Archive | November, 2009

St. Lawrence Market Official Historian Bruce Bell

12 Nov

Lunch with Mary 025

Date of lunch:
Thursday, November 12, 2009

The company:
Bruce Bell is the official historian of St. Lawrence Market and St. Lawrence Hall. He conducts tours of the market, the hall and also does walking tours of the area. He has also been appointed official historian of Toronto’s King Edward Hotel, Honourary Historian of the Hockey Hall of Fame Heritage Building and Curator in Residence for the Dominion Bank Building. Bruce is full of awesome facts about Toronto and he is fascinating to hang out with. I learned so much. It really is a treat to be a tourist in your own city.

The food:
Bruce told me I HAD to have a peameal bacon sandwich from Carousel Bakery. The sandwich is famous (even Bobby Flay and Emeril Lagasse have eaten them) and, once I confirmed that I wasn’t vegetarian, Bruce ordered one up for me. We also ordered two Diet Cokes and then Bruce got a hot dog from Mano’s Meats. The peameal bacon sandwich was delish, I will definitely have to get another one next time I am there. The total bill for both our lunches was $11 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
When I returned from my lunch and shared my lunch lesson with some of my co-workers, apparently a lot of people already knew this – but I hope I’m not the only one who didn’t and hopefully my lunch lesson is news to some. So Front Street is called “Front” because it used to be at the edge of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence Market building used to be right at the water’s edge. News to me. But it gets more interesting. The land that now extends south of the Front Street is built on landfill – that’s right – GARBAGE! All those condos that are blocking the view of the lake? Built on garbage. Amazing. Can you believe it?

The lunch:
Bruce and I grabbed our food first and ate it upstairs in the Market Kitchen – it’s an amazing space with a great view of the market. Then Bruce took me on a tour and I became a tourist in Toronto for the first time. And Bruce told me, his condo is his dressing room, the city is his stage. And I was about to walk right onto it!

First we walked down to the old façade of City Hall. I am obviously naïve about Toronto because I thought Old City Hall was the old city hall. I was wrong. There is an even older one and its façade still remains inside the South Building of the market. Next to city hall, there used to be a police station and downstairs was both a men’s and women’s prison. Bruce took me down to the prison area where only a wall remains. But you can still see the pegs in the wall where the prisoners were hung up by their arms. It looked like it was a pretty awful place.

Bruce then took me across the street to the North Market – a much more modern building with much less history. But the timing of my visit was perfect. On the morning of our lunch the City of Toronto launched the St. Lawrence Market North Building Design Competition to find the best design for a new, vibrant North Market building. I can’t wait to see what will happen to the space. With all the history in the area, there will be a lot of pressure to make it incredible.

After the South Market, Bruce took me to St. Lawrence Hall, a building that I have walked by before but never really knew about. It is a beautiful building with wide staircases and intricate woodwork on the walls. There is a ballroom space that can be rented out and it is always in use for speaking engagements, corporate events, weddings and more. In the past, the space was used for boxing matches, which is pretty awesome when you see how fancy the room is.

Finally we walked back towards the South Market through the Market Square. I have walked this path a lot of times, even once working at the Rib Festival right in the square. But I had no idea that this is where prisoners were brought to be flogged by the public and across the street, public hangings were held. Bruce said that thousands would show up for these public hangings – they were popular events. So strange. At the north end of the market square there is a well. Bruce explained to me that this was where the women would meet in the mornings and it was a social gathering hot spot. Much like the St. Lawrence Market is today.

Bruce just knows so much and can’t help but share his passion for the history of Toronto. He was even telling me some of the Free Mason aspects of Toronto’s architecture, including the Royal York Hotel and the Flat Iron building. I just wanted to learn more. I highly recommend taking a tour with Bruce, it is fascinating. Now I just need to continue my quest to be a tourist in Toronto. Any tips?