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St Lawrence District

The St Lawrence District, lying just to the east of Yonge Street, between The Esplanade, Adelaide Street East and Frederick Street, is one of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods, enjoying its first period of rapid growth after the War of 1812. In Victorian times, St Lawrence became one of the most fashionable parts of the city, and although it hit the skids thereafter, it was revamped and partly gentrified in the late 1990s.

St Lawrence Market

The St Lawrence District is home to St Lawrence Market, easily the city’s best food and drink market, housed in a capacious red-brick building of 1844. Spread out across the main and lower levels are stalls selling everything from fish and freshly baked bread to international foodstuffs, all sorts of organic edibles and Ontario specialities, including cheese, jellies, jams and fern fiddleheads. The market is at its busiest on Saturday, which also means you can drop by the North St Lawrence Market, an authentic farmers’ market (Sat 5am–3pm) housed in the long brick building opposite, on the north side of Front Street.

St Lawrence Hall

St Lawrence Hall is one of Toronto’s most attractive Victorian buildings, a palatial edifice whose columns, pilasters and pediments are surmounted by a dinky little cupola. Dating from 1850, the hall was built as the city’s main meeting place, with oodles of space for balls, public lectures and concerts. Some performances were eminently genteel, others decidedly mawkish – it was here that the “Swedish songbird” Jenny Lind made one of her Canadian appearances – and yet others more urgent, like the anti-slavery rallies of the 1850s. The bad taste award goes to the American showman and circus proprietor P.T. Barnum, one-time mayor of his home town of Bridgeport, Connecticut, and author of the bizarre The Humbugs of the World. It was Barnum who saw the potential of his fellow Bridgeportonian, the diminutive (60cm) Charles Sherwood Stratton, aka Tom Thumb, exhibiting him as a curiosity here in St Lawrence Hall as well as anywhere else that would stump up a few dollars.

St James Anglican Cathedral

The graceful bulk of St James Anglican Cathedral rises high above its immediate surroundings, its yellowish stone fetchingly offset by copper-green roofs and a slender spire. An excellent example of the neo-Gothic style once popular in every corner of the British Empire, the cathedral boasts scores of pointed-arch windows and an abundance of sturdy buttressing. Inside, the nave is supported by elegant high-arched pillars and flanked by an ambitious set of stained glass windows that attempts to trace the path by which Christianity reached Canada from Palestine via England. It’s all a little confusing, but broadly speaking, the less inventive windows depict Biblical scenes, whereas those which focus on English history are the more ingenious. The nave’s stained glass windows were inserted at the end of the nineteenth century, but those of St George’s Chapel, in the southeast corner of the church, were added in 1935 to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of George V. They exhibit an enthusiastic loyalty to the British Empire that is echoed in many of the cathedral’s funerary plaques: take, for example, that of a certain Captain John Henry Gamble, who was born in Toronto in 1844 but died on active service in the Khyber Pass in 1879; his stone is in the west transept. Spare a thought also for poor old William Butcher, a native of Suffolk, in England, who fell to his death when he was working on the cathedral spire, aged just 27 in 1839; his stone is in the main entrance way.