Entering what used to be a factory gate, it was a bit unnerving for me to see so many well-dressed people wandering all over the place. I could only imagine Victorian-era workers in uniform lining up for work or home, as I had seen in films.
They were families or couples, most of them white. A few “visible minorities” tended to be young and professional-looking. They also tended to “overdress” in their suits, or rather, under dress in this very cold late autumn day.
Not surprisingly, the Balzac café down the main square was full of people. Althouth no Starbucks, it is actually a chain store with other locations in Startford, Liberty Village, Niagara on the Lake and Kitchener. Its owner, however, seems to be as choosy as the Distillery District’s in its “philosophy”: “Balzac’s Coffee shouldn’t be found in suburbia.”1 Looking around, however, I did see fake flowers, cheap landscape paintings, toast, and marmalade. I even saw a lawnmower outside the Café’s wooden door. You can take a chain café out of the suburbia, but you can’t take the suburbia out of a chain café.
In fact, whether it has been taken out of the suburbia is hard to say. The Distillery District doesn’t belong to downtown, midtown or uptown. It is neither a manufacture center like Etobicoke, or a business district or a college area. It is not an organic residential area such as many midtown and uptown locations. It is part of Toronto’s urban residential extension with all those highrises around it. It is suburbia not with small houses but condos.
Or is it? On second thought, I admitted that I was too hasty to judge: I must look beyond the consuming part of the place – I must find out who are working here. So I left the café. True to my nature, I walked on towards the quietest, the most secluded and the least-renovated part of the District: its souteast corner.
Here was visitors’ parking lot. For people who drove here – a lot of them apparently did because the lot was full – this served as the entrance. The interesting fact is: from here, the factory gate can be seen directly ahead in the distance. It thus becomes what it actually is: a touristic decoration. In fact, I saw people getting off their cars and rushing towards the distant gate where I came from.
But I walked on.