News / Canada

The Halifax Seaport Farmers' Market perfect mosaic of the city for visitors

HALIFAX — A walk through the aisles of the Halifax Seaport Farmers' Market is an experience that's quintessentially Nova Scotian.

As thousands of the port city's residents and visitors stroll slowly through the rows of stalls on a Saturday morning, they pass piles of fresh produce, locally-made cheeses, glistening seafood and hand-made crafts, savouring the rich smells and bright colours before winding up the morning with some live music outside. 

Mary Ann LaPierre of Hillcrest Farm, whose family has been selling produce at the market every Saturday since the late 1800s, says it's a perfect introduction to the province.

"(You get to) see the people of Nova Scotia, see what's growing here and how we live." 

Established in 1750, a year after Halifax itself was founded, the market is the oldest continuously operating farmers' market in North America.

"It's still basically the same, selling one-on-one to customers, but it's changed quite a bit," said LaPierre.

Over the years, the market's location has changed a few times, but it finally found a permanent home in a vast and airy new building in the Seaport on the city's waterfront in 2010.

The 46,672 square-foot facility now hosts more than 250 vendors from 50 countries.

Julie Chaisson, executive director of the market, says it reflects the diversity of Halifax and Canada as a whole.

"When you walk through a market, you see the true character of the city," she says. "It's a really great mosaic for the heart of that city."

On any given weekend, Chaisson says 15,000 people come through the market, which has grown from its origins as a meat market to a bustling showcase of everything from locally-made sushi to polish perogies to custom-made handbags.

"Anything you can make, bake, grow or catch," says Chaisson.

In the early years, heading down to the market became a way of life for many farmers. As well as a place of business, the market offered an opportunity to reconnect with  friends and catch up on the news of the week.

People would travel up to 65 kilometres each way, often by horse and wagon, to sell their goods.

LaPierre remembers her 90-minute long rides fondly.

"I was small," she says. "We used to drive the old truck. If we got 30 miles an hour out of it, we were lucky."

"That's what took us so long."

Back then, whichever farmer arrived first got the best spot, which meant LaPierre and her family had to leave early.

Some of LaPierre's favourite memories from the market are the people she's met, from her weekly regulars to some big-time celebrities.

"I met Prince Charles here and I met Roberta Bondar, the first Canadian lady in space."

The market is part of the Halifax Seaport, which is where the cruise ships dock and is also home to the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21.

"A lot of the cruise ship people come in and they're quite surprised to see all the things we have here in Nova Scotia," says LaPierre.

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If you go...

Take a walk through the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. It's next door to the market.

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