Built in 1876, the Saint John City Market is the oldest continuing farmer's market in Canada. The Market forms the historic centerpiece of a revitalized city centre as it lies adjacent to the main street of the urban core area and abuts the City’s most prominent public square, “King’s Square”. The unique architectural design of the building reveals an exterior façade reflective of the Victorian era in which it was built, while the interior space of the Market resembles the hull of a ship. The design was an intentional nod to the City’s economic and cultural heritage, as the City was an active ship building port city in the 19th Century.
The City Market is popular gathering space for people of all ages. It is a place where vendors sell a range of local and international goods along four banks of stalls running the entire length of the building. The Market is well integrated into the City Centre both in terms of its architecture, its entrances from the outdoors, as well as an indoor connection to the City pedway system.
The Market is a highly valued meeting space for people from across the region. It serves as an affordable place to get lunch, a convenient location to grocery shop, an excellent source of local artisan goods, fresh seafood and locally roasted coffee. The Market is fully accessible for those with mobility limitations and is within walking distance of nearly all of the downtown business community as well as the large resident population of Saint John’s central peninsula. Given its location, the Market is one of the major sources of fresh food for those who live in the City Centre without a private vehicle.
Over the past few years, the Market has become more reflective of the ethnic mix of Saint John’s residents as a number of vendors provide goods from the United Kingdom, Italy, China, Korea, India, the Middle East and others. The Market also showcases local items as well as goods from around New Brunswick including dulse from Grand Manan Island, fresh seafood and soaps from the province to name a few.
The City Market is open 6 days a week, 12 months a year with Sunday openings during peak seasons. In addition to being a space to get daily groceries, prepared meals or other goods, the Market is a popular gathering space for seasonal festivities and special events, which have contributed to the Market’s place among the most treasured assets in the urban fabric of Saint John.
The importance of its role in the community extends to a space where dialogue regarding community issues frequently occurs, allowing new ideas and opinions to emerge and take shape. Residents of the City often meet their friends and neighbours in the Market, while community groups and charitable organizations frequently engage passers-by to broach a broad range of important societal issues.
Finally, the Market reflects the historic and evolving character of the local culture. As society has evolved over the past 137 years, the City Market has also changed and has therefore remained relevant to the local community that sustains it. Once predominantly a fish market where local fisherman would sell their catch, the Market now has a wide range of vendors selling their food and wares from around the world. The diversity of ethnic offerings at the Market is illustrative of the growing cultural mix of the greater region.
The Market has also been a popular space for several community groups and organizations over the years. It is common to find a community group raising funds or awareness from a booth at the market, as well as a number of community and charitable organizations that headquarter from the upper floors of the City Market building. This includes the Human Development Council, the Saint John Multicultural and Newcomers Centre, the City Market Seniors Centre, "Pride of Race Unity and Dignity through Education" (PRUDE) centre, among others.
For over 130 years, the City Market has been the most important retail space in Saint John. The growing popularity of shopping centers and large-format grocery stores over the past 50 years has driven a lot of traffic to other areas of the City, but the City Market has managed to remain the most popular to Saint Johners, and easily the most culturally important.
The importance of this public space extends much beyond the central peninsula of Saint John. The City Market was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1986, which demonstrates the value other Canadians have recognized in this space.
The Market is a distinctly Saint John public space. The market's design was selected in a competition among local architects, and constructed by the city's skilled tradesmen of the day. On December 16, 1874 the Market Committee offered two prizes to architects for a Market design competition. The first place prize of $200 was awarded to Messrs. McKean and Fairweather. A second place prize of $100 went to D.E. Dunham. Mr. W.P. Clark and Mr. W.M. Smith received a premium of $50 for the submission of their plan, and the Saint John City Market on Charlotte Street officially opened in 1876.