Is this a North Market or a maximum-security prison?

Historic, world-famous St. Lawrence Market needs a new North Market building to replace the temporary garage it’s been forced to use for decades. That priority that has been abandoned by an amalgamated city hall that considers our Downtown a place to dump what the ruling suburbs think doesn’t suit their own residential neighbourhoods.

For the better part of its two centuries of existence, St. Lawrence Market has had a mirror building on the site of the North Market. The insanity of “urban renewal” in the 1960s saw much of our city’s most stunning architecture bashed to dust and replaced by mediocrity, as The Bulletin’s Associate Editor, Historian Bruce Bell, details in most editions.

Now there’s a city budget to fix that but the proposed replacement on an historic site in St. Lawrence Neighbourhood that is a part of historic Old Town Toronto would run over the budget. So no go.

And an opportunity is born to find a less-ordinary solution that actually hearkens to our history on that historic site rather than the prisonesque structure arranged largely by city bureaucrats.

City hall bureaucrats, many of whom don’t even live near here, dominated a “citizen” consultation on a new North Market that existed for a number of years before new bureaucrats took charge.

There is still time to save our neighbourhood the embarrassment of this awful chunk of architecture where the North Market should be.

In that pre-amalgamation committee it was proposed to create a tunnel beneath Market Street to underground facilities beneath the new North Market for trucks that service the two St. Lawrence Markets (North and South). Car parking would also be accessed via the tunnel.  Further, there would be a pedestrian tunnel leading between the two buildings so the awkward pedestrian crossings at Front Street would be diminished.“Nope,” said the bureaucrats. At $10 million to re-jig the water and sewer lines beneath Front Street it’s just too dear.

The city hall Silos (separate departments and facilities) that often compete with each other for your tax money dominated the latter stages of the “consultation” with local residents. They decided that asking foreigners to get involved with our historic neighbourhood would be a really neat thing. So an “international competition” was set up and the “red” plan was selected. That’s the one you see on this page.

To top it off, the proposed North Market would contain a cop station, courts, judges, clerks, lawyers, defendants, the whole unhappy law’n order ball of …

Understandably, some Market merchants just want their new building even if it is a parody of what should be built. Some local merchants agree: Just build something!

But many people, like ex-Mayor John Sewell, consider the “red” plan a monstrous mistake.

Probably $1 million-plus has been blown on this mess already. A smaller structure that actually augments the historic nature of the St. Lawrence Market Neighbourhood portion of Old Town Toronto could be built for a lot less.

St. Lawrence Market is, first and foremost, a food market populated strictly by small vendors. For over two centuries. It’s not a food market for chains. Also it’s a market for small vendors of small things that people can carry away. You can’t buy an insurance policy or a chain-link fence there. Not yet. Nor should you ever.

What is needed is a reflection of our history and of the basic food and small-merchant paradigm of the South Market. No courts, no offices, no jail cells, no underground parking to further gridlock Jarvis Street. No city bureaucracies. We need a place for small businesses because large corporations and their franchises increasingly dominate our streetscape.

— Frank Touby


(Updated from a piece first published July 1, 2013 in The Bulletin printed edition)