about the market
The Owen Sound Farmers' Market was in operation before the incorporation of Owen Sound in 1857. Initially held wherever there was space, the market moved into the town hall in 1870. In its earliest days, grain and cord wood were two of the main commodities sold at the market. Butter, churned in farm homes, was sold in crocks in the days before Owen Sound’s creameries began operating. Imagine: a large bag of locally grown apples cost 40 cents, and a roasting chicken was 35. A 90 pound bag of potatoes for 25 cents, butter for 12 cents a pound, and a loaf of fresh bread for a nickle. How about a side of pork for 4.75? Or a side of beef for five dollars?
The Market Square became the centre of community life, a gathering place in the good times and the bad. The first Owen Sound agricultural fair was held in the market square in 1852, and in 1897 the first tour with a newfangled device called a bicycle departed from the market square. It was a drill ground for the militia, and in 1914 the staging and departure area for troops leaving for the First World War. Here we see the 147th Battalion marching from the market square to the CPR station to depart for the east coast.
Political rallies were held in the market square, as were state visits and important announcements. During the dirty thirties, the market’s importance to an impoverished community grew, as people looking to stretch their pennies as far as possible became regular market patrons. The increased number of vendors and patrons prompted the city to begin looking at a more permanent home for the market, which was conducted mostly outdoors, no matter what the weather was doing. The solution was the old Owen Sound waterworks building, which until 1935 had been occupied by the Public Works Department, now housed in a new location. Plans were made to renovate the inside of the structure, including the construction of tables for the vendors to display their products. Outside, a covered ramp was added to the building, allowing for more vendors at harvest time than the interior could accommodate.
The years passed, and the market grew older. So did the vendors, and each week fewer of them made it on market day. By 1969, the vendors were struggling to survive, and rumours that the city might move or close the market didn’t make them feel any better. In January of 1970, Owen Sound City Council called for tenders to demolish the market building. The uproar within the community was immediate. One market vendor commented that the city “has almost killed the market in the past few years with its uncertain attitude toward the building.” All of the vendors said they’d be willing to pay more than the dollar per week they were charged for stalls, though no-one from the city had ever asked.
In 1971, the Owen Sound Market Vendors Association incorporated as a non-profit and assumed management of the market on behalf of the vendors. In 2018, the exterior canopy was renovated by the the city as a part of its downtown river precinct urban renewal project.