Kensington Market, one of Toronto’s most unique neighbourhoods, is a popular stop for locals and tourists alike. There are many different neighbourhoods, both official and unofficial, in the city, but none of them reflects the local diversity like this one. Here, you can experience the world in one place with goods from Europe, the Caribbean, the Middle East, South America and Asia.
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The history of Kensington Market
The market’s origins go back to the 1920s. In those days, it was known as the Jewish Market, thanks to the immigrant families that used to set up stands and sell goods to each other. As the waves of immigrants came and went, so changed the nature of the market. Each wave brought a unique flavour to Kensington Market.
Many of the Victorian-style houses from that time remain here. At one point, there were plans to demolish them all in favour of new housing, but like the true spirit of the area, a fierce opposition prevailed.
You won’t find shops with well-known names here. International chains are scoffed at and unwelcome. Instead, there are numerous mom-and-pop shops, vintage shops and an eclectic mix of culinary delights. Here young and old hang out together, mixing in the multicultural essence of the area.
Where is Kensington Market?
Kensington Market is a maze of little streets and alleys. Each street tends to have different shopping options that make up a practical shopping layout. The main shopping is along Augusta and Kensington Avenues and Baldwin Street. There is also some spillover onto College Street where you’ll find a lot of discount computer shops and other electronics.
If you’re there to shop for food, Baldwin Street and Kensington Avenue are where you’ll find fishmongers, butchers, cheese shops, and grocery and bakery shops. Numerous health food shops, restaurants and cafes also make their home here.
Augusta is the larger street passing through Kensington Market. Here you’ll find cheap clothes, army fatigues and other random items intertwined with some specialty shops and more restaurants. Second-hand clothing shops are also on Kensington Ave. You can’t miss them.
A market full of wonders
Kensington Market, despite its fancy name, is anything but. Growing up, it wasn’t my favourite place to hang out. I remember it being very grungy. While the grit is still there, today’s Kensington is very hipster and eclectic. You will find a used army surplus store down the street from a fancy bakery and hipster coffee shops.
If vintage and thrift shops are your thing, you’ll find plenty of them here. Kensington Market has it all, from tacky and straight out hideous to decent finds and one-of-kind items. There is especially a great selection of seasonally-themed items. Think Halloween costumes and ugly Christmas sweaters.
A foodie destination
It seems that every year a new bar or restaurant opens up. From vegan food, specialty and fusion to everything in between, the culinary options get better and better all the time. One of Alex’s favourite places here is Rasta Pasta. A unique blend of Jamaican and Italian cooking. It’s not a sit-down place, but get your grub and eat it on the street. You won’t regret it.
One of my favourite coffee shops is the Moonbean Cafe, where they make the best London Fog in the city. There is also Jimmy’s Coffee, where coffee and ambiance are Instagram-worthy. The recent addition of the Kensington Brewery and Trinity Common adds to the beer options in the area. Kensington Market has it all, from tacos, churros and waffles to cannabis cafés and boutiques.
Like any other market, Kensington offers a variety of options. Many Torontonians flock here for fresh produce, specialty cheeses, spices, meats and seafood. Numerous health food stores are also popular with the locals and the health-conscious.
You can even get great bagels that, I dare say, are better than what I found in Montreal. The chances are that if you’re looking for some exotic and rare to find food items, you’re more likely to find them in Kensington Market than anywhere else in the city. This is the only place I’ve been able to find seitan meat, which is an excellent staple for that vegetarian diet.
Street art destination
Art is something of a staple in Kensington Market. From lively street art covering the walls of small alleys to funky galleries and metal statues. One of the staples here is the Garden Car. It is exactly what it sounds like. Each May, an old graffiti-covered car takes its spot on Augusta Avenue, where it transforms into a community garden. Attended by local volunteers, it fascinates people of all ages every summer.
During the summer months, you’re likely to find street musicians entertaining the visitors as they pass by. Quite often, various restaurants and cafes organize live music at different times of the day.
Special events destination
Kensington Market is also home to many events throughout the year. Pedestrian Sundays shut down the streets for pedestrian-only traffic during the summer months. Frequently, there are art exhibits, concerts and street performances to entertain the visitors.
Another annual event is the Kensington Market Festival of Lights, designed to celebrate the winter solstice in December. You can partake in the Winter Solstice Parade or just come by to support the local merchants.
The Kensington Market Jazz Festival has been around since 2016. It consists of 400 Canadian jazz musicians and 170 performances across 24 venues over three days in September. Many other events take place in Kensington Market throughout the year, attracting locals and tourists alike.
final words on Kensington market
What started as a Jewish neighbourhood also became home to many Eastern European immigrants. Others followed in waves from Italy, Portugal, the Caribbean, Latin America and Southeast Asia. Today, you can expect to see pretty much anyone here.
While it’s a staple in Toronto, it’s also an exciting place to visit. So next time you’re in town, make sure you visit Kensington Market, Toronto’s most unique neighbourhood and see for yourself.