Industry & Commerce

The historic Gooderham and Worts Distillery complex, Toronto's first industrial heritage conservation district, is preserved to illustrate one of the industrial and commercial areas that propelled Toronto to the first rank of Canadian cities as an economic force.

The Gooderham "flatiron" building, c 2012 (photo © by James Marsh).

Little did James Worts and William Gooderham know that they were initiating the industrialization and commercialization of the city's eastern waterfront when they built their windmill in 1832. At the time, it overlooked a pristine Toronto Bay and the marshland spreading out from the mouth of the Don River nearby. A century later, the marsh would be a port-industrial district and the shoreline would be hundreds of metres to the south.

An area like this, endowed with the necessary foundation for industry—water, affordable and convenient transport, and cheap land—attracts more industry. That is why industry and commercial activity developed along the city’s major rivers and creeks and the railway lines that run through the city. As these areas became polluted by coal, steam power and industrial waste, residents who could move, did; those who could not provided cheap labour.

As with the Distillery District, Toronto’s abandoned industrial areas are being remediated and transformed into new residential and commercial areas. Many of the sites included in this theme are the remains of this industrial past and the symbols of the wealth that industry and commerce generated.

A selection of sites from this theme is laid out in the trail Toronto’s Commercial Heartland.

The Stories