As Toronto becomes increasingly conscious that it does in fact contain buildings of historic value that are worth preserving, we are seeing a rise in the number of projects that embracing the idea of reinterpreting the city’s history. We may not have the centuries of built heritage that European cities like London have, or the remnants of architectural patronage that New York does, but what we do have is no less relevant. Today we’re looking at one street in particular that is experiencing a rejuvenation initiated by one of the city’s most innovative and outspoken heritage advocates: the Market Street Redevelopment by the late Paul Oberman, who presided over Woodcliffe Properties.
Market Street is a relatively unassuming side street that runs adjacent to the St. Lawrence Market, south of Front Street. Located within Toronto’s "Old Town", Market Street’s gradual slope towards The Esplanade hints at the old shoreline of Lake Ontario, before the aggressive infill projects of the 20th century that extended the waterfront southwards.
The buildings that are being preserved predate the current South Saint Lawrence Market/former Toronto City Hall; 10-12 Market Street dates back to 1880, and was originally a lakefront hotel. The rejuvenation also includes 87 Front Street, which dates back to the late 1850s/early 1860s, formerly a grain warehouse for the Edward Leadly Company.
The architectural style of these heritage structures provides a glimpse at what much of the city looked like before the Great Fire of 1904 and the aggressive demolition of the 20th century. In order to maintain the historic appearance of the buildings, Woodcliffe sourced materials from a brick factory in England that still produces the style of brick used in the late 1800s, while replacing those materials that were unsalvageable.
The new building at Market Street and The Esplanade which project architect Taylor Smyth designed looks to complement rather than replicate the heritage structures — it continues the roofline of 10-12 Market Street, and will use materials that play off of the distinctive colors found in the neighbouring brick buildings.
The hope is that the end result will bring new pedestrian life to Market Street by making space for retail and restaurants that will draw Front Street's current foot traffic further south. The late Paul Oberman’s vision for this stretch of Market Street was for a pedestrian block, where bistro seating spills out to the street, trees replace lane markers and a flower market would be located in the bottom of the Saint Lawrence Market. A petition circulated last summer sought to rename the street Paul Oberman Way as a public tribute to the man who showed the city that development and heritage can work together in brilliant ways.