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April 16th, 2014
Gooderham and Worts – over 153 years of history

Gooderham and Worts – over 153 years of history

When James Worts arrived from England in 1931 to set up a wind-powered gristmill, he settled on a portion of Toronto’s original marsh lands (Port Lands). His windmill literally sat at the edge of Lake Ontario in an area that was considered “wilderness”. Joined by his brother-in-law, William Gooderham, a year later, the two soon were distilling alcohol from surplus and low-grade grain. Wind power replaced steam, and by 1837, they added a distillery on a small plot of land on the west side of Trinity Street (today’s Distillery District).

As the area was infilled with land to make room for railways, the shoreline in front of the distillery changed. When the Gooderham and Worts Distillery was rebuilt in 1856 (after burning to the ground a few years earlier), the new Grand Trunk Railway went in front of the building, cutting the distillery off from the harbour.

Business continued to expand for the company. First a new mill and distillery buildings filled the site, followed by a malt house and company office, then numerous warehouses required to support the company’s massive output. By 1871, the Gooderham and Worts Distillery's annual whiskey and spirits production totaled a whopping 2.1 million gallons - close to half of the total spirits production in all of Ontario. Six years later, Gooderham and Worts Distillery had become the largest distillery in the world.

Even though the area was a mass of rail tracks and yards, the Gooderham family actually lived in a large residence on Mill Street immediately north of the distillery!

Over the years, the many warehouses and buildings in the Distillery District have also been leased out for various uses, i.e. storage, paper recycling, lumberyards, etc. By the 1990s the main distillery had ceased operations.

Today we know the area as “The Distillery District”. Its more than 40 buildings have been transformed into a pedestrian-only village entirely dedicated to arts, culture and entertainment. It is considered the largest and best preserved collection of Victorian Industrial Architecture in North America. The Stone Distillery is the oldest remaining building on site, constructed between 1859-1860.


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