The town of York was founded in 1793, on a site of ten blocks north of Front Street between George and Berkeley streets, in present day Old Town, Toronto. Much of the area of today's St. Lawrence neighbourhood was then located in Toronto Harbour, the shoreline being just south of Front Street. The area was infilled to provide more land for port and industrial uses adjacent. St. Lawrence was the first industrial area of York.
A Saturday farmers' market began operation at Front and Jarvis in 1803. The current South Market building, south of Front, is open Tuesday through Saturday, selling foods and other goods. The North Market building hosted a farmers' market on Saturdays and a flea market on Sundays until its demolition in 2016, at which time they both moved to a temporary building south of The Esplanade. A new, larger North Market Building will be built on the original site, with a planned completion in 2021.
Commercial activity along Toronto's bustling harbour provided employment and was the primary place of entry to the quickly growing, burgeoning city. The convergence of the railway lines and the wharves must have worked because in 1873 historian Henry Scadding so eloquently wrote in his book Old Toronto of The Esplanade "...It has done for Toronto what the Thames Embankment has done for London..."
The neighbourhood was planned by Alan Littlewood and Frank Lewinberg, with the influence of American-Canadian urban planner Jane Jacobs playing a crucial role. Design guidelines prepared by Eberhard Zeidler were deemed too modern by planners and politicians and were not implemented, replaced instead by the urban design work of George Baird. Many of the developments were not completed until well into the 1990s. Since that time, the St. Lawrence neighbourhood has been critically acclaimed as a major success in urban planning. In many ways, it has become the model for the design and planning of new urban communities across North America.