The much anticipated opening of the new Victoria Public Market was greeted this morning by a large and enthusiastic crowd. The space on the main floor of the old Hudson’s Bay building is gorgeous, and even though not all of the vendors were ready to open the taste of things to come was very promising. The upper floors of the building have been redesigned into The Hudson condominiums; those lucky people will have a market downstairs!
Victoria’s history with public markets is rather hit and miss; initial attempts failed as the frontier city was happy to import food from elsewhere while its citizens frantically searched for gold, mined coal, and otherwise profited from the incredible natural resources in the area. However in 1891 the city decided to establish a grand market building, and in March of that year burnt down part of Chinatown to create room. The building was a beautiful brick and glass affair, but it never really took off as a market; among other complications there were a lot of rules and regulations that farmers could avoid by selling on the streets. Eventually half of the market became a fire station, and one wing served as the city’s morgue. During wartime the market was more successful, but by 1959 it was nearly empty, and was torn down to make way for a parking lot. A few attempts to bring a public market back to the city met with quick failure.
Arguably, however, Victoria of 2013 is a different place than it has been in the last half century. People are moving downtown in droves, including creative class workers who want to live and work in attractive urban spaces, and who have the money to spend at the market. Retirees are buying new lofts and condos, and construction cranes are popping up around the city. The time is right for a nice public market.
The old Bay building has been gutted out to provide an excellent and open industrial space. We grabbed an excellent curry at Sutra, the latest offering from the Vij’s family of restaurants. A Saltspring cheese storefront is sure to do a good business, and I couldn’t get close enough to the Victoria Pie Company to sample their wares. I will need to make a return trip once things have quieted down a little! Behind the building the new alleyway was hosting the outdoor farmer’s market, where a raclette stand was doing a frantic business. The cool foggy weather was perfect for some nice melted cheese.
It will be interesting to see if the new market spurs further development at the North end of the city, which is a rather dreary expanse of parking lots and disused industrial spaces. It is certainly another step in the reimaging of British Columbia’s once sleepy capital.