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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

This Ain’t the St. Lawrence Market

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In 1988, Toronto City Council wanted to rescue a Queen West heritage site by making it into a destination market, similar to the St. Lawrence Market. The City signed a 50 year lease with a company that agreed to host a bakery, meat and seafood store, fruit and vegetable stand, and food stands with prepared and unprepared meals within its market.

Instead, 20 years later, we’ve got the Queen Street Market, which is a slew of moderately diverse take-out stands that, notwithstanding four walls and roof, doesn’t resemble the St. Lawrence Market in the slightest.

Until a legal issue [PDF] surfaced on today’s City Council agenda [PDF], I had no idea the City was connected with the Queen Street Market. Now that I know it is and that the provisions of the lease signed with Market Inc. mandate a more market-like market (as opposed to food court-style), I feel disappointed by what is there.

Although Market Inc. isn’t providing space to the big chains like McDonald’s and I do enjoy a meal from Sandwich Box on occasion, offering a more traditional style market would be a nice change of pace from the many other food joints in the area while providing local residents with better grocery choices and acting as another point of interest for visitors.

According to the City of Toronto’s heritage properties inventory, St. Patrick Market was built in 1912 and designated a heritage site in 1975.

Photograph by Jenilynn.



  1. Oh what a tangle web we weave……

    Seriously, I miss St. Andrews. That was really market fresh.

  2. According to Market Inc. the city’s portion of utilities and services amount to $37,140 per year. Assuming they have not paid anything since commencement of the sub lease.

    Just what the hell is the city doing down there? Running a grow-op?


  3. Since that section of Queen West resembles nothing more than a giant mall, I see no reason why it shouldn’t have its own food court.

  4. I miss getting pissed seeing bands at the Bev and then drunkenly sitting down on those steps in front of a sign that said “Oven Ready Ducks”. I guess they meant toasted.

  5. This just goes to show how problematic 50-year contracts can be. In this case, it seems likely that city officials and local residents forgot about the terms of the lease, leaving the lease-holders the freedom to do whatever they wanted. Let’s hope that the same thing doesn’t happen with Astral and their street furniture contract…

    Interestingly, even with the influx of residents via condo development and the recent proliferation of farmers’ markets and grocery stores downtown, that area is still lacking in places to buy groceries (relatively speaking–there is that 24-hour store). And given the way rents have skyrocketed in the area, I can’t imagine that it would be feasible for a grocery store to open there–unless it were located in the city-owned Queen St. Market, where in theory, rents would be affordable. I wonder how much rent Market Inc. gets from its current tenants, vs how much it would have been able to get from market-style tenants? Shouldn’t the city be demanding a change in the amount of rent it charges Market Inc. if the amount is significantly higher? I can’t imagine that Ben & Jerry’s pays the same amount that Joe The Butcher would have…

  6. Melissa, according to the staff report, part of the legal dispute is over whether the City has been getting the 10% of net profits from the Market rents. Also, the B&J’s has closed; it and a few other stalls are sitting empty at the moment.

  7. I don’t think I’ve ever ventured all the way into the Queen St. Market and certainly had no idea there was municipal backing. An abandoned B&J, myeh Tea Shop 168 and signs for a place called Lou’s Shawarma aren’t the best selling points.

  8. I don’t know much about the history of it, I think the Queen Market as it is is is pretty great. It’s a pretty cool selection of lunch places, operating in the sort of super-competitive environment that dense cities can create. It’s way better than any mall food court I’ve been to, with a pretty great selection of really good lunch options. The three “all-you-can-fit-in-a-box” buffets are worth the trip themselves.

    It may not have been what it was supposed to be, but I think it’s evolved into a pretty special place. It’s definitely not just some standard mall-style food court, and I don’t know of any place like it in downtown Toronto. (If anyone does- let me know!)

  9. If you’ve got a Toronto Public Library card, you can read the Star’s coverage of the deal back in 1988. Protesters at the time called it “The City’s Latest Gift to Wealthy Developers”.

    Apparently, the idea to make it a neighbourhood market dates all the way back to 1836! Maybe it was a great idea then, but a lot has changed in how people buy food since. I’m just not convinced the original idea is feasible — it seems like a much smaller building than the St. Lawrence Market, Chinatown isn’t that far away, and larger grocery stores are popping up around downtown without the city’s help.

  10. [troll]Queen East is the new Queen West, and it has a real market to boot[/troll]

  11. Wasn’t this builing an abattoir in its past life?

  12. Just to place this in context. The land on which the market was built was donated by the Boulton family, owners of lots of land such as the Grange Park, the AGO, St. George the Martyr, Harrison Baths, — all the way down to Queen Street. They donated the land for a “public market”. Somehow w got an 80 year lease for Storks chicken. Many of us frequented Storks – best chicken and tureys around, however the stench of the slaughtering and the parking of trucks was too much.

    During the early 1970’s residents spent about 20 years or so to work towards a change in the lease. They/we were astonished to see our efforts get converted into a 50 year lease to activities which did not match the original condition of the bequest.

    And another thing, the name of the market changed from St. Patrick’s Market just for marketing – and over residents’ objection.

  13. We should also note the terrific minature park directly behind the Queen Street Market. It’s a pocket park and looks onto a once gritty alley, some of the narrowest houses I’ve ever seen and the back of the Harrison baths.

    It’s a great place to eat your lunch on a sunny day if you don’t want to go up to the Grange. It’s a great little micro-cosm of city life.

  14. Gosh, how quickly time passes! I remember so well when the building was a chicken slaughterhouse, and a constant gentle snow of feathers pervaded the just-beginning-to-gentrify neighbourhood. That was back in the ’80s when Susur Lee was cooking at Peter Pan around the corner, the newly-opened Amsterdam on John was our first brew pub, Richmond and Adelaide had garment factories instead of clubs, and the opera house, the SkyDome, the CBC building, Metro Hall, the “Scotiabank” Theatre and the NFB were yet to be.