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Community building on the east side of downtown

Yesterday evening I went to the Toronto Christmas Market in the Distillery District. I had actually never been before, but it was something that I had been meaning to check out for a few years now. And it was wonderful. If you’ve never been, I would highly recommend you go. This past weekend was the opening weekend and it runs all throughout Advent until Sunday, December 21st.

For those of who might not be aware, the Christmas Market festivity is a longstanding tradition that originated primarily in German-speaking Europe. Accounts of a “December market” were found as early as the end of the 13th century. The Toronto Christmas Market is a slightly more recent tradition (it’s only about 5 years old), but it was already selected as one of the world’s best.

But Christmas carollers and hot toddies aside, the Market is also a fantastic opportunity to see the Distillery District in all its glory. Every time I visit the Distillery, I can’t help but feel how lucky we are to have a district like this in the city. The architecture and scale of the place is incredible and – alongside the Toronto Islands and Kensington Market, sometimes – it’s pretty much the only car free zone we have.

However as someone who lived near the Distillery District in its early days, I remember how much of an “island” it was when it first opened. It felt disconnected from the rest of the city and the only way to get people there was to hold a special event. The retailers and galleries struggled and many didn’t last.

With all the condos that have been built, literally on top of the neighborhood, that has changed dramatically. Today the area has become much more balanced as a mixed-use community. But the real tipping point, I think, will come next year when Toronto hosts the Pan Am Games and the West Don Lands neighborhood starts to come online just to the east of Cherry Street.

Now all of a sudden the Distillery District won’t feel like the edge of downtown anymore, it will feel more like the middle of it. As my friend Alex Bozikovic of the Globe and Mail pointed out to me this weekend, the Pan Am Games are going to put the east side of downtown on people’s radars. And I would completely agree. Once that happens, the Distillery District will finally start to reach its maximum potential.

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