St. Lawrence Market

St. Lawrence Market in the 1880's (Toronto Archive)

We were happy to have the opportunity to visit one of the oldest markets in Canada, the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto.  Andrew, Debbie, and Stephanie Levy, friends of Lindsay’s from Mississauga/Vancouver, toured us around the market and showed us all the best spots.

The St. Lawrence market has been operating from its current location since 1803; while it’s seen many different structures, all of them have served as a food marketing space.  The building that houses the North Market was constructed in 1968, and the South Market’s current space was built in 1904.  In the mid 1800’s, the South Market site was also home to Toronto’s City hall, and the basement housed the city’s jail cells.  

We started by perusing the North Market, which is only open on Saturdays (from 5am until 5pm) and houses the weekly farmers market from spring until fall.   We sampled various fruits (it was the height of peach season!),

ate some very tasty elk sausage,

and stood, gape-jawed, at just how long a cow’s tongue can be. 

Mostly, we were impressed at how much variety was offered under one roof, and how reasonably priced the local produce was.

From there, we crossed the street to the South Market, where approximately 120 vendors sell goods year-round from Tuesday-Saturday.  We waited in a long line for the iconic peameal bacon sandwich from Carousel Bakery.

The British pork producer William Davies first created peameal bacon in the 1800’s in Toronto; he loved the quality of Canadian pork, and started exporting it to Britain and selling at the St. Lawrence market in 1854.  He developed what we now know as peameal bacon (or Canadian bacon), which is cured and trimmed boneless pork loin rolled in ground yellow peas (or cornmeal) for preservation purposes.   Even something as timeless as bacon has an origin story.  Be proud, Toronto!

Apparently, there is a rivalry between a few shops—Paddington's Pump, Sausage King, and Carousel Bakery—over who has the top hog sandwich.  We didn’t argue with Andrew’s choice to bring us to Carousel, because he assured us it was the best, and you don’t get in the way of a man and his cured meats.  Whether the others are better or worse does not matter, because the sandwich we had at Carousel was GOOD.  I’ve never been crazy about peameal bacon, but that sandwich successfully changed my mind forever.

National Geographic rated the St. Lawrence as the number one food market in the world, and I can see why.  It was busy, energetic, and had a conviviality that only a market of its age could have.  It was truly one of the most spectacular old markets we’ve been to, and it’s very well supported.

A huge thanks to the Levy family for giving a comfortable place to sleep, making us cappuccinos and Levy pancakes in the morning, and for helping us navigate the St. Lawrence Market.  We couldn’t have had better guides!