First known by the name “Worts and Gooderham,” the distillery bore the names of the pair of brothers-in-law that launched the enterprise. However, following the death of the former’s wife during childbirth, Wort killed himself, leaving Gooderham to continue business operations on his own. A conseqeunce of this was that the “Worts” portion of the name was eliminated from the company. There have long been rumours that the ghost of James Wort haunts the area, with the Distillery Complex still retaining official haunted status. Eventually, the oldest of Wort’s 13 children returned to the business, and the name was changed again to Gooderham and Wort.
During the mid-19th century, Gooderham and Worts was the world’s largest distillery and was responsible for generating upwards of half of all tax revenue in Canada. The Stone Distillery Complex is the oldest structure still standing, and it is a sizable limestone building erected in 1859. The structures on the premises continue to carry names suggestive of their original use, including the Case Goods Warehouse, the Boiler House, the Maltings and the Cooperage. This lends a historically accurate feeling that is difficult to replicate.
Among the products for which Gooderham and Worts were responsible include hard liquors such as whiskey, industrial alcohol and antifreeze solutions that saw heavy use in World War I and II. The business made acetone that was used to harden bi-planes’ fabric winds during World War I. In the 1920s, the company was purchased by Hiram Walker and again in the 1980s it was sold to Allied Domeq. 1990 saw production cease altogether, and this is when the complex was turned into North America’s biggest location for the production of films. Numerous big budget productions have been created in the Distillery District, including “Cinderella Man,” “Chicago,” “X-Men” and more. Some of the stars who have plied their trade here include Meg Ryan, Al Pacino, Rene Zellweger and a host of others.
The story of the Distillery District in Toronto Ontario really is a blueprint for other types of industrial repurposing endeavors across North America and indeed the world.