Toronto’s Distillery District is swarming with spirits – and not just the drinking kind.
A decade ago, the cluster of dilapidated 19th-century industrial buildings were mostly used for filming movies such as X-Men and Chicago. Now, it’s been rated as a “top pick” for travellers to Canada by National Geographic. Once the site of the largest distillery in the British Empire, former factories have been transformed into pedestrian-only village with Toronto’s coolest designer boutiques, cafes, restaurants, artisan shops, and art galleries.
It’s so trendy that even the dead are squatters. The Distillery District has long been considered a haunted site in Toronto, even inspiring Segway of Ontario to launch a Segway Distillery Ghost Tour ($49). For those with an appetite for the underworld, you can zip around on electric scooters (in the dark), exploring sites where spooks and other mysterious events that have occurred. Register for their Tuesday to Sunday tour online or drop by their office on Grist Mill Lane.
The Distillery is such a hotbed for paranormal activity that the Toronto Ghosts & Hauntings Research Society keeps an active file on the site, recording unusual events from witnesses. There have been numerous reports of doors opening and closing, strange banging sounds, lights flickering, as well as other poltergeist activity experience by workers and film crew onsite.
In one report, a staff member of the Boiler House (now El Catrin Restaurant) witnessed a bottle fly off the oversized wine rack in the restaurant.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” the eyewitness report details. “The bottle flew away from the shelf and then dropped and landed flat on the bar. Didn’t break, didn’t wobble. Just landed.”
While prepping for the dinner rush, another employee of the Boiler House spotted a terrifying scene at the very same wine rack.
“The colour dropped from her face and she started trembling,” a witness reported. “She pointed towards the wine rack and said, There is a man hanging by his neck above the bar.”
The waitress bolted from the restaurant and never returned.
Less menacing spirits have been spotted in other sites in the Distillery. After 16 hours in the fermentation cellar, a member of a film crew spotted a man dressed in 1940s garb and work boots. The apparition vanished seconds later.
Some believe that the spirit of original Distillery factory co-owner, James Worts, still roams the buildings. After his wife died in childbirth in 1834, grief-stricken Worts drowned himself in a well near the windmill.
Although long departed, Worts is the most commonly sighted ghost in the Distillery, getting into all sorts of shenanigans with the living. His spirit is said to shut doors, flicker lights, and make unexpected appearances to unsuspecting workers or tourists.
Ghosts aside, the Distillery District attracts tourists for its other spirits. In the mid-1800s, the Gooderham and Worts Company was the largest distillery in the British Empire, producing over 2 million gallons of whiskey and spirits a year. That’s a lot of booze. Walk inside the Artscape building to see the whiskey slide spiralling from the ceiling – a twisty structure used to maneuver bottles down the line of production.
Visitors today can get a taste of the old world Distillery at the Mill Street Brewery on Tank House Lane. Opening in 2003, this brewpub serves pub grub and craft beer in what is the original Gooderham & Worts tankhouse. The pub has become a Canadian classic since its inception, winning awards and the title of “Canadian Brewery of the Year.”
Step into the tasting room to sample what’s on tap. If you must pick one, try the Tankhouse Ale – an esteemed blend of five different malts and hops, with a deep amber hue. For those with more refined palates, taste the Stock Ale. Often confused with Prosecco, this “sparkling” beer is brewed from malt and hops, and leaves a green apple twist on the tongue.
With the ghost hunting and boozing, you’re bound to get hungry. To satisfy a sweet tooth, walk down Tank House Lane to Soma – a boutique artisan chocolatier that makes chocolates directly from the cocoa bean and in small batches. Entering the store, the scent of cocoa and raspberries wafting in the air will make you salivate at hello. For a less decadent meal, grab a sandwich on thick slices of fresh bread at Brick Street Bakery.
Of course, just make sure to mind the ghosts.