st patricks market toronto

Toronto is officially taking back the abandoned historic food market on Queen West

One of downtown Toronto's most underutilized historic structures can finally return to its former glory (or perhaps something even grander) thanks to a court ruling that just put St. Patrick's Market back into the city's hands.

The iconic, 108-year-old open air food court across from the old MuchMusic building near Queen and John was built atop land bequeathed to the city by prominent Upper Canada citizen D'Arcy Boulton in 1837.

Boulton had just one condition for giving the city his prime piece of real estate at 238 Queen Street West: That it become home to a vibrant public space akin to what's now St. Lawrence Market.

This happened, for a time, until a massive fire burned down the original two-storey market.

The current structure, built in 1912, was leased to a live poultry slaughterhouse from 1929 up until the 80s, after which the City of Toronto leased the property out to a company called Market Inc. with the intention of restoring it as a functioning public bazaar.

Market Inc. failed, and hard, despite numerous attempts at renovating and rebranding the space.

As of 2019, what used to be St. Patrick's Market had zero tenants, save for people experiencing homelessness, and is best known by modern locals as the site of some serious health code violations.

The City of Toronto and, in particular, city councillor Joe Cressy, had become so frustrated by September of this year with how 238 Queen Street Was was being used (or not being used, as it were) that they took Market Inc. to court (though this wasn't their first attempt.)

The company, which has also been accused of failing to pay rent, was just over 30 years into its 50-year-long lease on Thursday when an Ontario Superior Court judge ruled that the contract could be broken due to a breach of duty.

The judge said that photos of the building "speak of neglect" and not only granted the city's request to terminate Market Inc.'s lease, but ordered the company to "pay a variety of damages and any outstanding rent," according to CBC News.

Calling improvements made to the building during a summer 2018 revamp merely "decorative," the court decision points out that "a full year later, the space sat empty, the brickwork adorned with graffiti and garbage strewn around the exterior."

Cressy and Spadina-Fort York MP Adam Vaughan, who tried to get the lease terminated all the way back in 2008, are thrilled by the ruling.

"Great news! We won at the Ontario Superior Court. After decades of neglect, historic St. Patrick’s Market in the heart of downtown on Queen St. will be returned to the City of Toronto," wrote Cressy on Twitter of the news.

"St. Patrick’s Market is a centrally located, beautiful, and historic city-owned building. It was completely unacceptable that it sat vacant for so long. With this court ruling, we will now work with the neighbourhood and the city to bring it back to life."

It remains to be seen what the city has planned for this historic, well-located venue, but I'd bet a mouse some baklava it'll be nicer than what's there now.

Lead photo by

Lauren O'Neil

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