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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!