As the needs of cities change, older buildings can find themselves a bit redundant. The challenge for urban areas is to find a new purpose for these buildings, one which is historically respectful but at the same time creates a space that meets the modern needs of a city. This is exactly what has happened in Toronto, where a former distillery has been transformed into a varied, vibrant, and immensely popular destination for locals and tourists alike.

Founded in 1832, the Gooderham and Worts Distillery grew into the world’s largest distillery, though as the business and industry evolved, this 13 acre site in downtown Toronto fell out of use. Due to it being the largest collection of Victorian industrial architecture in North America, demolition was always unlikely, and between 2001 and 2006 the site was restored, fully pedestrianised, and turned into a ‘cultural district’ without a single chain store in site.

Cobbled streets house local restaurants and cafés, surrounded by the 19th century architecture. Due to it being an entirely car-free zone – in fact, the only car-free outdoor precinct in central Toronto – visitors to the site can confidently take a leisurely stroll wherever they like.

In addition to the many restaurants and cafés, there’s plenty of bars for those who prefer the stronger stuff. Whilst the site is predominantly known for its independent traders and local artists, by offering a variety of retail and hospitality venues, the Distillery Distric has broad appeal.

The cobbled laneways have been compared to ‘European piazzas’, and whether you agree with that or not, there’s plenty to discover in the lanes surrounding the 44 heritage buildings on site. As well as retail and hospitality, there are artist’s studios and rehearsal halls present, giving the site a concentration of creativity unique to this part of Toronto.

Though the buildings are historic, the Distillery District has a lot of life. In addition to the working community of creatives present on site, there are numerous large scale items of modern art dotted throughout the venue, offering stark contrast to the nearby built environment. And this selection of art won’t be the only source of contrast for long. The venue has been so successful that high rise developments are cropping up all around the site, including one in the very centre of the development. This 19th century former distillery has seen a lot of change already, but there’s a lot more change to come.