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Market Square History

Archaeological evidence shows there has been a market at Springer Market Square for over 200 years. Today, it remains a place for local vendors to sell goods and provide residents with easy access to food and other items. 

Springer Market Square today 

The historic public square at King and Brock streets is where the community meets to: 

  • Enjoy free skating in the square all winter long. 
  • Shop at the public market, which has been running continuously since 1801. 
  • Watch movies presented weekly by Downtown Kingston! on Thursday nights during the summer. 
  • Enjoy the beautiful heritage of this scenic spot. 

Discover the history of Market Square 

Before its redevelopment in 2004, archaeologists excavated the square to learn more about its history. They discovered stone foundations of City Hall’s original market wing and weight house, stone steps to a lower level, limestone drains and water pipes for the horse fountain. Some of the artifacts from the excavation can be seen in the Heritage Resource Centre in City Hall. 

Historical sources indicate First Nations people visited and sometimes stayed at the square. Buildings first appeared in the area during the French occupation. During the Seven Years’ War (1756-63), military earthen defenses connected to Fort Frontenac stretched across the centre of the square. These defenses were removed during the early years of Loyalist settlement in the late 1700s. 

The market square, part of the original town plan in 1784, played a central role in local trade for food and fuel. The first market regulations were published in 1811, making it a hub for daily necessities in early Kingston. Temporary wooden market houses called shambles were set up for vendors, but they were flimsy and often burned down or collapsed. During the War of 1812, a small barracks was constructed here. By 1834, district officials had plans for a larger market house and town hall at the site.

In 1840, a fire destroyed much of downtown Kingston, including the outdoor market shambles. Two years later, the Town Council chose architect George Browne's design for a combined Town Hall and Market. Completed in 1844, the building featured an Ontario Street market entrance leading to the west market wing. The indoor market housed butchers, vegetable sellers, a print shop and a public-school library. In 1865, a fire destroyed the west wing. When the wing was rebuilt in its current form, the market moved back outdoors. 

Did you know? From 1841-1844, Kingston was the capital of what was then called the United Province of Canada. After 1844, the capital moved to Montreal where it remained until 1849. 

Activity in the market slowed in the mid-1900s with the rise of grocery stores and new health regulations creating barriers for vendors. When the market shrunk in size, the square was turned into a parking lot on non-market days. Resilient vendors and supportive customers fought for the market’s place in the community, resulting in its survival today.

The City of Kingston acknowledges that we are on the traditional homeland of the Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee and the Huron-Wendat, and thanks these nations for their care and stewardship over this shared land.

Today, the City is committed to working with Indigenous peoples and all residents to pursue a united path of reconciliation.

Learn more about the City's reconciliation initiatives.

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