Visiting the Distillery District in Toronto, Canada

Visiting the Distillery District in Toronto, CanadaI found jewels in a small corner room of an old warehouse. It’s not really a place I thought I’d find innovative stone cuts or beautiful pendants, but it was just another day in the so-called office of Leif Benner and Cynthia Archer. Together, the two of them occupy one of several studios in this distillery warehouse turned creative enclave in metropolitan Toronto in Ontario, Canada.

When we visited, Cynthia was crafting a small piece of jewelry behind a high counter, but she set her work aside to point out her favorite piece, a simple but elegant pendant. Together, she and her business partner have created customized pieces of jewelry for a variety of customers over the years, which they currently sell out of their small corner shop in The Distillery District in Toronto (one of many great discoveries during our travels to Canada).

Across the hall, I ran my hand over a knit earflap beanie cap and held the strings out like a mother would hold out the sleeves on her child’s shirt. I loved the hat; it was soft and beautifully created, but there was just no way I could justify owning yet another winter hat while living in the desert. “It’s beautiful,” I said to the woman in the corner of the shop, who was knitting something else, the needles clicking in a quiet rhythm.

Thanks.” She smiled.

Visiting the Distillery District in Toronto, CanadaHer name is Millicent Vee, and she knits cute beanies like the one I admired as well as sweaters, mittens, ponchos and scarves. All adorable and crafted with care but completely impractical for a girl living in Las Vegas.

Millicent’s art is different than Cynthia’s and different than anyone else’s in this artistic community in Toronto, and that’s why I love it. So many cities across America were once industrial centers, but today large warehouses sit empty, their brick walls exposed and ugly, their hallways dusty and hollow. At The Distillery District, however, artists in Toronto have done an excellent job at turning an otherwise unsightly part of town into a hub of creation, innovation and inspiration. Paintings line the walls, silverware clatters in cafes and art installations are being built in the wide brick walkways between the buildings.

Most importantly, however, is the fact that, not only are the artists in The Distillery District unarguably talented and passionate, but they’re also genuinely happy people who support each other. We pop in and out of art galleries, chat about hiking up Mt. Kilimanjaro with someone working at a furniture gallery, admire Rubiks Cubes with one of the collaborative artists at Cube Works and debate the merits of different kinds of chocolate at Soma.

I thoroughly enjoy our afternoon at The Distillery District, which has preserved its history while still housing dozens of shops, restaurants, galleries and studios. You can buy just about anything imaginable — underwear imprinted with a Canadian maple leaf, high-end oil paintings, microbrew beer, end tables — or you can window shop, admire the bizarre art installations and sip on a cup of coffee while people watching. It’s one of those places that you want to visit just to help it survive, but if Cynthia, Millicent and the other artists we met are any indication, then this creative corner of Toronto isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

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Visiting the Distillery District in Toronto, Canada
JoAnna is a globe-trotting, idea-inventing, culture-collecting creativity connoisseur with big dreams and a desire to touch all seven continents. You can also find JoAnna at joannahaugen.com and at The 52 Letters Project.

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11 Responses

  1. Kirsten says:

    I was just there a few weeks ago for a photoshoot and I really loved it there!

  2. Natalie T. says:

    Cute article! The distillery is great, especially on weekends in the summer as the artisans are out on the cobblestones selling jewllery/art. There was also a big food truck event here this summer as well. It’s wedding mecca there but it’s a fun area that is distinctly Torontonian. Glad you liked it and let me know if/when you are in TO next!

  3. JoAnna says:

    Beautiful, isn’t it? There’s so much life and energy!

  4. JoAnna says:

    I’m sure it’s adorable in the summer with art outside! Sounds fantastic!

  5. Kayla says:

    Great post! I found you through the Carnival of Cities.

    The Distillery District is one of my favourite places and is such a great heritage success story. The buildings have been wonderfully preserved, yet it such a lively and growing place. A great example that historic preservation does not necessarily create a static place.

  6. JoAnna says:

    I was pleasantly surprised by the Distillery District. I know a lot of places have tried to revitalize old industrial areas without much luck, so it was exciting to see that this one is actually succeeding.

  7. Millicent says:

    Thank-you for the lovely article about the Distillery. I have had a studio there for over 4 years and still find it such an inspiring place to be. The art studios sometimes get overlooked. Thanks for finding us!

  8. JoAnna says:

    What a nice surprise to see you here, Millicent! We absolutely loved Toronto — and the Distillery District was definitely a highlight of the city for us!

  9. I’m glad you loved the Distillery District! If you happen to visit Toronto in December (okay, it’s not the best time to visit due to the cold weather); however, the Distillery has an amazing traditional European-style Christmas market with wandering carollers, an outdoor craft and food market, Santa Claus, choirs and bands performing seasonal music and an enormous Christmas tree.

  10. JoAnna says:

    I loved Toronto so much when I was there that I asked some locals what the catch was — what made it not exactly perfect? — and they told me that the winter weather can be pretty brutal. That said, I’d love to check this place out in the winter.

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