Algonquin College students hope to launch outdoor Christmas market

A group of architecture students at Algonquin College have designed a building they hope will house an annual European-style Christmas market on York Street.

Markets are a mainstay in Europe — but not in Canada

From left to right, Pablo Medina-Villanueva, Salako Adetola and Rajbir Singh Bembey are part of the Christmas fair building design team. They say the proposed holiday market wouldn't compete with other businesses in the ByWard Market — but would instead increase foot traffic. (Elyse Skura/CBC)

If you've ever visited Europe in December, you know that a trip to a traditional outdoor Christmas market often signals the start of the holiday season.

Now a group of architecture students from Algonquin College is hoping to bring the idea to Ottawa.

For the past few months, they've been creating a prototype for a market stall they'd like to see installed in the ByWard Market for four weeks leading up to Christmas.

Just like the European fairs, it would feature local craftspeople, with half the vendors inside the building and the rest set up just outside it.

Entrepreneur Carine Basiala with Maka Events said she came up with the idea when she was living in Manchester, England, and enjoyed shopping at the little outdoor chalet-type stalls during the Christmas season

She said they proved a huge draw for the city. She also noticed that, during Canada's 150th birthday celebrations last year, people here seemed hungry for new outdoor events.

"We want to foster that kind of enthusiasm and that magical spirit," Basiala told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning last week.

"I think it's just another event [to get] families outside and have kids away from iPads, and just kind of really connect with each other and spent time."

Visitors stroll at through a Christmas market in downtown Budapest, Hungary, in December 2017. (Zoltan Mathe/The Associated Press)

'Similar to Lego'

Basiala approached Algonquin College to try to rustle up help with the design and construction. 

The architecture students came up with a structure that resembles a small chapel, approximately seven metres wide and 25 metres long, that's built of insulated wood pieces that slide together and lock.

When the market is over, it could be taken apart to be stored, and then be put back together for the next season.  

"It's similar to Lego," said Rajbir Singh Bembey, one of the students designing the project. "But in a more detailed and refined manner."    

Canadian winters however, can be a little more chilly than those in some European countries.

While the building would offer shelter, it won't be heated, which could make for a chilly experience if the temperature dips to –35 C.

Basiala, however, says she isn't worried.

"Canadians, we're not scared of the winter. We're not scared of snow. We're used to it."

An earlier design shows where the winter market could be situated on York Street. The team hopes to have it in place by late 2019. (Submitted)

Aiming for winter 2019

The design team hopes ByWard Market businesses will see the Christmas market less as competition and more of a draw that could help increase foot traffic.

The project's designers say the building's temporary nature makes it different from other offerings in the ByWard Market or along the Rideau Canal.

"We actually want to support what is around. We want people to go and purchase food and everything from around [the area]," said Pablo Medina-Villanueva, a researcher with the Construction Research Centre and the project's supervisor.

"Our hope is just to bring another activity to what is happening in downtown."

Ideally, the market would run for about four weeks, with the vendors changing each week, the design team said.  None would be from big companies, and all would be local.

We want it to be part of the DNA of the Christmas season.- Carine Basiala

The idea however, isn't a done deal.

They still need to get investors in place and get the go-ahead from the city.

Once that happens, the plan would be to set the market up on York Street and open the winter of 2019.

"We want it to be part of the DNA of the Christmas season," said Basiala.

With files from Elyse Skura