Kingston's Market Square is arguably the oldest commercial market in Ontario. A market reserve -- as a matter of course -- was included in the original town plot laid out by Lt. John Holland in 1783. For any urban centre, even embryonic frontier villages, the market was the focal point, even the raison d'etre of the place. It was the point of exchange for goods and services, the defining point for the town itself. As Brian Osborne and Donald Swainson observe, "In many ways this daily market was the very pulse of the little community."

It was the focal point for the purely local trade in foodstuffs and fuel, all the consumables that supported day to day life in Kingston.The market began as an open grassy plot, in the midst of a growing urban centre. In the era before municipal parks it also functioned as the social centre of the town. On Sundays and in the evenings it hosted picnics, Methodist revivals, regimental bands, political speeches, and sundry less edifying spectacles such as occurred 28th March 1835, when James Williamson publicly horsewhipped John Vincent, editor of the Spectator. It was where the town crier cried the news, where the garrison sentine Read More
Kingston's Market Square is arguably the oldest commercial market in Ontario. A market reserve -- as a matter of course -- was included in the original town plot laid out by Lt. John Holland in 1783. For any urban centre, even embryonic frontier villages, the market was the focal point, even the raison d'etre of the place. It was the point of exchange for goods and services, the defining point for the town itself. As Brian Osborne and Donald Swainson observe, "In many ways this daily market was the very pulse of the little community."

It was the focal point for the purely local trade in foodstuffs and fuel, all the consumables that supported day to day life in Kingston.The market began as an open grassy plot, in the midst of a growing urban centre. In the era before municipal parks it also functioned as the social centre of the town. On Sundays and in the evenings it hosted picnics, Methodist revivals, regimental bands, political speeches, and sundry less edifying spectacles such as occurred 28th March 1835, when James Williamson publicly horsewhipped John Vincent, editor of the Spectator. It was where the town crier cried the news, where the garrison sentinel stood and, where the town fire brigade was located.

As important as the market was, historian Edwin Horsey's description of the Market circa 1820 provides a corrective to our modern tendency to romanticise:

The Market Square was not then of much account.

By 1834 the question of a proper market house for Kingston was being addressed by the District magistrates who envisioned a permanent stone configuration of a combined Market House and City Hall.

In 1834, the Kingston Chronicle and Gazette wrote:

[It is with much pleasure that we learn that the Magistrates have it in contemplation to build a very extensive and handsome markethouse in this town . . . The building which is to be of cut stone, will contain 28 stalls and as many butchers shops. The upper floor is to be partly occupied as a commodious Town Hall. The dilapidated and insecure condition of the present markethouse is a matter of notoriety and any project of improvement in this respect will be hailed with pleasure by our fellow townsmen.]

For many years, the market continued to be the social, commercial heart of the city. The market continued in its roles as the main Kingston market for perishables and the rostrum for public announcements such as Confederation, and Sir John A. Macdonald's death in 1891; however most other consumer items began to be more profitably marketed in permanent retail stores on Princess Street. By the 1890s Market Square had become known as the ‘Produce Market' - a farmers market in the modern sense. By the early 20th century the market had become largely redundant and its valuable space reallocated to automobile parking. Local tradition maintains that the Market never completely shut down. When City Hall was refurbished in 1973 it sparked a renewed interest in Market Square and led to the rejuvenation of the farmers vegetable and fruit market. In 2005, the city undertook to reclaim Market Square as a public space, refurbishing it as a skating rink in the winter and a open plaza for market days and other public gatherings throughout the year. While the Market is no longer a farmer's market in the traditional sense, and now offers a variety of artisan products, plants, produce and food stuffs, it retains its role as a gathering place bringing people again, to the centre of city.
Excerpted from Market Square: Stage 2 Archaeological Assessment prepared by Earl Moorehead for the Cataraqui Archaeological Research Foundation.
© 2007, Cataraqui Archaeological Research Foundation. All Rights Reserved.

1673 Fort Frontenac is established as a military post but also used extensively as a trading post

1744 Fort Frontenac is strengthened and becomes a major supply depot for newly established interior posts

1754 Two merchants have warehouses and wharves near the Fort; Kingston pulls ahead of other towns commercially due to its forwarding trade

1758 Fort Frontenac falls to the British, and they find it well stocked with Indian goods, military and naval stores and provisions; 110 settlers and natives live in a settlement surrounding the Fort

1783 Loyalist refugees of the American Revolution settle in the Kingston area, including Molly Brant and her family; Surveyor General Samuel Holland assesses that there is a good space for a town and harbour, and notes that a town with eight houses has already begun to grow up close the Fort

1792 The market exists informally

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1673 Fort Frontenac is established as a military post but also used extensively as a trading post

1744 Fort Frontenac is strengthened and becomes a major supply depot for newly established interior posts

1754 Two merchants have warehouses and wharves near the Fort; Kingston pulls ahead of other towns commercially due to its forwarding trade

1758 Fort Frontenac falls to the British, and they find it well stocked with Indian goods, military and naval stores and provisions; 110 settlers and natives live in a settlement surrounding the Fort

1783 Loyalist refugees of the American Revolution settle in the Kingston area, including Molly Brant and her family; Surveyor General Samuel Holland assesses that there is a good space for a town and harbour, and notes that a town with eight houses has already begun to grow up close the Fort

1792 The market exists informally

1801 The market is founded, but not as a formal or legal entity

1811 Market regulations are first published by district magistrates

1822 A second set of market regulations is published by the Court of Quarter Sessions: ". . . the square between King and Front (Ontario) streets, shall be the Market Square . . ."

1838 The title of the Market is passed from the Crown to the newly incorporated town of Kingston, though it is still not registered or legally described

1840 Kingston purchases Lot 1 from Herchmer estate to enlarge and consolidate market square

1840 (April 16) Fire burns the market buildings

1841 Properties with life leases on the south side of market square are reclaimed by Kingston

1841 The first legal survey of market square is conducted

1841 Kingston uses market square properties to underwrite the financing of City Hall and market buildings

1843 (June 2) The cornerstone of Kingston's City Hall is laid

1844 Kingston's City Hall is finished

1848 The title of Market Square is officially registered with the City

1865 (January 10) Catastrophic fire engulfs the market house wing of City Hall; Kingston council votes to rebuild the Market Wing in an abbreviated form

1867 Canadian confederation is announced at Market Square

1891 Sir John A. Macdonald's death is announced at Market Square

Early 20th Century The market has become redundant because people now purchase necessities at stores, and the site is paved to be used as a parking lot

1973 Kingston City Hall is refurbished and there is renewed interest in traditions of Market Square prompting re-opening of a farmer's market

2005 Excavations of Market Square are conducted, and foundations of old Market wing are uncovered; Market Square is rejuvenated, re-surfaced to be an outdoor skating rink in the winter
Excerpted from Kingston Archaeological Master Plan Study: Stage 1 Report published by the Cataraqui Archaeological Research Foundation.
© 2007, Cataraqui Archaeological Research Foundation. All Rights Reserved.

Impromptu Market in Cambodia

Impromptu Market in Cambodia

Cataraqui Archaeological Research Foundation
Earl Moorehead, Hannah Roth

© 2007, Cataraqui Archaeological Research Foundation. All Rights Reserved.


Outdoor Market in Hanoi, Vietnam

Outdoor Market in Hanoi, Vietnam

Cataraqui Archaeological Research Foundation
Earl Moorehead, Hannah Roth

© 2007, Cataraqui Archaeological Research Foundation. All Rights Reserved.


Outdoor Market in Donetsk, Ukraine

Outdoor Market in Donetsk, Ukraine

Cataraqui Archaeological Research Foundation
Earl Moorehead, Hannah Roth

© 2007, Cataraqui Archaeological Research Foundation. All Rights Reserved.


Indoor Market in Kota Baru, Malaysia

Indoor Market in Kota Baru, Malaysia

Cataraqui Archaeological Research Foundation
Earl Moorehead, Hannah Roth

© 2007, Cataraqui Archaeological Research Foundation. All Rights Reserved.


Kingston Market Square, 19th Century

Kingston Market Square, 19th Century

Cataraqui Archaeological Research Foundation
Earl Moorehead, Hannah Roth

© 2007, Cataraqui Archaeological Research Foundation. All Rights Reserved.


Poster Announcing the Ceremonial Laying of the Foundation Stone for Kingston City Hall, 1843

Poster Announcing the Ceremonial Laying of the Foundation Stone for Kingston City Hall, 1843. Access a larger version of this image.

Cataraqui Archaeological Research Foundation
Earl Moorehead, Hannah Roth

© 2007, Cataraqui Archaeological Research Foundation. All Rights Reserved.


Announcement of Confederation, Kingston Market Square, 1867

Announcement of Confederation, Kingston Market Square, 1867

Cataraqui Archaeological Research Foundation
Earl Moorehead, Hannah Roth

© 2007, Cataraqui Archaeological Research Foundation. All Rights Reserved.


Learning Objectives

  1. Learn about the factors that caused and contributed to the urban and societal changes in the Kingston area from pre-history, circa 7000 B.C.E. until circa 1900 B.C.E.
  2. Examine the role the market plays in communities around the world.
  3. Analyze the development of the market as a traditional meeting place and centre for commerce, social, and political interaction within Canadian communities.
  4. Look at the development, and changes over the years, noting the important events involving Kingston Market Square.

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