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When the Distillery District produced booze and bombs

Posted by Derek Flack / June 17, 2011

Gooderham Worts Distillery DistrictThe 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:

PHOTOS

The Esplanade and Distillery 1874
Gooderham Worts Distillery Toronto

What the Gooderham and Worts Distillery looked like in 1896
Gooderham Worts Distillery Toronto

Molasses tank 1915
Gooderham Worts Distillery Toronto

Gooderham Worts Distillery Toronto

Rectifying columns 1918
Gooderham Worts Distillery Toronto

Tank houses 1918
Gooderham Worts Distillery Toronto

Trinity Street 1918
Gooderham Worts Distillery Toronto

Elevator 1918
Gooderham Worts Distillery Toronto

British Acetones of Toronto office 1918
Gooderham Worts Distillery Toronto

Aerial View of Distillery and area 1926
Gooderham Worts Distillery Toronto

In 1937
Gooderham Worts Distillery Toronto

Jumping way ahead to the 1990s
2011617-distillery-empty-1990s-s1465_fl0003_id0009.jpg2011617-distillery-alley-1990s-s1465_fl0003_id0011.jpg2011617-distillery-1990s-alley2s1465_fl0003_id0013.jpg2011617-distillery-1990s-s1465_fl0003_id0012.jpgPhotos from the Toronto Archives, Wikimedia Commons, and Distillery Heritage.

Discussion

19 Comments

Vic / June 17, 2011 at 01:55 pm
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Third from the bottom (with rzor wire and non-english writing) looks like a movie set. Any idea what the movie was?
Dosadi replying to a comment from Vic / June 17, 2011 at 02:01 pm
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X-Men. It was a WW2 concentration camp that they had Magnito in at the begining of the film.
David / June 17, 2011 at 02:02 pm
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I'm guessing that's the set for the first X-Men movie, where Magneto is seperated from his parents.
GD Guy / June 17, 2011 at 06:13 pm
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Great article and very detailed. I really enjoyed reading the history behind this site.
seanm / June 17, 2011 at 06:23 pm
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Interesting to note that they restored/added brick paving to much of the Distillery, as it appeared to be unpaved for much of its life. I wish we had more Victorian industrial and factory complexes remaining today, the city was littered with sites like Gooderham and Worts. As far as I know though, this was by far the most expansive.
gadfly / June 18, 2011 at 06:46 am
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Just to clarify, do you know which parts of the property were purchased in 2001? The reason I am asking is because 39 Parliament St., occupied in November 1999, so purchase, planning, approval and construction was taking place as early as 1995.

@seanm: I agree the Gooderham property was very impressive, mostly for its architechture, but I believe the Massey Ferguson Properties along King St (now all part of Condo Hell) west of Bathurst may have been as expansive or larger. Not as wonderful architecture, however.
Stephen / June 18, 2011 at 01:21 pm
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kung Fu the legend continues with david Caradine
David / June 18, 2011 at 05:51 pm
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One of my favourite Due South episodes was about hockey and had the actors skating around the streets in the Distillery District.
Many years ago (sometime in the nineties, I think) I was invited to watch the filming of a show about soldiers going off to the Boer War.
David / June 18, 2011 at 05:52 pm
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P.S. Nice article.
KC / June 18, 2011 at 11:15 pm
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About the movie scene: At first I was so shocked. I recognized the language as Hungarian, a language I don't have any facility in. I googled some of the words, and started to think it was a sick joke-- I couldn't find all the words, but it was essentially pointing to being a Nazi checkpoint at an entrance the Budapest's Jewish quarter. Then I realized this had to be a movie set. Anyway, somebody who actually can read Hungarian can fill in the blanks.
marco / June 20, 2011 at 10:34 am
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google translation:

zsidone gyed
keresztenyeknek tilos bemenni

Jew quarters
Christians must not go (in)
Jay / June 20, 2011 at 11:30 am
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I remember thinking Cityscape was nuts to want to develop the old site back in the 1990s. Now I'm thankful they had the guts to hold to their vision. I hope the place is making money and sustainable these days.

Translation (courtesy Google):

zsidónegyed keresztényeknek tilos bemenni -> Christians are forbidden to enter the Jewish quarter
MARY / April 18, 2012 at 10:58 pm
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i HAVE A LARGE FISHING SPOON/LURE MARKED GOODERHAM WORTS
jeff replying to a comment from MARY / April 25, 2012 at 11:19 am
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Hi mary i also have a spoon lure brass with red lettering,marked g and w cacadas oldest distillery did you find any info?
Houston Florist / May 30, 2012 at 02:45 am
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I love the historical photos!
Flowers Edmonton / October 23, 2012 at 01:50 pm
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Great photo's and very interesting history behind this place. Thats a great read.
Terry / January 17, 2013 at 03:42 am
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I also have a large brass fishing lure with the inscription Gooderham and Worts. Intials, G&W Canadas oldest distillery in red lettering. Any info?

Andrew / April 10, 2013 at 10:13 pm
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@Vic / June 17, 2011 at 01:55 pm

Third from the bottom (with rzor wire and non-english writing) looks like a movie set. Any idea what the movie was?


the writing says this is a Jewish district and Christians are not allowed inside. At first i thought it was for real, even in the 90s but now that you guys say it was a movie setting... i might just have to check X man even though i don't consider it one of my favorites :)
Ken Kerr replying to a comment from Terry / February 15, 2014 at 12:10 pm
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These lures, which came in several different cardboard and plastic boxes, were advertising lures for the company. The were manufactured for G&W by Toronto tackle makers Allcock, Laight & Westwood. It would need to be researched further, but there might have been a marriage connection between Gooderham and al&w.

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