Toronto Christmas Market: Holidays and History

Toronto is a fine place to be during the winter holidays – and one very good reason for that is the the Toronto Christmas Market..

This happens every winter from mid-November through just before Christmas, in Toronto’s historic the Distillery District. Modern day festivities are framed by Victorian architecture, which adds to the holiday atmosphere. We’ll get to that history in a moment, but first, the holiday events. They include

toronto christmas market tree 1

A massive Christmas tree. It’s usually about fifty feet tall, and well decorated for the season. The tree is donated by Forests Ontario.

A tunnel of holidays lights through which to stroll. Take your time: it’s about one hundred feet long.

While you are doing that, you may hear the sounds of carolers or choirs offering holiday music. There are solo entertainers, too, many of them local to Toronto, who bring jazz, roots, classical, pop, and many other sorts of music to the fest.

toronto christmas market singers

Feel like singing yourself? There are holiday sing a longs for you to do just that. These usually take place early each evening.
You will find artisans offering their creations, set up in cabins festooned with lights along the streets of the district.

toroto christmas market street

Also on hand, people selling warm beverages – this is Toronto in winter, after all – and varied food stuffs to enjoy on the spot and or to take home as gifts.

Organizers point out that this year there will be more than four hundred stage performances, ranging from brass bands to elves. Yes, have no worries, Santa will be on hand too.

If you’d like, you could take a guided walking tour of the Distillery District. Its history began in the 1830s, when James Worts and his brother-in-law William Gooderham came to Toronto in what was then known as Upper Canada to start a flour mill. Over the years things evolved: what had been a side business of using surplus grain from the mill to make spirits became the main business, leading to the construction of most of the buildings you see today.

The G&W Distillery became the largest distillery in the British empire, and for a time, the largest in the world. Father and son architects David Roberts Senior and David Roberts Junior designed most of the forty or so buildings you see today using Italianate details and neoclassical lines while meeting the industrial needs of the distillery’s work. There are plaques on many buildings telling of their individual purposes and histories.

toronto christmas market tree and building

Times changed, and after a century and a half, the G&W Distillery shut down in the 1990s. For a time the Distillery District was abandoned, but by 2003 people had begun to revive it as an arts district, the role it plays in modern day Toronto. When it is not hosting the Toronto Christmas Market, art galleries, craft shops, and restaurants – and that distinctive architecture and history– make it a destination both residents and visitors enjoy.

Another fine thing about the Toronto Christmas Market: on weekdays through 5 PM on Friday evenings, admission is free (note that the Christmas Market is dark on Mondays, though businesses in the Distillery District are still active). From Friday evening through the weekend there’s a charge of six dollars Canadian to enter. The Toronto Christmas Market supports several local charities with the proceeds.

Perhaps you’d like some holiday music from Canada to go along? Take a listen to Imagine from Heather Rankin and A Celtic Family Christmas from Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy. How could you have a Canada Christmas without seasonal songs from Anne Murray? But perhaps you might be looking for something Canadian but not so Christmas? Learn about music from The Fretless, Catherine MacLellan, and Keith Murphy.

lantern toronto

If you are intrigued by the idea of a Victorian Christmas in Canada, another fine place to experience during the holidays is Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island. There’s a Victorian Christmas Weekend in PEI late in November every year.

If you like the idea of Toronto in Victorian days, I have only two words for you: Murdoch Mysteries! This excellent and long running television show has many episodes available on dvd, including (the link above takes you there) several fine holiday specials.

Photographs courtesy of the Toronto Christmas Market, except the lantern, which is by katjasv.

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