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Romantic Canada
Chapter XXI "To Market, To Market"

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.

Its significance 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 Company".

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.

Kingston, Toronto, 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 market.

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 sells.

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 Vineyards.

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