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A View to the Past: Views of the Seagram Lofts over time

Recently designated under the Ontario Heritage Act, the former barrel warehouses at 3 and 5 Father David Bauer Drive are the last remaining Seagram buildings in Waterloo to receive heritage recognition.  Now known as the Seagram Lofts, the former warehouses once housed thousands of whisky barrels on wooden racks for the Seagram Distillery. Barrel rack warehouses of this scale represent a unique form of early industrial architecture that were typically constructed to support large distilling companies such as the Seagram Distillery in Waterloo, Gooderham and Worts in Toronto, and Hiram Walker and Sons in Windsor.  Plant closures and modernization of the distilling industry have resulted in the demolition of all but a few of these old warehouses. Waterloo may be one of the only places in Ontario where you can find as many as three of them.

Above Left: One of three remaining former Seagram barrel warehouses at 5 Father David Bauer in Waterloo; Top Right: Single former warehouse of Gooderham and Worts (now the Distillery District), Toronto; Bottom Right: Former (now demolished) warehouse of Hiram Walker and Sons in Windsor.

Few would argue that the most recognizable feature of the Seagram Lofts is their rows of small shuttered windows. Once used to ventilate vapours created by ageing spirits, the pint-sized windows help to break up the otherwise large and imposing Caroline Street South facades and give them a pleasing, orderly appearance. Together with the painted Seagram Distillers sign (on 3 Father David Bauer Drive), and the distinctive yellow brick, the buildings serve as unique landmarks in Uptown. Their prominence is accentuated by the fact that they form a character-defining view, or “terminated vista” in planning-speak, at the western end of Willis Way. The vista is enclosed by the storefronts on either side of Willis Way, and enhanced by the open park space immediately in front of the Lofts. In recognition of the historic value of the Seagram Lofts and its role in helping to define the character of the Uptown, Council recently adopted a designation by-law and site specific zoning that will conserve both the buildings and views of the buildings’ east facing facades from Caroline Street South.

3-5 FDB Drive

An iconic view: The east facades of 3 and 5 Father David Bauer Drive from Caroline Street South where it meets Willis Way.

Views and vistas are important features of cities.  The view of an iconic building or structure positioned at the end of a street can hold a special meaning for local residents and visitors, and creates a distinct and appealing scene that makes a place more interesting. Some of the most recognizable and celebrated city scenes are those that use terminated vistas in their design; think: the Arc de Triomphe at the end of Champs-Élysées in Paris, the US Capitol building terminating East Capitol St NE in Washington DC, or the Ontario Legislative Building on University Avenue in Toronto.  Not all terminated vistas need to involve large scale public buildings or monuments.  Smaller churches or commercial buildings have also been used to terminate views and add interest to a streetscape.

Above Left: Architect Henry Langley deliberately located the tower and spire of St George Anglican Church at the the end of Douglas Street, Guelph, to create a striking focal point ª. Above Right: The flatiron Gooderham building in Toronto, used as an office for Gooderham & Worts distillery until 1952, anchors the triangular intersection formed by Front Street East and Wellington Street East.

Although the view of Seagram Lofts at the end of Willis way is a familiar sight today, it has not always been a prominent feature of the Uptown. As former warehouses, the Lofts were originally constructed to serve a practical purpose and, unlike many public buildings from the same era, were not designed to serve as a focal point or as a terminated vista at the end of a street. This changed starting in the 1990s, when the City undertook plans to redevelop the Seagram lands and Waterloo Square and adopted a number strategies to enhance the prominence of the Seagram buildings.  Changes included creating the BarrelYards Park located immediately in front of the barrel warehouses, and aligning the newly created Willis Way so that it centred on 3 Father David Bauer Drive rather than its original orientation further north on Caroline Street South. The result is a more attractive and interesting streetscape that highlights a remnant of an industry that played a significant role in Waterloo’s growth and development.

What follows are a series of sketches and photos that show how the Seagram lands and views of the two Seagram Lofts (labeled A and B) have evolved over time.


A late 1890s/early 1900s sketch of the Seagram Distillery. A and B represent 3 and 5 Father David Bauer, respectively. The barrel warehouses face east and are visible from Caroline Street South. Note a third large barrel warehouse beside warehouse B. This warehouse was contructed in the early 1890s and demolished in the 1970s.


Seagram fire insurance map 1913

A fire insurance map ca. 1913 showing the orientation and visibility of 3 Father David Bauer Drive (A) and 5 Father David Bauer (B) from Caroline Street. At the time, the large warehouses would have dominated the skyline. Although the rectangular reservoir to the north of building ‘A’ gives the appearance of a reflection pond in historic photos, its actual purpose was to store water for use in firefighting.


Waterloo square

Waterloo Square (under construction) and Seagram Distillery ca 1960. New Seagram buildings erected in the 1950s completely obscur views of the barrel warehouses from Caroline Street. The area that is later to become Willis Way is indicated with a dotted line.


BR 13 Caroline- Wloo Sq

A 1972 view from the Marsland Centre shows the barrel warehouses tucked behind the 1950s, windowless, red brick Seagram buildings. Views of the barrel warehouses were restored when, following the closure of the Seagram plant in the 1990s, the red brick buildings were demolished and a new city park was created.


Seagram terminating vista

Views to the historic buildings were restored and enhanced in the 2000s when Waterloo Square was redeveloped and a new road (Willis Way) was oriented to align with 3 Father David Bauer Drive.


ª Westfall, W. and Thurlby, M. (1990). Church architecture and urban space: The development of ecclesiastical forms in nineteenth century Ontario. In: Keane, D. and Read, C, editors. Old Ontario: Essays in Honour of J M S Careless. Dundurn Press, ON.