The intersection of Jarvis and Front Sts. imparts a strong connection between food and history. Toronto’s historic St. Lawrence Market can be found there. The historic South Market building built in 1904 still draws hundreds of Torontonians each Tuesday through Saturday looking for the aromatic treasures of more than a dozen stalls, including jarred foods and rare foods, as well as retail products and unusual items.
What many people may not realize is that the 1904 structure incorporates elements of Toronto’s original permanent city hall (minus its roof), which dates back to 1844. The original City Hall’s stone and brick entrance can be found on the street-facing side of the building. Market Gallery, which has been transformed into an exhibition space, is on the second floor of the original council chambers.
Currently, St. Lawrence Market consists of the South Market (Jarvis Street, south of Front Street), the North Market (Jarvis Street, north of Front Street, and temporarily closed) and St. Lawrence Hall (King Street East and Jarvis Street). Since 1803, when Toronto was known as York, the North Market has hosted a Saturday Farmers Market at Front Street and Jarvis.
During that year, Peter Hunter, lieutenant governor of Upper Canada, proclaimed the Market Block to be the land located north of Front St., south of King St., west of Jarvis St., and east of Church St. Obviously, there was more going on than just market business. All sorts of shenanigans were also punished with public flogging and stock and pillory.
Like York resident Elizabeth Ellis, you didn’t want to be a nuisance. Robertson’s Landmarks of Toronto Revisited reports that Ellis was remanded to the pillory twice a week for half an hour each for six months due to her being deemed a nuisance.
A Toronto historian who tours the St. Lawrence Market for years says back then you could still be hanged simply for speaking your mind. “We were still under British rule, so you needed to be careful what you said.”
The brick market structure, which stretched from King Street to Front Street, was built in 1831. The City of Toronto’s first municipal offices were temporarily located at the southwest corner of King St. E. and Jarvis St. when the city was incorporated in 1834.
Fire destroyed much of Toronto in 1849, but only damaged the North Market building while sparing the City Hall building.
The North Market was rebuilt in 1850 and continued to hold weekly farmers’ markets every Saturday. The Old City Hall building, south of Front, was used as a City Hall, a police station, and a jail in the basement. Many of its rear market stalls were filled with fruit, vegetables, and poultry. In response to complaints about flooding in their cells, the prisoners were moved to the Don Jail.
In the basement is the wall of the jail’s original construction, says Bell, who is thankful that South Market and St. Lawrence Hall were untouched by the “urban knockdown” of the 1950s and 1960s when more than 25,000 historically significant buildings were demolished.
Torontonians and tourists alike still make the St. Lawrence Market a highlight of their visit. It remains a vital, vibrant part of the city of Toronto.
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