In 1826, Lieutenant Colonel John By of the Royal Engineers was sent from England to oversee the construction of the Rideau Canal system, which was designed to connect the Ottawa River to Kingston, on the St. Lawrence River. Bytown, was established with Upper Town to the west of the canal, and Low Town to the east. Upper Town was settled by officers, tradesmen and professionals, and Lower Town by labourers who had come to Bytown seeking employment during the building of the canal.
Also, in 1827, Colonel By used 160 pounds of revenue from property rents to build a market building with a courthouse behind it on George Street. This was the original market building, large for the time, and constructed of timber with dovetailed corners, a veranda on each side, and an attached weighing machine. This building served both as a centre for market activities, and as a public hall for political and religious meetings. In 1842 the market building and the courthouse in the centre of George Street were dismantled. However, the market area continued to operate in a haphazard way around the remains of the old market building.
Five market buildings later- in 1926 the present building was built. The history of the area and buildings is colourful, with numerous fires, clashes between Upper Town, and Lower Town, and even a riot or two. Agricultural and commercial activity has always been a part of the Byward market area.
The expanded market area over its 190 year history has included bakeries, bottling works, a soap and candle factory, a broom manufacturer, as well as carriage and furniture manufacturers. Over the years many of the market’s original industries and services have given way to boutiques and restaurants. Ottawa residents and tourists continue to gather in the area to purchase vegetables and groceries, as well as to enjoy the vendors and street entertainment.
With the LRT approaching the area, and the lack of street parking, the City of Ottawa is discussing ways to emphasis the Market building, and keep the Market Area a viable commercial hub. I hope that the City’s intervention learns from the market’s rich history and initiatives of the local merchants are respected.