The History of the Distillery District

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 For more detailed information on the History of The Distillery District, please visit:www.distilleryheritage.com

The Distillery District is a national Historic Site with an incredibly rich history. The site was once The Gooderham and Worts Distillery, and represents the largest and best preserved collection of Victorian Industrial Architecture in North America.

In its time, The Gooderham and Worts Distillery played an important role in the growth and wealth of both the city and nation. In addition to various involvements in real estate and banking, the company at one time contributed more to Federal coffers than any other enterprise in the country.

What follows are a few brief snapshots of a long, colourful history.

1831 – JAMES WORTS EMIGRATES TO CANADA AND ESTABLISHES A GRIST MILL

Worts is followed a year later by his brother-in-law, William Gooderham, with their two families, their servants and 11 orphans – in all 54 people. A successful merchant and miller in England, Gooderham soon decides to invest $3,000 into Worts’ milling business and thus the Gooderham and Worts partnership is born.

Two years later Worts’ wife dies during childbirth. So distraught is James Worts that, on that day, he takes his own life by throwing himself into the company well. Despite this, Gooderham continues building the business, later partnering with James Worts’ eldest son.

1837 – THE DISTILLERY BEGINS OPERATION

In 1837, spurred on by the increase in the harvest of grain from Upper Canada’s farms, Gooderham decides to add a distillery and that same year produces his first whiskey.

1850’S – THE BUSINESS GROWS AND PROSPERS

By the 1850s, the Gooderham and Worts distillery is thriving and its numerous facilities include flourmills, a wharf, the distillery, storehouses, an icehouse, a cooper shop and a dairy.

1859 – THE NEW DISTILLERY OPENS

Construction of the new Gooderham and Worts Distillery on Mill Street east of Parliament in 1859 is heralded as the most important contribution to Toronto’s manufacturing interests. The imposing main building which accommodated the steam mills and distillery stands five stories high and is topped with a 100 foot tall chimney. According to newspaper reports of the day, costs for the building and its contents are believed to be nearly $200,000.

1869 – A SETBACK IS OVERCOME

In 1869, a huge fire destroys the wooded interior of the main building but leaves the grey limestone exterior intact. Reconstruction costs total over $100,000 but happily the setback does not hamper the distillery’s financial growth.

1871 – GROWTH OF THE DISTILLERY EXPLODES

By 1871, the Gooderham and Worts Distillery’s annual whiskey and spirits production totals a whopping 2.1 million gallons – close to half of the total spirits production in all of Ontario. Production continues to grow and its booming export business ships millions of gallons to clients in Montreal, Saint John, Halifax and New York as well as Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Montevideo and other ports in South America. At one point, it is the largest distillery in the world.

1881 – A TURNING POINT IS REACHED

William Gooderham and James Worts Jr. die within a year of each other. In 1881, George Gooderham inherits the distillery, becomes its sole proprietor and enjoys great success for years. But unfortunately for George, two events would bring an end to the distillery’s good fortunes.

1914 –WAR AND PROHIBITION NEARLY KILL THE DISTILLERY

World War I has a ruinous effect on the distillery because in order to support the war effort, the distillery converts its operations to manufacturing acetone. Then in 1920, just when things are getting back to normal, Canada’s short lived prohibition era brings production of alcohol beverages to a standstill.

1923 – THE DISTILLERY GETS A NEW OWNER

Harry C. Hatch purchases the declining business. Three years later he purchases Hiram Walker & Sons Ltd. and in 1927, the companies merge into Hiram Walker – Gooderham & Worts Ltd. All efforts are focused on developing the successful Canadian Club brand so the bulk of operations shifts to the Walkerville plant in Windsor, Ontario. In 1957 Gooderham & Worts stop producing rye whiskey. It concentrates instead on the distilling of rum products. In 1986, the conglomerate Allied-Lyons, bought Hiram Walker – Gooderham & Worts Ltd.

1990 – THE DISTILLERY CLOSES BUT FINDS A NEW LIFE

After 153 years of continuous production, the Gooderham & Worts Distillery finally ceases operations. During the ’90s, The Distillery finds a second life as the number one film location in Canada, and the second largest film location outside of Hollywood. Over the years, more than 1700 films use the site.

2001 – THE DISTILLERY IS REBORN

In December 2001 Cityscape Holdings Inc. purchased The Distillery, later partnering with Dundee Realty Corporation. They undertake an incredibly ambitious project – to restore The Distillery and its more than 40 buildings and transform it into a pedestrians-only village entirely dedicated to arts, culture and entertainment.

2003 – A NEW ERA BEGINS

The Distillery Historic District opens in May 2003 and quickly becomes a vital part of the city and one of Canada’s top tourist attractions.