Design competition to replace St. Lawrence Market’s North Building

The City of Toronto is launching a design competition to replace the North Building of historic St. Lawrence Market and they’re calling all architects to join them.

The redevelopment of the St. Lawrence Complex will replace the existing single-storey North Market with a four-storey multi-purpose building that is more energy efficient, environmentally sustainable, and sensitive to the history and heritage of the building and its surrounding area. The site of the original City Hall, the St. Lawrence Complex  is made up of St. Lawrence Hall, the South and North Market buildings and the Market Hall Gallery.

Toronto’s tradition of the Saturday Farmers’ Market began on this site in 1803 when the building was no more than a wooden structure, later enclosed on three sides in 1820. In 1831, it was replaced with a quadrangular brick structure, designed by James Cooper, which was later destroyed in the Great Fire of 1849, along with most of the City. Rebuilt and renamed in honour of Canada’s Patron Saint and for the the ward in which it is located, the market now included St. Lawrence Hall, a social hub for public meetings, concerts and lectures. The North Market building has been demolished and rebuilt twice since, in 1904 and 1968.

Mayor David Miller, along with City Councillor Pam McConnell and the St. Lawrence community will be holding an official launch of the competition on Thursday, November 12 at 11am in the North Market building, at 92 Front St. East, with the local merchants providing complimentary refreshments.

Photo by Grant MacDonald


  1. Though I’m not opposed to having a new building on this site, I have always thought that an open-air market might also have worked, and might have been better given that it would be sandwiched between the St. Lawrence Market Market and St. Lawrence Hall and offered a visual link between the two. I realize that open air markets have their disadvantages, but this is one place where I think it might have worked.

    But I also look forward to what the design competition produces. Is Libeskind in the room?

  2. Rather than tear down an unremarkable – but by Toronto standards it could easily be a whole lot worse – building, couldn’t they build a new market building on the parking lot directly south of the old St. Lawrence Market?

  3. Exciting!

    Although, I really think it would be more environmentally friendly if the winning design adaptively reused/revitalized the existing 1968 structure, while also increasing density at the site.

    I guess truckloads of landfill waste and lost embodied energy is a small price to pay for a clean slate…

  4. They should try to copy the architectural look of the St. Lawrence Hall and try to extend the building so it looks like it expanded southward. So that when finished it will look like one St. Lawrence Hall building, and not two separate buildings attached to each other.

  5. I hope the designs consider the possibility of a stop here on the downtown relief line. This would be an important connection in SE downtown.

  6. The north market building could do with some updating and it would be lovely to design a structure fitting to its past. It is the Old Town Market Area and I hope competing architects keep in mind that it “is” a market and not a call for another mall or megamart.

    The whole appeal of the St. Lawrence market is its variety of vendors. I particularly love the farmer’s market on Saturdays with its outdoor stalls that sell locally grown fruits and vegetables to its yearly finale with the Christmas trees.

    One just needs to look at the open air markets of Paris, Amsterdam and New York to appreciate their charm, history and accessibility. If Toronto is looking to be a World Class city, it should take notes from some Old World winning features. Please keep my open-air market alive!

  7. This is great news. It’s very exciting to see this finally starting. I’d be happy with any building that was less of a dark bunker than the current one. Something that is neither too faux-historic or too modernist would be nice. The new building will definitely be taller, with several stories, and will contain facilities such as the traffic courts which will be used when the main market is not. This alone will increase the density and usage. The current single-use one-story building sits empty most of the time, which is a waste of prime public real estate in my opinion.

    The parking lot to the south of the two markets is already slated for redevelopment: the south portion will be the Market Wharf condos and retail, while the northern part will eventually extend the existing David Crombie park along the Esplanade. In the meantime, that space will be the site of a temporary North Market to be used while the permanent one is being rebuilt.

  8. I think citypainter is correct. The parking lot to the south is a future park and the Market Wharf condos and main floor drug store is under construction in the lot just south of Wilton Street.

    The odd part of this project is the 250 space parking facility that is part of the future North Market. Market Wharf includes a short-term above-grade parking lot and is adjacent to one of the biggest above-grade commercial parking garages in the country. The big parking garage is almost empty on Saturdays; however, during the week it’s full of commuters.

    With all of the wonderful infill housing projects in the area, how much more wasteful parking do we need next to the St. Lawrence Market? Does intensification tranlate to more parking for communters? How energy efficient and environmentally sustainable is the North Market project? How is an additional new parking garage sensitive to the history and heritage of the surrounding area?

  9. I have my fingers crossed for Pritzker winner. Or some local work that doesn’t look like dozens of previous government commissions.

  10. Interesting competition. I can certainly see how an outdoor market like the New York Greenmarket might work just fine on the site, though Toronto’s weather is slightly colder than New York’s and there probably is some utility to be had from a building that can be used for events and other functions during the week.

    Here are some examples of recent farmers-market structures:

    London, Ont –
    Montreal –
    Santa Fe –
    Halifax –
    Vancouver –

  11. Why is it that whenever there is a public announcement about this plan it is referred to as a new North Market Building? In fact, Councillor McConnell and our green Mayor are supporting the building of a 5-day a week courthouse masquerading as a 1-day a week farmer’s market – including a 250 space underground parking garage that will bring an additional churn of 1000 vehicles per day into an already vehicle-clogged area – hardly environmentally friendly and hardly sensitive to the history and heritage of the area. No matter how LEED the new building, it’s impact on the neighbourhood – more vehicles, more pollution – will be nothing but detrimental. Several underground garages already serve the area and are mostly only 50% full on the weekends which is when the North Market operates. Ah – but the courthouse – yes, that will require more underground parking! It is interesting to note that there is not one mention of the courthouse use in the posting notice above. Doesn’t that speak volumes!?

    The Councillor suggests she has neighbourhood approval and will point to the SLNA and BIA as proof of support. And she uses the fact of its zoning to avoid a full-fledged community meeting on the merits of her plan. What everyone in the area knows, of course, is that the SLNA represents hardly any neighbourhood residents – especially the thousands who populate many of the newer condos in the area. Most residents have never heard of the SLNA and its approval for this project was rammed through by the Executive Committee as soon as some community opposition became apparent. As for the BIA – well, they’d dig up most of Front Street if they thought they could add more useless parking.

    Bottom line, the old building could be restored for a fraction of the cost of a new building and there is no need whatsoever for yet another parking garage – unless, of course, you are really building a courthouse.

  12. Although I would welcome a better use of this building, what the City seems to be ignoring is the fact that the “North Building” – however we may feel about it’s overall design – is a listed Heritage Property as of June 20, 1973 according to the new 311 website. It seems that Toronto has a sad record for ignoring our architectural history in favour of new development.

    I am all in favour of improving the use of this building – having been inside for not only the farmer’s market but other craft shows, book shows, etc. in the past. Aesthetically it can use some improvement, but I would prefer to see our heritage buildings reused in a way that preserves them for future generations. The building is not structurally unsound, it serves its purpose – it just needs to be looked at in terms of improving functionality and aesthetics.

    You need to look at the neighbourhood as a whole and the line that the buildings create – from the South Market, to the North Market, to St. Lawrence Hall – 3 buildings that are historically linked and designated. This neighbourhood, especially with the buildings all along King St. are rich in historical buildings – many of which have been restored and reused in a more appropriate way – keeping the a consistent “Old Toronto” look to the area. Unlike Montreal or Quebec City, which have clearly visible and distinguishable “old” areas full of historical buildings, Toronto’s old sections are dwindling into tiny pockets surrounded by condos and parking lots.

    Leave St. Lawrence Market and the surrounding historical area alone. There’s enough development opportunity elsewhere.

  13. Olena, I am not sure that the North Market building is a heritage building. The inventory contains an entry for 92 Front Street East, but this is a cross reference to 151 King Street East, which is St. Lawrence Hall. The inventory can be confusing in this regard, since a single “building” can exist on multiple “properties”, each of which are found in the Inventory for legal purposes. It would be extremely unusual for a 1968 building that is fairly undistinguished to have been added to the inventory in 1973.

    At any rate, I’m not sure that the North Market really contributes much to the heritage aspect of the neighbourhood, apart from its brick. I am opposed to a building that apes a nonexistant “Old Toronto” feel to it, and would prefer something that both reflects its age and fits in admirably. Perhaps we could take a cue from the Market Square Buildings right beside, very much of their era, yet also very appropriate contextual showing a lot of deference to their context. As far as I am concerned, if Toronto lacks an “old town” the very worst response is to try and build one using modern methods and materials. “Ye olde” buildings constructed recently are rarely loved.

  14. “Ye olde” buildings constructed recently are frequently loved if designed by Robert A.M. Stern or Demetri Porphyrios. I can’t see Demetri chasing this job but Stern has done some buildings in Toronto and I could see them throwing their hat in the ring for a traditional market building.

  15. I’ve looked at a couple of conceptual drawings and proposed designs of the new North Market and I don’t see any space for the open-air kiosks. I like shopping outside, off of the tables and out on the street. Do I have to go “indoors” now for my “outdoor” shopping experience?
    I like that the outside vendors change according to the season. The eye-candy that is a table loaded with fruits or veg in canopied in bright daylight, either in the cool breezes of spring or chill winds of fall always makes me happy. In the winter I am drawn to the beautiful Christmas tree lot and shop happily outdoors. (I doubt any of us have ever bought a tree from an indoor lot!)
    I think by putting everything indoors will lessen the curb appeal of the new structure. Keep sellers out front as a quick visual reference.

  16. “a 250 space underground parking garage that will bring an additional churn of 1000 vehicles per day into an already vehicle-clogged area”

    Except that it was noted that the Market area is going to lose the south parking to condofication. Also, TPA could be told to lose the on-street parking on King east and west of Jarvis to assist streetcar flow.

    I have no problem with the City funding uses for buildings that extend to more than 14% of the week. What is the problem with courthouse use, precisely?

  17. In answer to Shawn’s comment on the vacant lot immediately south of the south Market. This is owned by the City and is where the temporary North Market is going to go during construction. After that it will become a park, as an extension on the west side of Lower Jarvis of David Crombie Park.
    The lot further south is the site of Market Wharf and they have just started site preparation.

  18. Those concerned about an outdoor aspect of the market should be happy to hear that the competition brief contains this clause:

    “Market Lane Park borders the North Market site to the west. The Development Parameters call for an animated park frontage with large windows that open up in the summer months. Therefore, the new building must engage this park, and the west elevation of the building will require careful consideration.”

    This sounds good to me, and should leave the Front St. sidewalk less obstructed for those who simply want to walk past.

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