Montreal's public markets are one of the simplest joys as a local, and tourists can spend the morning and afternoon meandering through their sights and smells, particularly the city's flagship marchés publics (public markets) open year round.
Comparing produce and prices while dreaming up your next cooked-from-scratch recipe, it wouldn't take much to convince someone to spend the whole day. Actually, it wasn't that long ago when visiting a farmers' market was part of everyday life. Before the developed world turned toward grocery chains, supermarkets, and wholesale warehouse clubs, public markets were the hub of the community, a town's source and supply of perishable provisions.
Eggs, meat, fish, dairy, spices, and fresh fruit and vegetables were gathered in one spot as locals stocked up their households in between fits of gossip and social niceties. After all, before the invention of the telephone, public markets were the easiest if not the only practical way to catch up with friends and assorted acquaintances as well as organize local affairs. Most folks ended up at the market at some point or another so it simply made sense.
Even though we have several options for groceries now, public markets remain a great place to find local, fresh ingredients, and catch up with people who live in the area. Here's a guide to some Montreal public markets and what you'll find at each one.
The Jean-Talon Market is one of North America's largest farmers' markets and features the most extensive selection of produce and homemade goods in the city. You can eat like royalty in your hotel room after a few visits to Marché Jean-Talon. One trip to this local market simply isn't enough—you'll discover more each time you go.
The Marché Atwater has been a staple in Montreal for many years, and resident cheese shop, La Fromagerie Atwater still serves up fresh medium gouda samples. Browse local vendors and don't pass up on the free legs of lamb for a bargain price at the local meat market, too.
Marché Saint-Jacques was supplying locals with farmer produce as early as 1868, years before the once modest space transformed into the art deco-detailed building standing today, just south of Parc La Fontaine. However, its longstanding public market space was closed off in 1960 to make way for city administration offices, and although there were a few commercial enterprises that were allowed to open as of 1983, nothing of major note opened since then.
By 2007, city hall sold the building off under the condition that the new owner dedicates the ground floor to public market activity yet again. So Marché Saint-Jacques slowly reemerged with a grocer, cheese shop, bakery, and a handful of specialty produce shops over the course of several years. In warmer months, outdoor vendors add themselves to the mix, selling flowers, herbs, and fresh fruits and vegetables.
Yet another of Montreal's "big five" public markets, Marché Maisonneuve has a similar timeline to that of Marché St. Jacques in the sense that while it opened at the turn of the 20th century, city administration shut it down in the '60s only for it to reopen in the '80s. Fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as a butcher shop, cheese shop, and fish store are also on site.
Marché de Lachine is Montreal's smallest of the "big five" public markets and open year-round. This market has the makings of a delightful pit stop during a day of cycling by the Lachine Canal if only to taste the ridiculously delicious chocolates, croissants, and assorted pastries sold on location by Marius et Fanny. Just bike up the Lachine neighborhood's 18th avenue past one block and you'll reach it.
The Old Montreal institution of Marché Bonsecours occasionally causes some confusion over what exactly the market sells because it's no longer fresh produce and assorted perishables. It used to be a public market way back in the day, as early as 1847 when the iconic building was first inaugurated only to close in 1963, but it has since reopened as a boutique shopping center. Today, the Bonsecours Market houses boutiques carrying the lines of local fashion designers—apparel, leather goods, and accessories—in addition to art, souvenirs, and collectors' items.
Seasonal Public Markets
While Montreal's "big five" public markets are open every season of the year, the city also has its fair share of seasonal markets which open as long as the weather is warm enough to support them, anywhere from late April to late October.
In addition to these trusty seasonal markets, the city also features dozens of hyperlocal grassroots pop-up markets in the summer and even fall which service nearby locals. While they get occasional plugs from local media here and there, their schedules and locations are spread mostly through word of mouth.
Metro Station Markets
If you're a local and looking for a great deal, head to Frontenac Metro where produce is refreshingly affordable. Other Montreal Metro stations that feature small to modest-sized open-air fresh produce markets include Rosemont Metro, Papineau Metro, Sauvé Metro and Shebrooke Metro (just west of it at Carré St. Louis).
As for visitors, most tourist-friendly public market pit stops are located at Mont-Royal Metro Station (a great spot to grab some healthy snacks before before heading up to the mountain), at Côte-des-Neiges Metro (an apple with that St. Joseph's Oratory visit) and at Square-Victoria Metro (this one is tiny though, with more flowers than anything else).
Finally, if maple delights are your thing, get yourself to Phillips Square on Ste. Catherine Street in downtown Montreal. It's filled with maple products, chocolates, and berries. Sometimes an assortment of flowers is on location, and there are often jewelers lined up beside the stand selling their handcrafted wares. Keep an eye out for the best pizza in Montreal, or head to one of the nearby restaurants for a taste of local cuisine.