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Kensington Market

Kensington Market
Shops in Kensington Market
Shops in Kensington Market
Location of Kensington Market
Kensington Market is located in Toronto
Location within Toronto
Country  Canada
Province  Ontario
City Toronto
 • MP Adam Vaughan (Trinity—Spadina)
 • MPP Han Dong (Trinity—Spadina)
 • Councillor Joe Cressy (Ward 20 Trinity—Spadina)
Designated 2006

Kensington Market is a distinctive multicultural neighbourhood in Downtown Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Market is an older neighbourhood and one of the city's most well-known. In November 2006, it was designated a National Historic Site of Canada.[1][2] Robert Fulford wrote in 1999 that "Kensington today is as much a legend as a district. The (partly) outdoor market has probably been photographed more often than any other site in Toronto."[3]

Its approximate borders are College St. on the north, Spadina Ave. on the east, Dundas St. W. to the south, and Bathurst St. to the west. Most of the neighbourhood's eclectic shops, cafes, and other attractions are located along Augusta Ave. and neighbouring Nassau St., Baldwin St., and Kensington Ave.In addition, to the Market, the neighbourhood features many historic Victorian homes, the Toronto District School Board operates Kensington Community School and at Dundas St. W. and Bathurst St., Toronto Western Hospital is located.


  • History 1
    • Early history 1.1
    • The Jewish Market 1.2
    • Post-War 1.3
    • The 1960s 1.4
    • Recent development 1.5
  • The neighbourhood 2
    • Landmarks 2.1
    • Shops 2.2
      • Counterculture 2.2.1
      • Commercial gentrification 2.2.2
    • Cars and pedestrians 2.3
  • Kensington and the Future 3
    • Toronto's Official Plan 3.1
    • Site and Area Specific Policies 3.2
  • Culture 4
    • Festivals 4.1
    • Music 4.2
    • Kensington in popular culture 4.3
    • Marijuana culture 4.4
    • Jane Jacobs 4.5
    • Allen Jacobs 4.6
  • Religion 5
    • Rastafarian Culture 5.1
  • Demographics 6
  • Nearby streets of note 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10


Early history

'Bellevue' original Denison Estate, Denison Square (1885) - now site of Kiever Synagogue

British militia during the War of 1812, purchased an area of land in 1815 from Queen Street West to Bloor Street, roughly between where Augusta and Lippincott Streets now run. Denison used the area now known as Bellevue Square Park as a parade ground for his volunteer cavalry troop, which he commanded during the Upper Canada Rebellion. This troop later became the Governor General's Horse Guards. The Denison estate was subdivided in the 1850s. During the 1880s, houses were built on small plots for Irish and Scottish immigrant labourers coming to Toronto; Much of the housing is in the style of Victorian architecture row houses, which are moderate in size and exemplify true Victorian architecture. Many of these houses still stand along Wales Avenue and elsewhere, and these homes have been inhabited by many waves of immigrants in the decades that followed. Housing found closer to the market area tend to feature retail at the front of the house.[4]

The Jewish Market

Jewish market day, Kensington Avenue, 1924

During the early twentieth century, Kensington became populated by eastern European Jewish immigrants and some Italians, who occupied "The Ward", an overcrowded immigrant-reception area between Yonge Street and University Avenue, in large numbers after around 1910. It became a cluster of densely packed houses, and was one of the poorer areas of the city. It became notable for the items and gifts, reminiscent of those in Europe, that covered the streets of the area. From the beginning, the market sold items imported from the homelands of the various immigrant communities. It became known as "the Jewish Market". Jewish merchants operated small shops as tailors, furriers and bakers. Around 60,000 Jews lived in and around Kensington Market during the 1920s and 1930s, worshipping at over 30 local synagogues.


After the Second World War, most of the Jewish population moved north to more prosperous neighbourhoods uptown or in the suburbs. During the 1950s, a large number of immigrants from the Azores, fleeing political conflict with the regime of António de Oliveira Salazar, moved into the area and further west along Dundas Street. The arrival of new waves of immigrants from the Caribbean and East Asia changed the community, making it even more diverse as the century wore on. The Vietnam War brought a number of American political refugees to the neighbourhood, and particularly to nearby Baldwin Village, adding a unique utopian flavour to local politics. As Chinatown is located just east of Kensington, the Chinese are now the largest ethnic element. During the 1980s and 1990s, identifiable groups of immigrants came from Central America, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Iran, Vietnam, Chile and other global trouble spots.

The 1960s

In the 1960s there were plans to tear down the densely packed small houses and replace them with large, apartment-style housing projects, as was done to neighbouring Alexandra Park. These plans came to an end with the election of David Crombie as Mayor of Toronto. Crombie was strongly opposed to the massive urban restructuring plans that had been in vogue in previous decades.

Recent development

The market resisted the recession of the 1980s partially thanks to a floating population of students attending George Brown College, which was situated where the Kensington Lofts are today. George Brown College sold the property in the mid 1990s and without the extra student traffic, many stores were victims of the recession of the mid to late 90s. In addition, many Portuguese store owners were by that time too old to continue working their small shops, which led to abundant vacancy, and invited a new wave of immigrant entrepreneurs. Businesses like La Perola, El Emporio Latino and El Buen Precio took advantage of the growing wave of Latin American immigrants, and opened the door to offering ethnic street foods. Jumbo Empanadas was one of the first ones to spice up the flavors of the market from a cart; later moved into a basement close to Nassau, and then to its current location. All other Latin shops started selling their Pupusas, and by 2000, a young couple of entrepreneurs opened the first taqueria in Canada, calling it "El Trompo". All this movement lead to a rebirth of Augusta Avenue.[5] However, there were seedy spots whose patrons scared away the fiercest yuppies. A Nike store tried to open up in the market and the community rejected it very strongly by dumping dozens of running shoes splattered with red paint in protest for the treatment Nike's workers receive around the world. Eventually such businesses (both too seedy and too mainstream) transformed or moved out. The Nike store was a tremendous corporate failure.

Today the neighbourhood is a noted tourist attraction, and a centre of Toronto's cultural life as artists and writers moved into the area. Land prices in the area have increased sharply, but despite its increased appeal to professionals, Kensington still remains a predominantly working class, immigrant community.

In November, 2006, Kensington Market was proclaimed a National Historic Site of Canada.[6]

The neighbourhood


A Sunday scene at Bellevue Square Park

Some notable landmarks include the Number 8 Fire Station, Tom's Place, Bellevue Square Park with a statue of actor Al Waxman, and St. Stephen's Community House. Percy Faith, the 1950s composer and band leader, lived as a child at 171 Baldwin Street.[7] His uncle, Louis Roterbergh, a master violinist, taught him the violin, and was reputed to play at the house at Baldwin as crowds gathered below to listen. Bellevue Square contains a plaque given to Kensington Market in 2006 officially recognizing it as a national historic site.


Fruit shops in Kensington Market

The area is filled with a mix of food stores selling an immense variety of meats, fish and produce. There are also several bakeries, spice and dry goods stores, and cheese shops. Stores sell a wide variety of new and used clothing, and there are discount and surplus stores. Some of the more popular shops in Kensington Market include the Blue Banana, Courage my Love and Good Egg. It is also home to many restaurants covering a wide variety of styles and ethnicities. A unique architectural feature of the neighbourhood is the presence of extensions built onto the front of many buildings (which would be against by-laws in other places).[8]

In recent years, the neighbourhood has seen a small explosion of upscale cafés, restaurants and clubs, replacing many of the older ethnic businesses. There has been much speculation that Kensington's long history as an immigrant working-class neighbourhood is near its end.[9]


Businesses such as Manifestudio, a photo gallery and eco-politics community space run by GlobalAware Independent Media, help create an environment friendly to radical politics. Trotskyists are sometimes seen handing out pamphlets at the corner of Baldwin and Kensington. Over the past two decades, several alternative bookstores have flourished in Kensington Market, including Who's Emma, the Anarchist Free Space, and Uprising Books.[10]

One of Canada's most famous independent bookstores, This Ain't the Rosedale Library, also moved to Kensington from Church and Wellesley in 2008. It later closed in June 2010, failing to pay rent.

Performance spaces like Bread & Circus (2009-2011), Double Double Land (2009–present) and Videofag (2012–present) have helped cultivate Kensington Market's vibrant independent arts scene.[11]

Commercial gentrification

A small supermarket, Zimmerman's Freshmart, opened in the Market in February 2005, leading to some controversy. Danny Zimmerman, the cousin of Freshmart's owner and the owner of a rival store across the street, expressed concern it would compete with smaller businesses, or would otherwise lead to a more "corporate" market. The arrival of COBS Bread in 2006 continues this potential trend, though COBS shuttered in 2014 and was replaced by the independent Black Bird Bakery.[12] Also, some Market shops have started selling sweets and bread from Dufflet and Ace Bakery, two Toronto-based bakeries. This has caused consternation amongst some traditionalists.

Pedestrian zone Sundays take place in the summer

Cars and pedestrians

Narrow streets make the market challenging for those driving and especially parking in the neighbourhood. On Saturdays and some late afternoons, pedestrians walk freely down the middle of the street or between slow-moving cars. In 2006 Canadian Census, 34.59%of Kensington residents walked to work compared to 7.10% of City of Toronto residents. When considering the car, 15.70% of Kensington residents used a vehicle, as drive to get to work whereas 49.39% City of Toronto residents were the driver in a vehicle to commute to work.

Since 2004, residents and businesses have organized a series of Pedestrian Sunday events. Parts of Augusta St., Baldwin St. and Kensington Ave. are closed to motorized traffic and the streets become a pedestrian mall. Live music, dancing, street theatre and games are among the special events on the closed streets. Typically taking place on the last Sunday of every month, this type of event has been organized on half a dozen weekends a year since 2005.

Kensington and the Future

Toronto's Official Plan

Kensington is protected by a variety of policies, mainly to enhance the atmosphere that is unique to the neighbourhood.Toronto's "Official Plan", which is the vision for the city until 2026, does not designate much change for the neighbourhood as seen in its land use map for the neighbourhood. With no major change, one can assume that Kensington is very much a stable neighbourhood.

Site and Area Specific Policies

In addition to the Official Plan, Kensington is subject to "Site and Area Specific Policy." The policies which relate to proposed developments state, "Any public or private developments and work should be consistent with the special characteristics of the area." The new developments must adhere to these guidelines which include:

  • low-scale buildings with retail at grade (Street level);
    • Minimal Setbacks
      • Open air display of goods on the boulevard.

Though city policy, the Kensington uniqueness will be upheld for all to enjoy.



Bellevue Square Park hosts many concerts and festivals throughout late spring and summer.

The annual "Kensington Market Festival of Lights", which is now known as Kensington Market Winter Solstice Festival is celebrated as a parade on the streets of Kensington Market during the Winter Solstice in December. This carnival parade of giant puppets, firebreathers, stiltwalkers and samba musicians was created and founded by Ida Carnevali in 1987 as a way of beckoning the return of the sun on the longest night of the year. Artists and groups like the Samba Squad,Shadowland Theatre, Clay & Paper Theatre, EagleHeart Drummers and Singers, Spirit Wind, Gaa Dibaatjimat Ngashi, Tumivut Youth Shelter, Maracatu Nunca Antes, Darbazi Choir, Circle-Sing, Richard Underhill, the Befana Choir and the Kensington Horns participate in this event. For many years, the parade ended in a post-sunset concert and spectacle in Bellevue Square; since 2009, the parade has ended at Alexandra Park to handle the larger crowd.

The Pedestrian Sundays festival is a car-free festival where the streets close to cars in several Sundays in the summer. The festival ran for 5 years, attracting many people to party on the streets of Kensington Market, including bands, street foods, etc.[13]

The Chiaroscuro Reading Series is held the second Tuesday of each month at Augusta House. Prominent science fiction, fantasy, and horror authors offer readings of their works. [14]

Bob Snider
Bob Snider can often be found busking along Baldwin Street


Kensington Market has been the home and founding location of many punk and metal bands, including Bunchofuckingoofs and Armed and Hammered. The Toronto-based band Bedouin Soundclash filmed parts of their video When the Night Feels My Song in and around the market.

Kensington in popular culture

Statue of Al Waxman in Bellevue Square Park
Statue of Al Waxman in Bellevue Square Park

Former Toronto mayor Mel Lastman and actor Al Waxman (who starred in the CBC Television series King of Kensington) were both born and raised in the Kensington Market neighbourhood. After Waxman's death in 2001, he was honoured with a statue located in the north-west corner of Bellevue Square Park. In addition to King of Kensington, Kensington Market has been the setting for the television series Twitch City, which was filmed above the record store Paradise Bound, and Katts and Dog as well as the street riot scenes of the 1984 comedy Police Academy. Kensington Market was the primary setting for Cory Doctorow's novel Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town.

Kids' CBC, the daily children's programming block on CBC Television, includes some interstitial segments featuring Mamma Yamma, who owns a vegetable stand in Kensington Market.[15] Played by puppeteer Ali Eisner, Mamma Yamma teaches children about food-related subjects such as nutrition, table manners and basic mathematics, and also often incorporates celebrity and musical guests.

Marijuana culture

The market is also home to one of Canada's few cannabis cafés and boutiques, as well as a couple of head shops. The Hot Box Cafe and Roach'o'Rama are businesses in Kensington Market where the consumption of cannabis takes place openly.

insk Congregation Synagogue
Anshei Minsk Congregation Synagogue (1930), Kensington Market, Toronto

Jane Jacobs

Jane Jacobs was a very well known planner who fought and strongly advocated for what she believed in. Kensington Market is a prime example of her teachings and practices that make a neighbourhood successful. Jacobs used four important elements to determine a neighbourhood’s success. The first element was that the neighbourhood has to be diverse. The second and third elements were that the neighbourhood has to serve multiple purposes and uses as well the street blocks must be short. The fourth element was that old buildings must be incorporated with new ones. Kensington Market is a prime example of the above elements that make a neighbourhood successful.

Allen Jacobs

Well-known urban designer Allen Jacobs was a huge advocator of visiting the neighbourhood, walking around and observing buildings and their architecture. After conducting what is known as a “Jacobian Analysis” many assumptions can be gathered. Things such as what the area is intended for, who lives in or uses it, what changes have taken place as well as how vulnerable the area is to change can be found by walking around the neighbourhood. Another interesting indication of economic status/ethnic values can be determined simply by how the treatment of ones yards and land are. In the case of Kensington Market, it is clear that by observing the Victorian architecture the buildings are older but very well maintained. It has a very “artsy” feel to the neighbourhood with different coloured buildings making it unique. Also Given the fact that the neighbourhood is well maintained, it can be assumed that the residents are very proud of where they live and thus major changes in the future are very unlikely.


Two synagogues remain in the Market from the early 20th-century period when the area was the centre of the Jewish community in Toronto, Anshei Minsk on St. Andrews Street and the Kiever Synagogue on Bellevue Avenue.

The winter solstice festival is an important gathering of Ontario's pagan community.

Rastafarian Culture

In recent years Kensington Market has been associated with the Rastafari Movement. There are several stores situated around the Market that sell Rastafarian cultural items, including a small flea-market. The area has also been popular amongst marijuana activists and members of the drug subculture.


Census tract 0038.00 of the 2006 Canadian census covers Kensington Market. The 2006 Canadian census revealed that the average family income in Kensington was $61,339, compared to the City of Toronto which has an average family income of $96,602.00. Additionally, the prevalence of low income before tax is substantially higher in Kensington at 39.5% compared to the City of Toronto at 20.6%. The 10 most common languages spoken at home, after English are:

  1. Cantonese - 14.3%
  2. Unspecified Chinese - 13.4%
  3. Mandarin - 9.4%
  4. Portuguese - 4.8%
  5. Vietnamese - 2.7%
  6. Spanish - 1.5%
  7. Korean - 0.7%
  8. Urdu - 0.3%
  9. Polish - 0.3%
  10. Serbian - 0.3%

Kensington has a lot of diversity, particularly a large Chinese ethnicity due to its close proximity to Chinatown. 47.5% of Kensington's population is Chinese, compared to 10% in Toronto overall. 7% of Kensington Market's population is from other parts of Asia, 3% Latin, 0.5% Arab, 3% Black, and 39% of the population is Caucasian.

Nearby streets of note

See also


  1. ^ Kensington Market, Directory of Designations of National Historic Significance of Canada
  2. ^ Kensington Market, National Register of Historic Places
  3. ^ "1999 real estate guide." Fulford, Robert. Toronto Life. Toronto: Mar 1999. Vol. 33, Iss. 3; pg. Insert
  4. ^ "Kensington Market National Historic Site of Canada". Parks Canada. Retrieved 2011-12-02. 
  5. ^,47,2002M
  6. ^ "New Designations Recognize the National Historic Significance of Canadian People, Places and Events". Parks Canada. 2006-11-30. Retrieved 2006-12-05. 
  7. ^ 1911 Canadian Census
  8. ^ Rob Roberts (11 November 2009). "In Kensington Market, an attempt to organize the unruly". National Post. National Post. Retrieved 12 March 2011. 
  9. ^ , 10/14-21/08Now TorontoLouis Johnson: Market Forces: Commercial realtors hot for high rents see new Yorkville in funky Kensington. However, for now Kensington mostly retains its character as a great source for fresh foods, eclectic goods, and street food.
  10. ^ Shantz, Jeff (2009). Heterotopias of Toronto, in Living Anarchy: Theory and Practice in Contemporary Anarchist Movements. Academica.  
  11. ^ "Hero 2013: Videofag". Torontoist, December 30, 2013.
  12. ^
  13. ^ "P.S. Kensington". 
  14. ^ "Chiaroscuro Reading Series". ChiZine Publications. Retrieved 12 March 2011. 
  15. ^ Mamma Yamma at

External links

  • Kensington Alive - History presented in Multi Media
  • Parks Canada Background on Kensington Market National Historic Site
  • Kensington Market Pictures
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