THERE is a day in the
year 1676 which must ever stand out from the murk of the early centuries
as a Red Letter Day in Canadian history.
That is the day whose
dawn broke on the first Canadian Public Market in full swing.
The scene is laid in La
Place de Notre Dames des Victoires in the shadow of Chateau Saint Louis,
in old Quebec.
It takes but little
imagination to reconstruct the colourful scene upon which the first
beams of the rising sun, touching with light the gray and frowning walls
of the towering Chateau, lifted the curtain of night.
Here were the
market-boats from far and near drawn up on the beach. Here were the rude
stalls and booths laden with the vegetable products of the little
clearings beyond the city walls and at He d'Orleans; here were Quebec's
first Market-women; and hither flowed throughout the morning a most
colourful pageant of patrons.
Viewed from to-day this
market-scene is not important on its own account. Its little turn-over
is blotted out. Its significance lies rather in the fact that here were
planted the beginnings of the market-carts, the stalls and booths, the
long line of Market-women, the wealth of products, "and a' that" from
the finger-like farms of to-day.
affords the markets of the hour an unbroken retrospect of nearly two
hundred and fifty years.
And of course that
first market of Notre Dame des Victoires was herself but a daughter of
the old markets everywhere in vogue in France transplanted to Quebec. So
that if "blood counts" the " 'scutcheon" of the markets now scattered
throughout Canada, many of them in the great out-of-doors literally
under the banner of the Maple Leaf, is certainly that of an "Honourable
To Quebec then, belongs
the title of "Mother of the Canadian Market". It was on her foot that
the Province children of the Dominion learned to ride:
"To market, to market,
to buy a fat pig.
Home again, home again, jiggety jig."
And that they learned
it well there is Dominion-wide proof: for not a city of worth-while size
but has its public market. Everybody knows the Halifax market. Prince
Edward Islanders claim that the Charlottetown market is ne plus ultra!
Quebec now has as many as four open-air markets. In Montreal "Bonsecour"
is a word familiar in every household. Its vegetables and flowers
line-up under the very shadow of the Nelson Column, the Cathedral de
Notre Dame and the Chateau de Ramesay.
Brantford and every other considerable city of Ontario draw out the line
of the market.
Winnipeg magnetizes the
products of the truck-farm under the shadow of her city hall. And here
the Market-train, that is Vision, calls "All aboard for Points West" and
so, if you wish, in time you come in to Saskatoon, Calgary, Vancouver
and Victoria. And when you get to Vancouver the stalls of colour are
grouped about the Post Office just as they used to be in Halifax.
Each city has its own
ideas of a market. And so, although the line of the market is long, each
has its own urban individuality.
The four in Quebec,
although they are all of Quebec and all French, would never be mistaken
for each other. The same individuality is evident in each stall, in each
Madame of Saint Roche's
sells from her cart, seated in the middle, with her vegetable family all
grouped around her.
She is packed in, as it
were. She never alights, like her sister of the Montcalm, using the
bottom of her cart as a counter, or walks about a little as do the
vendors of Finlay, or spreads her stock out on boxes as do the
saleswomen of Champlain. So it is at Saint Roch's we come upon the
little Flower-girl seated among her posies and sweet as the flowers she
But she is not the only
vendor of leu belle fleurs even in baint Roch's; here is the old woman
from Charlebourg seated behind a jar of peonies and Saint Joseph lilies,
and here another beaming old face outlined by cauliflowers, bunched like
so many nosegays up and down the roof-supports of her old cart.
Oh, what an air to
these old French-markets of Canada! "Bon jour, madame, bon jour" the
same old voice hails patrons year after year. And the attendant pageant
of citizens who come to buy! What a humanly interesting tide flows back
and forth, now here now there, now this way, now that, through the
avenues of colour afforded by the fruits, vegetables and flowers.
Here is a Sister, face
almost lost under the picturesque black bonnet, in her hands the long
basket, from her side depending the Crucifix silently reminding the
pious habitant in whose Name she begs.
In the early morning
come the housewives who believe in the old adage of "the early bird".
These know what they want. They pounce and go.
By and by the
stragglers begin to trip in, mothers who have had to see their children
safely off to school, and blow off steam a little in the colourful
atmosphere, before beginning to buy.
But the respite enjoyed
by the old women in the carts is not for long. Their gossip and chat and
calling back and forth from cart to cart, is cut short by a rising-tide
of housewives arriving to buy in a heat for the noon dinner. Ten o'clock
sees the tide of trade in flood, with women behind stepping on the heels
of women ahead and tumultuous streams of purple beets, the chrome of
carrots, the spring-green of lettuce, the pearl of onions, the fruity
bloom of peach or plum, cascading into waiting basket or bag.
Now, mingling with the
throng may be seen the rather more sportily dressed figures of the
summer visitors, temporarily domiciled at the Frontenac and out to "do"
the city—Quebec, the Cap- ital-city of Canadian romance.
The Quebec market has
filled the pages of two centuries and a half, and in all that time
there, over there, a little to one side away from the crowd, a little on
the outskirts of Food, as it were, has sat and still sits "the vendor of
baskets" (without which no woman can come to market), and a curious
appendage of "simples"—dried herbs, little squares of Spruce-gum, tiny
bunches of wizened roots.
It is but a step from
the Markets of Quebec to the markets of Ontario in a matter of miles,
but in atmosphere you step from Old France to Old England.
Here in Kingston or
Brantford is the old Market Hall that might be in Nottingham or Newark
or any other English market-town. And here the market-men are of the
English type—Old- Country fellows or United Empire Loyalists. Here is
the canvas-covered farm-wagon looking like the spiritual ancestress of
the prairie schooner. There is a change from women to men as sales- men.
There is not the customary tumultuous chatter of the French. But there
is more sunlight, more massed dashes of cadmium, larger splashes of
greens, reds, and purples thrown out by the Ontario peaches, cucumbers
and watermelons, netted baskets of tomatoes, grapes of the Peninsula