The St. Lawrence Market and the Santa Claus Parade

Yonge_St_to_St__LawrenceThe waterfront trail between Yonge Street and Lower Jarvis Street is not particularly scenic. On the lakefront, there is a gigantic Redpath sugar refinery, which contains a museum that is not open on weekends. Across the road, is the only slightly less imposing Queen’s Quay Loblaws, which is currently selling every conceivable variety of Christmas wreath and poinsettia arrangement in addition to the usual groceries. We’re going to take a different route: north on Yonge Street, under the Gardiner expressway, which sadly discourages so many Toronto pedestrians from strolling to the waterfront, then east on Front street to the St. Lawrence Market.

St. Lawrence Market

The St. Lawrence Market has existed for more than 200 years. In 1803, Lieutenant Governor Peter Hunt declared that the land north of Front, west of Jarvis, south of King and east of Church was officially Market Block (please refer to your maps) and the first permanent farmer’s market was built facing King Street that same year. At the time, Front Street faced onto Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence district became one of the most fashionable areas of Toronto after the War of 1812. Today, there’s a Saturday farmers market (I’ve received reliable second hand accounts that it’s open at 5am) a Sunday antiques market and a south market  open all day long from Tuesdays to Saturdays (I recommend the pies). The banners outside the market remind visitors to come on an empty stomach. Good advice.

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Upstairs from the St. Lawrence market is Market Gallery, in the council chamber of Toronto’s first City Hall and the site of the first electric telegraph sent in Canada. The Gallery displays rotating exhibitions of Toronto history and art. When I gave a lecture there in May about the Georgian royal image for the Toronto Regency Society’s Jane Austen festival, the exhibition was about the history of sports in Toronto, in honour of the Pan-Am Games and there’s now a display of Toronto artwork from the past 100 years. The Gallery is accessible by elevator, in case you’re having trouble getting up the stairs after all that pie.

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On the third Sunday of November, the St. Lawrence Market is the final stop on the Santa Claus Parade route. The parade has been a Toronto institution since Eaton’s department store imported live reindeer from Labrador to pull Santa’s sleigh in 1913. If you grew up in Toronto in the last century, chances are you have attended the Santa Claus parade – I recommend the Booky Trilogy of children’s novels for a glimpse at what the parade was like during the 1930s. The Santa Claus parade today is broadly similar to how it was when I was I kid in the early 1990s – marching bands playing Christmas carols, troops of clowns, spectators pushing strollers overflowing with red licorice, Oreos, juice boxes and goldfish crackers as well as small children – but there are a few key differences. First, the weather seems to have improved. The 2015 parade was definitely hat and mittens optional. Second, the clowns now carry oversize picture frames and encourage selfies.

Then, there are the floats. The classic Mother Goose float, which has started the parade since the First World War, is still there but the number of dinosaur floats seems to have increased considerably in recent years. It’s not just the Royal Ontario Museum and the Toronto Raptors anymore. Now, there is a float inspired by “The Good Dinosaur” an upcoming Dinosaur  Pixar movie. The festive holiday dinosaurs have taken over.

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The parade ends with the arrival of Santa Claus, who is dispensing more advice than ever before. “It’s a Merry Christmas” Santa declared as he turned the corner in his sleigh pulled by imitation reindeer onto Lower Jarvis street. Rather than end on that note, he continued, “It’s a say please and thank you Christmas! It’s a finish your ho-ho-homework Christmas.” No doubt Santa is following the same trend that led to Cookie Monster declaring that a cookie is a sometimes food.

Lower Jarvis Street returns us to the waterfront. We will resume at Sugar Beach park near Corus Quay and continue eastward, toward the Christmas Market, which opens on Friday, November 20 in the historic Distillery District.

Getting there by public transit: Subway to Union then walk east on Front street or the Esplanade.

Further Reading on Market Gallery on other Toronto museums: Inside the Museums: Toronto’s Heritage Sites and their Most Prized Objects by John Goddard

Further Reading on the Santa Claus Parade:  Booky: A Trilogy by Bernice Thurman Hunter

Next: Sugar Beach

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On Yonge Street

Let’s begin at the start of Yonge Street, on the shores of Toronto Bay, Lake Ontario. A cool breeze is blowing across the water but otherwise, it’s unseasonably bright and sunny. The kind of weather that makes starting an urban hiking blog in the middle of November seem like a perfectly reasonable idea. The monument at the water’s edge repeats the legend that Yonge Street is the longest street in the world, beginning in downtown Toronto and continuing 1896 km to Rainy River, near the Ontario-Minnesota border.The distances to other cities on or near Yonge St. and Highway 11 are listed in brass letters on the pavement.

Rainy River

The street’s namesake, Sir George Yonge (1731-1812), might have been fascinated by the current debate over whether Yonge Street and Highway 11 should be considered one long roadway since he was an expert on Roman roads and thoroughfares in Britain in addition being Britain’s Secretary at War (1782–1783 and 1783–1794). Yonge never visited his street but he was a close friend of John Graves Simcoe, Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada from 1791 to 1796 and so his name was added to the map of Toronto without him ever crossing the Atlantic.

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Unlike Sir George Yonge, I have lived in Toronto for most of my life. I grew up in Etobicoke and now live in Midtown and work at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies. I never stood at the start of Yonge Street, however, until the fall of 2015 when I presented my 1st book, Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada: Democracy, Law, and Human Rights, at the International Festival of Authors. The festival was at the Harbourfront Centre and Fort York and I spent more time exploring Toronto’s waterfront that week than in all my other years in Toronto combined. It’s time to spend some more quality time with the city I call home.

The start of Yonge Street intersects with Toronto’s Martin Goodman waterfront trail (named for a late President and Editor and Chief of the Toronto Star newspaper), part of the Trans-Canada trail. Yonge Street and Highway 11 combined are short compared to the expanding Trans Canada Trail. When the trail is completed in time for Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017, it will be more than 23,000 kilometres long, stretching from the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans, the longest system of recreational trails in the world. From these bronze letters at the beginning of Yonge Street, I am going to walk a small portion of the trail in segments, wandering off the trail to explore interesting places along the way. I’ll be hiking and commuting rather than hiking and camping. I enjoy the outdoors but I am not outdoorsy. That is an important distinction. Also, it will soon be winter. In Canada.

My photos and thoughts on local history and travel will be posted here. An interactive map of the entire trans-Canada trail is available here.

The final destination of my travels on the trail is unknown but it will be sometime after I hear the words “That is a long walk from Toronto.”

Getting there on public transit: Subway to Union, Streetcar to Queen’s Quay, walk east

Further Reading: 200 Years Yonge: A History by Ralph Magel

Next: The St. Lawrence Market