In the beginning, there was a city. Bytown in the 1840s was a rapidly growing settlement, but had not yet received the infrastructure which would allow it to expand beyond its construction-camp roots. The roads were primarily dirt (or mud, for most of the year), there was only a couple of churches, and internal commerce was practically non-existent. Into this void stepped the first Town Council of Bytown in 1847. The articles of incorporation for Bytown ensured that Lower Town (which roughly corresponds to the area of Byward Market today) held the balance of power on the council, and thus John Scott, a lawyer whose office was based in Lower Town and a strong Reformer (analogous to the later Liberal Party), became the mayor.[1] One of the first tasks faced by the new Council was establishing two markets in Bytown, one for Upper Town and one for Lower Town; this decision, however, proved unexpectedly controversial.

According to a letter published in the Bytown Packet on December 1, 1847, the process for selecting the location of the Lower Town Market was deeply biased.[2] The author, who wrote under a pen name, claimed that John Scott and Thomas Corcoran, a fellow counsellor, were arguing in favour of a George Street location for the Market building due to their own significant property holdings there. If the George Street location (which, the author claimed, was in a dirty and inconvenient area) was chosen, Corcoran’s property would have had to be purchased outright, as would that of several other Reform politicians, and Scott’s property would have seen its value increased significantly by the presence of the Market nearby.[3] The other principal possibility for the location of the Market was York Street, but the author pointed out that Jean Bedard and Henry J. Friel, the other two Lower Town Councillors and the main proponents of this option, owned property on that street.[4] The author personally favoured the York Street location, but despaired at the clear greed and bias of the Councillors involved. In the end, a location between York and George Streets, the location of the modern Byward Market building, was chosen, so evidently the Councillors were able to come to an agreement which was mutually satisfactory.[5]

Once the Lower Town Market location had been settled upon, the Lower Town Councillors resumed their usual rivalry with those from Upper Town. Upon the completion of the Lower Town Market a year later, in November 1848, Scott mocked the as-yet incomplete Upper Town Market, stating that it would be good for only a “storehouse for hay and a retreat for rats during the coming winter.”[6] The Upper Town Councillors retaliated once their market was complete; they were “forever jealous of the booming business generated by the ByWard Market and repeatedly tried to impose regulations and taxes to try to sway business toward their own market at Wellington and Kent.”[7] From such bickering, an institution of modern-day Ottawa was born. Today, the ByWard Market is easily one of the most popular commercial areas in the city, and is a wonderful place to go for fresh produce throughout the warmer months. This is thanks to the effort of individuals such as Scott, Corcoran, and others, regardless of their conduct at the time.


1 Welch, Edwin. Bytown Council Minutes 1847-1848. Ottawa: City of Ottawa, 1978. 15.

2 ‘To the Editor of the Packet’. Bytown Packet, 1 December 1847.

3 ‘To the Editor of the Packet’. Bytown Packet, 1 December 1847.

4 ‘To the Editor of the Packet’. Bytown Packet, 1 December 1847.

5 Welch, Edwin. Bytown Council Minutes 1847-1848. Ottawa: City of Ottawa, 1978. 21.

6 ‘Public Dinner to John Scott, Esquire, M.P.P.’ Bytown Packet, 11 November 1848.

7 Byward Market. “History.” Last modified 2013.

Images: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.