Since the Toronto Christmas Market took up residence in the Distillery District six years ago, I have been making plans to drop in for a visit and scope out all the fun I’ve been hearing about from friends who live in the city. Based on traditional German and Austrian holiday street markets that have been around since the 1400s, the Toronto market is a beautiful and traditionally European way to celebrate the onset of Advent and the holiday season.
And even though a glance outside will remind you that it still doesn’t feel like winter is here, the boy and I took advantage of a warm, grey weekend afternoon to finally visit the festive event everyone is talking about.
The popularity of the market has grown exponentially with each of its successive years. In fact, the Disitllery District boasted over half a million visitors last year over its 21 day run. This year, to curb some of the crowds, an entrance fee of $5 during the weekend was instituted as a means of crowd control. However, the market is not-for-profit and the money is donated to a number of charities including the Daily Bread Food Bank and Plan Canada. Plus, visits on Tuesday to Friday remain free of charge.
I felt like I was stepping back in time as we wandered among the crowds. Making our way down the pedestrian-only brick cobbled streets we admired the large brick buildings and retail spaces, cafes, and galleries. The District once housed the Gooderham & Worts Distillery, and now represents the largest and best preserved collection of Victorian Industrial Architecture in North America.
At the epi-centre of the festive set up stands the 50 foot tall tree, a wonder to behold, and decorate! More than 18,000 lights are sprinkled throughout the branches and act as a beacon to a stage that is set up next to it. Apparently, this year saw more than 320 performances presented to the visitors.
The biggest draw of the Christmas market are the variety of gift and food vendors that line the streets of the district. We indulged in the sampling of traditional German fare like giant pretzels and hot sausages, and dipped into warm mulled wine, along with coffee from Balzac’s. But the little wooden stalls offer a treat for everyone’s taste, including free samples of vodka, amaretto and Mill Street beer (a local District microbrewery).
The Toronto Christmas Market is exactly what you would expect of a European Christmas Market – in Canada! We truly celebrated the sights, sounds, and tastes of Christmas all in one afternoon. I’m thrilled with my first visit and will be sure to brave the crowds and make a evening trip next year. Although, the market has wrapped up for this season, I urge you to put this winter event on your must-do list for next year.