Lieutenant Colonel John By arrived in Canada from England in 1829 to build the Rideau Canal. In the same year, Colonel By founded Bytown, which had two villages. Upper Town lay on the west side of the Rideau Canal.
The other, Lower Town, was founded east of the canal and was bordered by the Rideau River and Sussex, Clarence, and Rideau Street.
In 1827, Colonel By decided to build a market building on George Street in Lower Town. This large timber structure held a weighing machine, a market space, and a public meeting hall. It was the first Byward Market.
The market building was dismantled in 1842, but demands from the community convinced the city to build a new one. The second market officially opened on November 6, 1848.
Unfortunately, in 1862 the second market building was destroyed by a fire. The city council understood how important the market was and made plans to build the third Byward Market building in the same lot. It reopened in 1865.
Bytown was renamed Ottawa in 1855. The city was growing rapidly, and the Byward Market followed suit. Four lots were bought for more market space. A bell was purchased to mark the opening of business. It still hangs in the Byward Market building today and is rung every morning by locals and visitors.
The market struggled with overcrowding, so in 1871 it was proposed that the market should expand into a new building. The new lot was between George and York. The fourth Byward Market building, designed by James Mather, opened in April 1876.
In the early 1900s, vendors had to follow certain odd rules. For example, in 1908, the Market Inspector sent out a notice stating that “Spitting on the pavements… is a misdemeanour and punishable by fine or imprisonment”.
In 1926 a second fire caused the destruction of the market building. Its replacement still exists today and is nearly 100 years old. Vendors, buskers, and store owners continue to use the market to make a living and share their work.