refuge that housed countless men and women of Irish who had decided to migrate into Canada following harsh socio-political conditions back home.

Current perspective

Currently, the Maltings Building has been occupied by “Lileo”, a traditional retailer of clothing. This store is adorned with men, women and children apparel, accessories, footwear, and books. In addition, what used to be the “Boiler House’ is today occupied by one of the finest restaurants in Toronto. Armed with a number of bakeries, cafes and restaurants, the Distillery District has provided a wide selection of fine dining affordable bakery food and casual fare. Not far from the Maltings Building, we have a restaurant called “Archeo’ that offers Italian cuisine. The design features that the Archeo provides are also quite unique (Caulfield 2006).  For example, the distillery’s oversize photos that have been retrieved from the archives have been utilized to provide table partitions. In this way, there results a room divider that is both innovative and aesthetic.

As we move towards the Tank House, it is not hard to distinguish the cobble-stained street that stands out. The street is made of real brick pavers that date as far back as the 1850s, a time when the building was being constructed. The property is at the moment owned and managed by Cityscape. At the time of their purchase of the complex, one could only find dirt roads. The new owners then decided to dig them up, to pave way fro the installation of sewer, modern gas as well as electrical lines. With a repaving of the streets however, the developers sought to find a material that is both authentic and historical. This is then how the brick pavers had to be sourced all the way from Cleveland, for purposes of giving the much needed durability (Bell 2009).

The current owners have also seen to it that for every one of the businesses that has been housed by the Distillery District, at least each has to have an artifact that can be traced to the orifi8ignal operations of the building” distillation. For example, the “Pure Spirits Oyster House and Grill” is characterized by an original armoire and hatch, both of which have been made of wood, and whose history dates as far back as the era of pre-restoration. Right behind this restaurant, we also have an ornate safe, whose original owner has been identified as William Gooderham, son to the co-founder of the Stone Distillery Building. William helped establish Bank of Toronto, which was to later become the Dominion Bank of Toronto.

The “Case Goods Warehouse” is home to “Artscape”. This is a for artist and their studios, a majority of whom are out to showcase their crafts live, ranging from  the designing of clothes to the art of making hats and ceramics. A majority of the working studios within the district have opened their doors to the members of the public, to whom they are keen to demonstrate their prowess in these crafts. In the whole of the Distillery District, there are signs of historical elements being integrated with the current-day adaptation of the building’s conventional architecture (Pacher 2009). Indeed, this tells a lot about how architectural revitalization has come to be embraced in the Distillery District.

Following the 2003 revamping of the Stone Distillery Building, Toronto benefited from a historical attraction site, mainly because the building has been preserved well and it is a mark of the industrial architecture of the Victorian times, when it was constructed. What is also of importance is the fact that a majority of the buildings that were constructed at the time have had to be demolished over the years to pave way for the construction of newer ones. Nonetheless, the Stone Distillery Building has stood the test of time, and is today a link between the past and the present generation (McClelland 2006). Moreover, this building has turned to be a party venue that is gaining popularity. The Los Angeles-based magazine, Special Events, has declared the Stone Distillery Building to be “Toronto’s best event spaces”. The fermenting cellar of the building, coupled with a multitude of windows, the original wood trusses, stone walls that are rustic in appearance, and a ceiling that is high beams has turned the place to be  popular with not  just to the celebrities, but also to  corporate and bridal party organizers. The building has a space of 8,000 square spaces. In addition, the space is able to hold a total of 400 diners, and another 600 for the cocktails. So popular is the building that the booking space is almost always filled-up in advance, sometimes as much as for a period of one year.

In February 2006, construction was underway for the establishment of a deaf cultural center, to be situated within the Stone Distillery Building. The first one of its kind in the world, the facility, upon completion, shall be symbolic to the Deaf community, in addition to enabling the Canadians to celebrate Deaf life. It is anticipated that the center will go a long way into enriching deaf people’s lives, along with that of their families. Additionally, the centre also aims at helping the deaf community from all over the world to have a central location from where they may get a chance to accomplish their various goals (Bell 2009).  Some of the features that are characteristic of the deaf center include an interactive museum that helps showcase artifacts that the deaf community both from Canada as well as from the international community has come up with.

 In addition, there is also an art gallery that showcases the work of deaf artists who have over the year gained fame at the international level. Then we have archive and research facilities, in addition to a production studio with multi-media features. The cultural centre for the deaf is a project that has been nurtured and developed by the deaf cultural society in Canada (CCSD). The funding of the center comes in the form of private donations, in addition to monies obtained from the public coffers. This also takes into account some $ 175,000 that was contributed by the Canadian heritage department and the Canadian cultural spaces program (Roth 2006). The funds that the Canadian heritage had contributed have been utilized for the construction of the center, in addition to purchasing the center’s specialized equipment.


The Distillery District, located on the east side of Toronto, is home to the Stone Distillery Building, previously referred to as Gooderham and Worts Distillery. The district has an area of 13 acres, and is made up of approximately 44 heritage buildings, some of which dates as far back as the Victorian era. Erected in 1832, the Stone Distillery Building housed the Worts and Gooderrham Distillery that had by late 1860s become the biggest global distiller (Hood 2007).

 The production capacity of the distillery at one time stood at 2 million whisky gallons. A corporate takeover would however see the distiller being acquired by Hiram Walker. As a result of the economic recession that hit North America during the initial part of the 1990s, the factory ceased producing alcohol. Plans were also underway to revitalize the building, along with the other buildings in the neighborhood that adorns the architectural design of the Victorian era.

On the other hand, the economic recession had also led to a crash in the property market. In 2001, Cityscape Holding purchased the site where The Stone Distillery Building is located. As a result, the new management helped transform this edifice, along with the rest of the Distillery District into an entertainment, arts and cultural neighborhood, thereby gaining popularity in the entertainment industry that could only be rivaled by Hollywood. In addition the building also enabled a lot of artist to advance their musical careers (Travel & Transitions 2006).

Besides, the building has also been renovated to house a cultural center for the deaf. This facility enables the deaf from all over the world to showcase their artistic talents. What is important to note here is that despite its transformation, the Stone Distillery Building has managed to retain the architectural features that are a characteristic of building of the Victorian era, in addition to integrating this with the modern-day architectural design.

Work cited

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