Sunday, November 4, 2012

# 32 ~ Saint Lawrence Market, Then and Now




Today, November 3rd, marks the 209th "birthday" of Saint Lawrence Market.  It was on this day in 1803 that Peter Hunter, the Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada, established a public market in York, which was to be open each and every single Saturday throughout the year.  The law has stuck to this day, meaning that the market has been open at least once a week, fifty-two weeks a year, for over two centuries - making it the oldest continuous market in North America.

THEN : Peter Russell, the colonial administrator who took over where Simcoe left off.  He set aside land for Saint Lawrence Market, but nothing else was done until he was replaced by Peter Hunter.
Space had been set aside for a market by Peter Russell, who took over the reins of power when Simcoe returned to England.  Russell was given the title of "provincial administrator" but never given the full viceregal job listing or salary.  This would be a cause of some bitterness for Russell, who was a curious and eccentric figure, and is certainly worthy of a "blog" entry unto himself.  But Russell's tenure gave way to Hunter's, and the market moved forward.  The plot of land that Russell had laid aside remained empty, and it wasn't until Hunter took over that a market got constructed, and laws for governing a regular public market were set out.

Beginning nearly a year before, in December of 1802, farmers in the areas outside of York had started lobbying Hunter regarding the establishment of a market in the town.  It took nearly a year, but on November 3, 1803, after months of consultation with the Executive Council, Hunter read out the proclamation and noted that the first market would actually be held a few days hence, on Saturday, November 5th ... and every Saturday from then on in.

The market was situated on a five acre grant of land that lay between Front, Jarvis, King and "West Market" streets - West Market Street being what is now known as Market Lane, that square that now also holds a tanning salon and the Rainbow Movie Cinema.  It was here that the first public well for the town was opened up, and in the days before running water, a trip to the market square was also a chance to draw one's household water for cooking and cleaning.

NOW : The monument showing, more or less, where the first public well from the old Town of York once stood.  It also explains a little of the history regarding the use of the stocks in the square.  Sadly, the monument is beginning to show the ravages of time, and the fountain beneath it has been boarded over.  Drinking whatever water has collected at the base of the monument is not recommended ...

THEN : "Death at the Pump".  Local wells often became polluted with disease, and cholera would spread through the Town of York and the City of Toronto in the 1830s, killing at least 10% of the population.  During these outbreaks, everyone would have known someone carried off by the disease.

Since the market was literally the only place for townspeople to buy and sell what they needed, it was always crowded.  Farmers drove in their livestock and sold them in the market and square, with animals usually brought in live.  At a time before refrigeration, it was important that meat be fresh, and it was always freshest just before being slaughtered.  Townspeople could barter and haggle over other items, too - produce, of course, or even furniture and other household items.  In an era without mass production, online ordering, or even consistent, reliable shipping, and when many things were not produced locally, the market was a lifeline.  In those early days, there were no mills for staple products like flour, which had to be shipped in from a mill in Kingston, and the first business owners to buy mass quantities of imported flour from somewhere else and sell it at York's market generally had a monopoly, and made a killing.  Some aboriginals were given special permits to sell their own wares, too, and would have added an exotic flare to the market, for those British settlers who had recently started to call York home.

Other small stores began to crop up through the Old Town, but the monopoly at the market was enforced by a bylaw stipulating that no meat, poultry, butter, eggs, vegetables or fish could be sold anywhere else in York, except at the market, on a Saturday between the hours of 6 o'clock in the morning and 4 o'clock in the afternoon.  Any merchant who violated these Saturday commerce laws was fined 15-shilllings.  This was done for a very basic reason - all the trade was overseen by agents at the local "Customs House", who patrolled the market and ensured that all taxes, or customs, were collected and no illicit black market trading was done.  They no doubt missed a lot, though - York was a harbour town, and smuggling did take place.  The most heavily smuggled item into York was not, apparently, opium, poppy seeds, liquor or hemp, but rather tea, which was a heavily taxed luxury item throughout the nineteenth century.  According to some sources, 10,000 barrels of tea came into York's harbour illegally ever year.

In 2012, the market is a busy place on a Saturday morning, and the same has held true for two-hundred years.  It was a thrilling excuse to get out of the house.  Farmers were up before dawn to bring their wares down to the market.  Queen Street was still known as "Lot Street", as it was the great divide that marked the start of the farm lots north of town.  Farms were scattered along concession roads north of town, with these roads being marked off at intervals of one-and-a-quarter miles.  Queen Street, Bloor Street, St. Clair Avenue, and so on were the early concession roads that marked the dividing lines for farm or park lots north of town.  Areas north of today's muncipal boundaries, up in Richmond Hill, Thornhill and so on, often represented a trip of up to two days, and farmers from those areas would get started down to the market on Friday night, often stopping overnight at the Red Lion Inn, which stood for nearly a century on Yonge Street, just north of Bloor, near where the Jack Astor's is today.

THEN : The Red Lion Inn, in the background, stood on Yonge Street, just north of Bloor Street.  Today, the site is occupied by a Jack Astor's and a Starbucks, which has taken over the old Abert Britnell bookstore.  The Red Lion Inn was built by about 1808, and demolished in 1889.  It was an important stop, not only for those travelling from points north down into York, but also for political and social gatherings.  By the late 1840s, a commuter stage coach was started that ran from the Red Lion Inn down to Saint Lawrence Market and back again - this was one of the first public transportation initiatives in Toronto.

In the market square, local townspeople were treated to the spectacles of early life in York that are lost to us today.  The previously mentioned aboriginals would wander the square, selling wild fruit, game, fish, moccasins or woven items.  Soldiers from the garrison might wander over, too, strolling through the market in their red or green tunics, pooling their scant resources to augment the one meal a day that they were given as part of their enlistment.  The first prison in town was located just west of the market square, along King Street near Yonge Street, more or less where the King Edward Hotel stands today.  Although execution by hanging was a special event, and done only on the grounds of the prison, the whipping post and pillory was set up in the market square on a regular basis.  Weekly lashings and even brandings - where the offender is branded with a hot iron poker and marked for life - enforced the importance of living by the rules, and these punishments were very intentionally public.  One wonders if the cries of the punished were loud enough to waft back to those being confined in the prison. 

THEN : A floor plan for the first prison or "gaol" built in York.  Along with a market, a prison is a much needed piece of infrastructure for any growing town.

THEN : The first prison in Toronto, locateed on the south side of King Street, near Yonge Street.  Commerce and crime have always gone hand in hand, and the first documented execution in York came in October of 1798, when a retailer named Sullivan tried to pass a forged banknote worth a dollar.  The law was there to protect property, and theft carried an automatic death sentence.

NOW : The site of the first prison in the Town of York today - the King Edward Hotel.  The next time you feel yourself coming to the end of your rope, you can relax in their tea room.

The life of the early market culminated in 1837, when news of the accession of Queen Victoria arrived.  A public feast was assembled, which included a one-hundred pound plum pudding, not to mention beer, military bands and fireworks.  It may have been the liveliest market day up until that time, and although the revellers didn't know it, change was around the corner.  York had just recently passed away, and the City of Toronto had begun.  Rebellion was in the air, to be followed by sixty years of great municipal growth.  Through it all, Saint Lawrence Market has watched the Town of York grow up from a somewhat malnourished backwater to one of the greatest cities in North America. 

NOW : Market Square today.  Gone are the criminals in chains, the old town festivities of roast oxen and fireworks, and the polluted well.  But one likes to think that the wandering shoppers from Saint Lawrence Market still pause to great neighbours and catch up on the local gossip.


An Illustrated Timeline of Saint Lawrence Market
Saint Lawrence Market has been a work in progress ever since Hunter's proclamation in 1803.  The market complex is actually made up of two buildings - the north market (on the north side of Front Street) and the south market (on the south side of Front Street).  The north market is the older one, dating back to today's anniversary in 1803.  The south market began as an expansion that was completed in 1845.  Originally, the north market was for local farmers, while the south market was on the harbour, and served as the "international market", with items arriving from all over the world.  The actual physical buildings of both markets have changed over the years.  What follows is an illustrated history of the various north and south market buildings that have come and gone over the years.


THEN : A sketch of the original 1803 market.  Note the harbour in the background and the well in the foreground.


THEN : The second North Market building, designed by James Cooper and opened in 1831.  This picture looks south from King Street, where the town council rented offices to be used as their place of meeting.  In 1834, when the Town of York became the City of Toronto, this did in effect become City Hall.  It is not usually credited as Toronto's first city hall, though, as it was not custom built for the purpose.  This 1831 North Market was destroyed by a great fire that ravaged the old town in 1849.
THEN : A contemporary model of the 1831 market.


THEN : Following the 1849 fire, the old town was rebuilt, including the North Market.  This photograph of the North Market dates back to 1888.  Live cattle are in the foreground, and the relatively recent addition of the spire at the Cathedral Church of Saint James is in the background.  The architect of this North Market was Henry Bowyer Lane, whose other notable works included Little Trinity Anglican Church (425 King Street West), St. George-the-Martyr Church (John Street north of Queen Street West), an addition to Osgoode Hall, and the 1845 South Market building.

THEN : The North Market was taken down and replaced between 1900 and 1904, when it was built to be a mirror copy of the South Market.  This pictures is looking up Jarvis Street from Front Street, about 1900.


NOW : The most recent change to the North Market came when a new building was opened as a "Centennial Project" - those projects that took place all across Canada to mark the one-hundredth annivesary of Canadian Confederation.  The 1967 North Market building remains a stunning example of 1960s architecture ...
THEN : The North Market in the 1970s.

THEN : The North Market in the 1970s.
THEN : Shoppers at the North Market, 1970s.

THEN : Shoppers at the North Market, 1970s.

THEN : Shoppers at the North Market, 1970s.

THEN : Shoppers at the North Market, 1970s.

THEN : Shoppers at the North Market, 1970s.

THEN : Shoppers at the North Market, 1970s.

THEN : Shoppers at the North Market, 1970s.

THEN : Shoppers at the North Market, 1970s.

THEN : Shoppers at the North Market, 1970s.

THEN : Shoppers at the North Market, 1970s.

THEN : Shoppers at the North Market, 1970s.

THEN : If this kid only knew where the cute bunnies were going to end up ....

THEN : "This little piggy went to market ..." Bacon, of course, is a very Toronto food.  In 1840, there were about 10,000 people living in Toronto, and about 40,000 pigs.  Slaughtering them all became a great Toronto industry and gave us the nickname "Hogtown".

NOW : Closing time on a Saturday at the North Market today.

Between 1844 and 1845, a "south market" had been constructed, on the south side of Front Street.  The upstairs area of this south market became the first real, purpose-built City Hall for Toronto.  It lasted there for over fifty years, before the City Hall building at Queen and Bay opened up in 1899.  With its soaring clock tower, this 1899 City Hall has been dubbed "Old City Hall", but of course, it isn't really Old City Hall at all.  When it opened in 1899, the "real" Old City Hall was abandoned for about seventy years before opening up as the Market Gallery, a display space for all manner of artefacts relating to the arts, culture and history of Toronto.

THEN : Looking south from the harbour to the south Saint Lawrence Market, back in a day when the harbour lapped up past the Esplanade, and what are now vendors and stalls in the South Market werre ships and piers extending down into the water.  The central domed window is the key to the whole thing - the windows that face south can still be seen on the facade of today's Market Gallery.
THEN : A cut-away plan of the South Market building.  Now, the "City Hall" is the second floor Market Gallery, and the "Station" and "Lock Up" are in the basement, where the modern day elevator stops.


THEN : The South Market, circa 1870.

THEN : City Council, in the upstairs City Hall, 1899.

THEN : The Mayor's Office, which would be on the Mezzanine level of today's market.

THEN : Looking up to the City Hall / Market Gallery, 1970s.

THEN : Looking up to the City Hall / Market Gallery, 1970s.

NOW : The Market Gallery, today.

NOW : A former Mayor's Chair, on permanent display in the Market Gallery.
THEN : Between 1900 and 1904, the great iron structure that encloses the South Market, between the old City Hall structure down to the Esplanade, was built.  This is where all the stalls and vendors in the South Market are located today.  It was a bit of an engineering marvel back in the day.  There are no pillars running down the centre of the market; that great iron roof is balanced off the brick walls, and the metal beams would have been pullied up by teams of horses.

THEN : Building the extension to the South Market, circa 1900.

NOW : The extension to the South Market today.

NOW : The South Market today.  This one tends to get more attention than it's northern neighbour, as it's open from Tuesday to Saturday.  The North Market holds the Saturday morning farmer's market, and an antique market on Sundays.

1 comment:

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