When the Distillery District produced booze and bombs
The Distillery District, as the name so clearly implies, was not always a collection of boutique shops, galleries and other touristy attractions. Yes, most everyone knows that the prior to its redevelopment in the early 2000s, the area that is now bounded by Parliament and Cherry streets between Mill Street and the railway tracks was an operational distillery until 1990.
What's less commonly known is that during prohibition in Ontario, which started in 1916, the plant was given to the government to produce ingredients key to explosives of the day (i.e. smokeless gunpowder). Operated by British Acetones, the plant manufactured roughly 1000 tonnes of acetone in the final years of the war.
Eventually it would return to operate as a distillery, and was sold by the Gooderham family to Harry C. Hatch and associates in 1926. Just a year later, that company went on to acquire Hiram Walker's, who would continue to run the distillery until the late 1980s when it was sold to Allied Vintners.
Shortly after the sale, the distillery ceased operations and was left unoccupied for the majority of the 1990s. And then, thankfully, in 2001 Cityscape Holdings purchased the site with an eye toward transforming it into the destination that it has become today. The Distillery district now exists as one of the finest preserved examples of Victorian Industrial architecture in North America.
For more historical info, check out the following sources:
- History of the Distillery District
- Distillery District Heritage Website
- Toronto's Distillery District: History by the Lake
The Esplanade and Distillery 1874
What the Gooderham and Worts Distillery looked like in 1896
Molasses tank 1915
Rectifying columns 1918
Tank houses 1918
Trinity Street 1918
British Acetones of Toronto office 1918
Aerial View of Distillery and area 1926