A Brief history of the niagara falls farmers' market

By Steffen Zylstra (originally published in the 2020 edition of Circa)

Black and white photo of many cards parked behind the museum

Fresh food, tasty treats, and a welcoming community, steeped in a history stretching back to before Canada was a country… that is what the Niagara Falls Farmers Market represents. Every Saturday from 7 till 1, Niagara residents from far and wide flock to the Market. Whether it’s just to drop in and chat, or to get some local produce for the week, it is easy to endorse. But was it always like this?

It was around the year 1856. The novel “Moby Dick” had recently been published, and it was a decade before Canada was able to call itself a country. What Canadians could do, however, was visit the Town of Clifton’s Market Square, next to the town hall. This arrangement was short-lived, however, as the area was fated for a railroad. A new town hall was built on Queen St, and the market moved with it.

It was popular! Open three days a week, it hosted parades, politicians, and a town band. Niagarians would come from far and wide in horse drawn carriages and cars from the advent of the automobile to buy live poultry and other goods.

Alongside the Market’s growth was that of the city, now called Niagara Falls. The City Hall, which had once been the pride of the town, was in need of a successor, so in 1970 the current City Hall was built… right where the market sat. A location was chosen for the Market a few blocks away, on Park Street by Crysler Avenue, which still serves as a parking spot today. But it was at Sylvia Place, on Main and Ferry, that the community chose. 

Sam Iftody of Hollo Maple Farms, a vendor, recounts what the first week was like. “My Mom and I were there at three in the morning [..] and were about to set up and here comes the regional police.” At that point, Sylvia Place was private property. The Market was not legally authorized to be there. Sam quickly jabbered, “She’s (his mother) the owner, you’ll have to take her, because I’m just a driver!” throwing his mother under the bus, so to speak. Luckily, Councillor John Grasscamp was on the scene to help out. “He was a good man for us guys (farmers),” Sam noted.

The Iftodys started Hollo Maple Farms soon after they immigrated to Canada, when they bought the farm in 1927. The family of 9 all lived in a single house that had few modern amenities. “Hollo Maple” comes from a tree that had it’s center burned out with a firecracker by one of Sam’s friends. That is worth writing about in itself, and that’s just one story! There have been at least a score of different vendors, each with their own take of how they ended up at the Market. It’s part of what makes it such a diverse and special place.

The next few decades are those of highs and lows. Eventually, some of the steam that came with the new Market wears off, and things settle down for a while. But with the 2010s came a new focus on development, which has brought a revitalization. There has been an investment in new positions, and it has continued to find increased value and visibility in the community. 

In 2012, the adjacent History Museum was renovated, and received a host of new visitors. While it might not have had a huge direct impact on the Market, it showed that investing in the city’s cultural sites pays off. The following year, a Cultural Plan was commissioned, which led to a design for a new building at Sylvia Place that will act as a cultural hub and, more importantly, would expand the Farmers Market.

This gives the Market a great canvas to work with in the future. The city had been in need of cultural development for some time, and it is sure to bring a host of new faces to the Market. Already, efforts are paying off. In preparation for the development, the Market has been temporarily at the MacBain Center, where there have been over 1000 visitors in a day. 

There are a variety of reasons why someone might go to the market. Fresh produce, tasty desserts, creative artisans and a warm, welcoming spirit, all wrapped in a fascinating, complex history. That is what the Niagara Falls Farmers Market brings to the community, and what it will continue to bring for many years as it continues to develop and grow.

Artist rendition of future Exchange Market Hall