East of Yonge Street and south of Queen Street lies one of Toronto’s most historically significant areas: Old Toronto. While it’s home to architectural gems such as the Flatiron Building and St. Lawrence Hall, iconic landmarks such as the Hockey Hall of Fame, and numerous quaint shops and lively pubs, it’s unequivocally understood that St. Lawrence Market is the heart and soul of the neighbourhood, earning the title of one of the best things to do in Canada.
Strolling along the tree-lined cobblestone Esplanade walkways, street performers and sunny patio cafés that lead to the massive Victorian building, I forgot for a second that I was just steps away from the soaring glass-fronted skyscrapers of the Financial District.
When I entered the building, my senses were stimulated with aromas of freshly-baked bread, the vibrating bellows of an accordion, and colourful fruits and vegetables. The corridors were filled with everyone from retired grocery shoppers to young professionals on a quick lunch break, while the airy feel is accentuated by the soaring ceiling and interior brick decor. It’s no wonder the St. Lawrence Market has been the area’s unofficial meeting spot for over two centuries.
Dating back to 1803, the building was once the Town of York’s first city hall and later a prison before it was transformed into a market where people once traded everything from war canoes to the day’s freshly-caught salmon from Lake Ontario, the shores of which sit no more than a couple hundred meters away. Today, it is home to over 120 specialty vendors in total, including butchers, grocers, cheese makers, food stalls, restaurants and more.
From Guy Fieri and Bobby Flay to Emeril Lagasse, some of the world’s finest chefs have been equally impressed with the great variety of fresh ingredients, organic options and exotic foods that St. Lawrence Market has to offer. On Sundays, a new life is injected to the area with one of Toronto’s best farmers’ markets.
The main draw of Toronto’s culinary scene is that it offers the best of everything–Chinese, Italian, Congolese, Maltese restaurants with authentic dishes from their respective places. However, it would be a pain to say the least to make a trip out to each and every ethnic enclave spread throughout the sprawling metropolis that is Toronto. Whether you’re looking for to snack on pastries or you’re in the mood to sit down and dine, St. Lawrence Market is where you can get a taste of all of Toronto’s diverse food scene all in one centrally-located place.
Soon, however, you’ll begin to see what the market means to Toronto beyond surface level. Walking through St. Lawrence Market, you’ll spot Ukrainian perogies sitting next to a stall selling Indian candy. In another, Jewish bagels contrast nicely against the neighbouring vendor of local Ontario cheeses. The friendly nature of the workers mingling with one another is a beautiful reminder of Toronto’s multicultural diversity coming together under a single copper-clad roof.
Before you get completely overwhelmed by the vast diversity smells and flavors, be sure to check out these most iconic stalls:
The Carousel Bakery is world-famous for its original peameal bacon sandwiches.
St. Urbain was the first place to introduce Montréal-style bagels to Toronto decades ago.
Yianni’s Kitchen offers authentic specialty Greek dishes such as lemon chicken with rice and pork souvlaki,
It’s no secret that Buster’s Sea Cove has the best fish and chips in the area.
Situated in the corner with a wonderful view of bustling Front Street, Paddington’s Pump is the full-service sit-down British pub, a favourite lunch spot of many locals.
A cornerstone of downtown Toronto since its inception, St. Lawrence has played a special role in Toronto’s history every step of the way. It has witnessed everything – the abolitionist movement, the great Underground Railroad, public executions, the Toronto Circus Riot of 1855, the secret whiskey tunnel from the prohibition era and more. Now home to a number of different food and goods stalls stemming from across the world, there’s no doubt that the market has evolved as the city around it has, becoming a beautiful reflection of modern Toronto’s makeup through and through.
You may initially come for the variety in delicious food options, you’ll quickly realize that it is the similarities that are being celebrated here.