Stand outside the Gordon Street entrance of the Farmers’ Market. Walk north, veering right under the railway bridge and onto Wilson, turn right at Carden Street, proceed past City Hall and turn right onto Wyndham; walk down Wyndham, under the railway bridge and past the Armories. Turn right at Farquhar Street, then right again on Fountain Street. Go north. The Armories will be on your right, partially hidden by a big stone wall. Enter the Farmers’ Market.
You have just walked Market Square – the first area cleared by the settlers in 1827, the year Guelph began. You have also visited all the locations of the Guelph Farmers’ Market over the past 180 years because although the market has had several homes, ever since Guelph’s inception, it has always been located somewhere in this block.
The walk around Market Square is a trip through time which holds a microcosm of the history of Guelph, Ontario and indeed agriculture in Ontario.
The Market was Guelph’s First Building
When John Galt planned Guelph, he wanted an “instant city” with a market for locally grown produce. His motivation – drove up prices for the farmland that the Canada Company had for sale. In the 1827 original plan for Guelph, the only building actually designated on the plan is the Market House.
The Growth of the Market
This building didn’t last, and actually neither did the market. However, without a farmers’ market, the merchants and tradesmen who had built up businesses in Market Square (the area now encompassed by Wilson, Carden, Wyndham, Farquhar and Gordon Streets), found attracting customers a tough sell. In 1851, they began lobbying for a building which would house a farmers’ market, town hall, police and fire station. It took five years of intense political fighting, but in 1856, Guelph laid the cornerstone for an imposing stone Market House – Town Hall. This is our present city hall.
The market was located in the West Wing of the building, occupying the basement and ground floor. Surrounding the building was a wide sidewalk with tie posts for horses where every Wednesday and Saturday, the farmers would back up their wagons and sell their goods. Then as now, Guelph’s market featured both an inside and an outside market.
By 1860, the new Market square had become a major hub of agricultural commerce. There were monthly cattle auctions on Wednesdays, a semi-annual horse auction and quarterly livestock fairs.
By 1874, the market needed more room, and a large stone addition was made to the rear of the main building. The outdoor market remained on the Wilson Street end of the Market Square and featured a wood market where townfolk could buy firewood, plus a hay and grain market, as well as a livestock weigh-in for farmers.
The Royal Winter Fair had its beginnings on Market Square
In 1889, Guelph was chosen as the permanent site for the Provincial Winter Fair. It was immensely successful, and buildings were built around Market Square to house the Fair. Notable among the buildings were the Fair’s main building on the corner of Wyndham and Farquhar Streets which became the Armories; a large ediface facing Carden Street which later became Memorial Gardens; and the Horse Barns which now houses the Guelph Farmers’ Market.
In 1922, the Provincial Winter Fair moved to Toronto where it became the Royal Winter Fair. The Fair building was converted into Memorial Gardens. After the Second World War, the building next to Memorial Gardens fronting on Carden Street served as the Farmer’s Market. This building was later torn down, and at that time the Guelph Farmer’s Market moved south into its present location in the old horse barns of the Provincial Winter Fair.
History of Guelph 1827-1927 – Leo A. Johnson, Guelph Historical Society, June 1977
To Market, To Market in Early Guelph – Ross W. Irwin, The Guelph Mercury, November 2nd, 2001
Written by Jacqueline Johnson of Mapleridge Farm, Guelph, On.
For many years Jacqueline was a vendor at the Guelph Farmers’ Market. She is now a freelance writer and editor and can be contacted via the designer of this website should you wish to hire her.