History of the Market Gallery and St Lawrence Market

History of the Market Gallery and St Lawrence Market


Welcome to the Market Gallery and the St.
Lawrence Market, one of Toronto’s most significant and historic sites. This is a photograph of
the former city council chamber which is all that remains of Toronto’s original 19th century
City Hall that once stood on this site from 1845 to 1899. The mayor’s chair and the beautiful fan windows
that once overlooked Lake Ontario are still present. A photograph from1899, taken when
the last meeting of city council was held in this room, gives a good illustration of
what this room originally looked like before City Hall vacated this building for what we
today call Old City Hall, at Queen and Bay streets. Located in Toronto’s oldest neighbourhood,
the St. Lawrence Market dates back over 200 years to 1803 when a Saturday market was established
on the site of today’s north market as a place for farmers to sell their goods. The first Market building was a simple wooden
structure located on King Street East. In 1830 it was replaced by a brick building with
an attached two-storey structure to the south; there was an open courtyard for the weekly
market as seen in this image of a model which recreated what that building looked like.
This market building was destroyed by fire in 1849 and the St. Lawrence Hall on King
Street was built in its place in 1851. Contrary to popular belief, the St. Lawrence
Hall was never Toronto’s City Hall. The confusion may be because Toronto city council met in
the previous market building on this King Street site from 1834 (the year the Town of
York was incorporated as the city of Toronto) until 1845 when the first official City Hall
was built one block south on Front Street at Jarvis Street. This Front Street City Hall was a multi-purpose
building; Police Station # 1 was located on the main floor, with jails cells in the basement.
The council chamber was located directly above on the second floor, accessible by a staircase
located in the entrance foyer. The council chamber, today in use as the Market Gallery
exhibit space, was originally two storeys high with a balcony above the north end that
served as a public gallery. An impressive view of the harbour and Lake Ontario would
have been visible through the fan windows facing south, which today look over the main
floor of the market. Across Front Street from this 19th century
City Hall a new north market building which included butchers’ stalls was built in 1851
behind St. Lawrence Hall. While the operation of a public market in Toronto was a convenience
to its citizens, it was also essential to regulate the slaughter and sale of meat within
the city limits in the interest of public health and sanitation. Market regulations
limited the sale of fresh meat to licensed butchers in the market. Cattle once walked
Front Street! At the turn of the 20th century with Toronto’s
population close to 200,000 citizens, the mayor, councillors and staff moved to the
City Hall at the top of Bay Street. The Front Street City Hall was vacated and replaced
by the south market building that we see today. The cupola, pediment and side wings of the
former City Hall were removed and a huge roof was placed over the entire structure. The
council chamber was spared demolition but its floor was raised to allow for more height
in the main entranceway below and the ceiling was lowered due to the intrusion of the new
beams needed to support the roof. Other than some furniture and the paintings
which were moved and are still in the City’s collection, other furnishings including the
ornate ceiling, staircase, balcony and fireplaces were removed and have since been lost. Altered almost beyond recognition except for
the Front Street centre portion (note the windows, arched doorways and alternating stone
and brick in today’s façade) it has provided Toronto with a much larger weekly permanent
market since 1902. In 2012 it was identified as one of the top ten markets in the world
by National Geographic. Meanwhile across the street, a new north market
building was built in 1904 primarily for the Saturday farmers’ market. Similar in design
and with a corresponding roofline to the south market building, a canopy connected the two
buildings until that was removed in the 1950s. In 1968 the north market was demolished and
replaced by the present one storey building. Farmers still arrive early Saturday morning
to sell their meat, produce and baked goods as they have been doing for over 200 years.
On Sundays more than 80 antique dealers fill the north market displaying their treasures. In 1971, the south market building was close
to being demolished. The council chamber had been left vacant for close to 70 years while
the market on the main floor eventually fell into rack and ruin and did not meet the fire
code. Fortunately a public meeting later that year
revealed tremendous support to save the building. In 1972, Time and Place, a group of Torontonians
interested in the continuity of the City’s life, proposed that this historic building
be renovated. As for the boarded-up and vacant former council chamber, an appropriate and
dignified use, such as a ‘City display space’ was suggested. In 1979 with the second and third floor renovations
completed, the Market Gallery was opened. Today the gallery occupies this 2nd floor
council chamber where exhibitions on the art, culture and history of Toronto are presented.
The third floor houses offices, work space for the preparation of exhibits including
matting and framing, and a museum-standard vault for the storage and preservation of
the City’s art collection. Hopefully you have enjoyed this brief history
of Toronto’s original 19th century City Hall, the Market Gallery and the market buildings.
Thank you for your visit to the gallery. [We hope you also enjoy our current exhibit.]

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