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Whether you visit the market for a healthy dose of history, or for the local products, the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto is an interesting and fun place to visit. It is located in the centre of the St Lawrence neighbourhood.

St. Lawrence Market Hours are:

  • Tuesday through Thursday 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM, 
  • Fridays from 8:00 AM to 7:00 PM, 
  • Saturdays from 5:00 AM to 5:00 PM.  
  • The market is closed Sunday, Monday and holidays.   

The market is wheel chair accessible and public washrooms are available. From “Shawshank” to lamb shank, Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market today is nothing like its origins 200 years ago.

Today, the St. Lawrence Market, with over 120 specialty merchants, is known as one of the top 25 markets in the world.  With so many colours, so much variety, and so many tempting smells, one can’t help but being awestruck when walking through.  

The market features Ontario farmers‘ products including Canadian artisanal cheese and local produce when in season.  Upon entering the main doors off Front Street one can often be overwhelmed by the sheer number of vendors inside, but there are a few that can’t be missed.  

If you are a cheese lover, be sure to stop by the Olympic Cheese Mart, which has been in the market for over 40 years.  Allow Nick to educate you on the various cheeses they sell.  He can tell you about optimal serving temperatures and ideal pairings, along with having one of the best selections in the market for Quebec artisan cheese

If you are a carnivore at heart, you must check-out the offerings at St. Lawrence Uppercut Meat Packers.  Large cuts of beef can be seen hanging on meat hooks in the meat locker before being cut to order.  According to George, they have been in the St. Lawrence Market for over 27 years.  The employees working here are a friendly bunch and like to joke around.

For the more adventuresome types, there is White House Meats.  After speaking with Derek the butcher, I learned a bit more about unusual meats including duck, buffalo, ostrich, oxtail, boar, camel and kangaroo.  They have been in the Market since 1953 and most of the meat offered is farm raised in Ontario.  

The Carousel Bakery is well known for their ‘World Famous Peameal on a Bun‘.  According to Melissa, they have been in the market for over 30 years.  She offered me a complimentary peameal sandwich, and I have to say this classic Canadian back bacon sandwich was delicious.  It’s no wonder they’ve been around so long.

If the meat markets are not for you don’t worry there is always Dominic’s Fish Market.  This establishment has been at the St. Lawrence Market for over 45 years.  I spoke with the current owner Joe who has owned Dominic’s for the last 20 years.  Joe gave me a tutorial on prawns from the South China Sea and sea bass from the South Pacific.

After checking out the wares on the main floor, head downstairs to continue the culinary adventure in the basement.  The most noteworthy of vendors is Rube’s Rice of St. Lawrence Market.  Rube is the market’s first basement vendor and at 89 years old he goes in to work every day and has been in the market for 33 years specializing in over 50 varieties of rice.  

St. Lawrence Market History

Toronto was originally called the Town of York.  Lake Ontario lapped against Front Street and farms were within walking distance to this hub of the city. The St. Lawrence market opened at the corner of King and Jarvis in 1803.  

In 1820, a wooden shed was constructed to accommodate the various vendors.  In the beginning, boats would dock at the market to deliver goods from surrounding areas, and local farmers would sell their meat, poultry, and produce at this nascent grocery store.  

The Town of York, which began as a colonial outpost for a few hundred people, grew into the City of Toronto in 1834 with over 9,000 residents.  There was another population surge, which brought in Irish immigrants and more wealth.  

By 1844, the bourgeoning City of Toronto needed a respectable City Hall, one that would also house council chambers, municipal offices, Police Station Number One and its jail, plus the already established farmers’ market.  

By 1845, the ‘new’ City Hall was built at a cost of $52,000 to accommodate room for 35 butchers as well as merchants of butter and eggs.  

The Power Brokers of the City of Toronto held meetings for the Council Chamber on the second floor.  Meanwhile, Police Station Number One was on the main floor in the center of the building, and directly beneath it in the basement was the Home District Jail that housed Toronto’s inaugural villains and vagabonds.     

It was business as usual for the Establishment upstairs, but things were not so smooth for the prisoners below who were subjected to severe flooding issues in the basement.  

On a daily basis, prisoners who were shackled to the walls of the basement cells were subject to flooding due to the rise in water levels from the boats docking out front to make deliveries to the market.  Prisoners complained of standing in knee-deep water and in 1851 the building was altered in an attempt to solve this problem.   

However, flooding persisted in the basement and eventually the prisoners were relocated to another building in the city.  From cells to celery, the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto continued to evolve.  

In1899, City Hall moved out and the building was renovated to make room for more market space.  Since 1901, the St. Lawrence Market has been known primarily for its Ontario grown fruits and vegetables, as well as for farm raised meats poultry and seafood.

From jail to Jarlsburg, this City of Toronto Landmark continued to change with the gutting of the basement from 1974 to 1978 in order to add more retail space. 

From the crimes of passion of yesteryear that may delight the history buff to the passion fruit of today that will delight your senses, the St. Lawrence Market is a treat.  

There are many other vendors that must not be overlooked such as Future Bakery, Phil’s Place, Honey World, Kozlik’s, Alex Farms Products and many others. 

One could easily spend a couple of hours tantalizing their palate with local foods with everything the St. Lawrence market in Toronto has to offer. You can always find more information at their official website, www.stlawrencemarket.com.

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