The Distillery District is a historic and entertainment precinct located east of Downtown Toronto. It contains numerous cafes, restaurants and shops housed within heritage buildings of the former Gooderham and Worts Distillery. The 13-acre (52,000 sq. m) district comprises more than 40 heritage buildings and 10 streets, and is the largest collection of Victorian era industrial architecture in North America.
The district was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1988.
In 2001, the site was purchased by Cityscape Holdings Inc., which transformed the district into a pedestrian-oriented arts, culture and entertainment neighbourhood. In 2003, the district was reopened to the public to great acclaim. The new owners refused to lease any of the retail and restaurant space to chains or franchises, and accordingly, the majority of the buildings are occupied with unique boutiques, art galleries, restaurants, jewellery stores, cafés, and coffeehouses, including a well-known micro brewery, the Mill Street Brewery. The upper floors of a number of buildings have been leased to artists as studio spaces and to offices tenants with a "creative focus". A new theatre, the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, has opened on the site and serves as the home of the Soulpepper Theatre Company and the drama productions of nearby George Brown College. There are plans to develop residential condominiums, offices and more retail space on the vacant lands that surround the district.
There has been some criticism of the district's redevelopment. Some have suggested that the area's gentrification has resulted in yet another upscale shopping district competing for the money of a wealthy demographic, and that opportunities for more publicly-funded uses have been lost.In contrast, others have noted that the district provides important space to local artists, and are supportive of the fact that the district is not dominated by large retail chains.
Regardless of any criticism, the preservation and active re-use of the historic buildings has been widely praised.The Distillery District is a National Historic Site, and has been designated for protection under the Ontario Heritage Act since 1976. It was listed by National Geographic magazine as a "top pick" in Canada for travellers. The redevelopment of surrounding vacant lands is expected to accelerate the district's transformation from an abandoned industrial site into one of Toronto's most distinctive neighbourhoods.