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The Saint John City Market, New Brunswick, Canada

By alison - September 12, 2011 (Updated: November 21, 2014)

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Atlantic Canada.
The Saint John City Market

A bustling Saturday at the City Market

As travellers, we dream for far-flung destinations; palm lined beaches, vibrant cities and postcard-perfect landscapes. But in our search for the exotic, we often neglect the unique and interesting places right on our doorstep. In over six years of travel writing, I have never once written about my hometown of Saint John, New Brunswick. Today I’m going to change that, by showing you my favourite thing about Saint John – The City Market.

One of the things I love most about living in Europe is the market culture. Even the smallest town has a place where locals can gather to buy fresh produce, meats, seafood, baked goods and handcrafts. I’ve fallen in love with markets in Paris, Arles, La Rochelle and Pau in France; Barcelona and Valladolid in Spain; London, Helsinki, Krakow and Amsterdam  to say nothing of our fabulous markets here in Brussels. And yet, for years, I had neglected the one special place I had grown up with – The Saint John City Market.

The Saint John City Market is open every day, except Sundays and holidays, and is the heart of Uptown Saint John. It is the oldest continuing farmer’s market in Canada, and although it hasn’t always been at its current location, its charter dates from 1785. The current building was finished in 1876 and is a designated historic site of Canada.

The Saint John City Market

A view from above – The Saint John City Market

Saint John was the first incorporated city in Canada. It has always been a port city and, in Canada’s early days, was famous for shipbuilding. The City Market reflects this heritage in its architecture. The design resembles the keel of a ship, inverted, and was built by shipbuilders using traditional methods. In keeping with the ship theme, if you happen to be in the Market when it opens or closes, you’ll hear the ringing of the Market Bell.

Inverted Keel Ceiling of the Saint John City Market

Inverted Keel Ceiling of the Saint John City Market

The Saint John Market takes up a city block and actually slopes with the hill, making an ‘upmarket’ and a ‘downmarket.’ (This makes it easy, to know which door to wait at, if you are planning to meet a friend in the market for lunch!)

The architecture isn’t the only aspect of the Market that is historic. Some of the merchants have been operating in the City Market since its early days, over 100 years ago. Slocum & Ferris was established in 1895 and has been selling sea products, including their famous Grand Manan Dulse to locals and unsuspecting tourists in the market ever since.

Slocum & Ferris at the Saint John City Market

Slocum & Ferris a City Market institution

Dulse is to Saint John as waffles are to Brussels and the smell of this salty dried seaweed is something that takes me right back to my childhood. Friday was always the day my Mom did her banking and we always trekked through the Market on the way. I remember the smell of dulse, the bustle and noise of people and everywhere I looked, colour and activity.

Dulse, Dried Seaweed at the Saint John City Market

Bags of dulse, one of the smells of my childhood

A more modern arrival, but just as well known in Eastern Canada, Pete’s Frootique got its start in the Saint John City Market, back in 1981, after founder, Pete Luckett emigrated to Canada from England.

In fact, alongside the traditional fishmongers, butchers and craftspeople are many immigrants selling the tastes of their native countries. There are delicacies from every corner of Asia, as well as Greece, Italy, Mexico and, my most recent discovery, very delicious Lebanese.

Maple Syrup for sale at the Saint John City Market

Maple Syrup for sale at the Saint John City Market
Fishmonger at the Saint John City Market

Fresh Fish! (and smoked, salted and dried too)

You can snack your way through the Market or take home everything you need for a delicious dinner, but if you don’t feel like cooking, and are looking for an Atlantic Canadian specialty, Billy’s Seafood, at the Upper-market end, makes a damn fine lobster-roll.

Until my recent visit home, I never realised how much I took the Saint John City Market for granted. It is a truly unique and special place, which, without my realising it, instilled a passion for market culture in my blood, before I ever set foot on European soil. And for that Saint John, I thank you.

What’s the best thing from your hometown? Leave your comments below and maybe one day we can visit your favourite place too!

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Alison

Alison

Big Cheese at CheeseWeb
Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of Cheeseweb.eu. She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She has visited 45 countries and is currently slow travelling through North America in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
Alison
Cheese + Goats = My personal heaven. We discover an oasis in the cheese desert. https://t.co/Os8U86UEiX - 1 day ago

6 comments

  1. Comment by Amy

    Amy September 12, 2011 at 16:29

    Looks very interesting! Can’t wait to explore the markets of Canada very soon. 🙂

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison

      Alison September 12, 2011 at 22:29

      I’m sure Quebec will have some great ones!

  2. Comment by Leigh

    Leigh September 12, 2011 at 22:10

    Just moved to Calgary and first thing I’m doing is searching for markets. The Calgary Farmer’s market is supposed to be good so will make a trip to check it out next weekend.
    I’ll pass on the dulse but would love a gallon of maple syrup. I’d prefer to buy it directly from the maple syrup maker than Costco.

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison

      Alison September 12, 2011 at 22:30

      Honestly I’m not a big fan of dulse either but the smell definitely takes me back 🙂 We always stock up on either NB or NS maple syrup when we’re home… such a luxury 🙂

  3. Comment by Danie B.

    Danie B. September 18, 2011 at 14:39

    I’m so homesick now! All the best New Brunswick has to offer.

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison

      Alison September 19, 2011 at 09:20

      Oh sorry Danie! Sometimes I forget about the great things NB has to offer too.

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