Toronto’s museums aren’t the only spot to get a history lesson. Just head east of Yonge Street to visit the heart of historic Toronto, known as Old Town. This neighbourhood is full of heritage sites, Victorian architecture, and lost tales dating back to 1793, when Toronto was originally called York. Whether you’re an urban explorer or a hardcore history buff, Old Town is one of the top places to visit in Toronto. Put on your walking shoes and stroll through the streets to appreciate a few of these historical places.
St. Lawrence Market
With National Geographic ranking Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market as the world’s best food market, it’s also one of the best historical places to visit in Toronto and is the birthplace of peameal bacon. In the 1850s, the William Davies Company sold cured hams and bacon from a stall in the St. Lawrence Market. It’s here that Davies pioneered the practice of rolling cured bacon in dried and ground yellow peas, creating what’s now called peameal bacon. And business boomed once he started exporting this new “Canadian bacon” to England, leading Toronto to be dubbed “Hogtown.” Sink your teeth into this history at Paddington’s Pump Restaurant, a tiny diner serving an “Oink on a Kaiser”—a peameal bacon sandwich that’s considered the market’s signature snack. Biting into the briny meat, you can thank Mr. Davies for his legacy.
St. Lawrence Hall
Built in 1850, St. Lawrence Hall, a Toronto landmark, is celebrated for its architectural beauty, and has now become a popular venue for weddings, events, concerts, and municipal business. But did you know that it was also a historic gathering place for the abolitionist movement? The Anti-Slavery Society met at the hall regularly, and in the 1850s, former slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass gave a talk here. The Grand Hall hosted many anti-slavery meetings during the years when Canada was accepting Underground Railroad refugees fleeing American slavery. Admire the building’s opulent stonework and roof cresting from across the street at St. James Park, a great spot to take photos.
The York County Courthouse
The York County Courthouse, also located in the St. Lawrence neighbourhood, is a historic building that served as a courthouse and jail from 1852 to 1900. Check out Terroni Restaurant, a trendy Italian trattoria on Adelaide Street which holds a grisly history that has nothing to do with their sumptuous wood-fired oven pizzas and homemade pastas. Venture into the basement to see the wine cellars which were once used as jail cells, then explore the garden courtyard that once served as an execution square in the 1800s before having a bite on Terroni’s outdoor patio.
Toronto has done something remarkable with a cluster of dilapidated industrial buildings from the Victorian era. Instead of bulldozing them, the former factories have been converted into a pedestrian-only village with the city’s coolest designer boutiques, cafes, artisan shops, galleries, and restaurants, known as the Distillery District. It’s one of the most historic places to visit in Toronto. Venture into the Artscape building to see the whisky slide, a spiral structure used to move bottles down the assembly line. Then, head to Tappo Wine Bar to dine on an artisan feast inside the Stone Distillery, the oldest and largest building of the Distillery District complex. The Distillery District was also once the site of the largest whisky distillery in the British Empire. The first distillery on these grounds was opened by James Worts in the 1830s, and after his death, was run by his brother-in-law, William Gooderham. In the mid-1800s, the Gooderham and Worts Company produced over two million gallons of whisky and spirits a year.