I 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.
Her 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.