A visit to Kensington Market is like a sensory trip around the world.
During the 1920s, it was known as the Jewish Market. Today, you can sense the city’s rich, multicultural mix, obvious in the shops packed with goods from Europe, the Caribbean, the Middle East, South America and Asia. It’s also a treasure trove of vintage and second-hand clothing shops, tucked in among eclectic restaurants and cafés.
On Sundays throughout the summer the streets are shut down to motorists, and pedestrians take over the streets. There are frequently concerts, exhibitions of art (visual and performance), and occasionally political displays.
The area now known as Bellevue Square Park was used as a parade ground for volunteer cavalry troop during the Upper Canada Rebellion. During the 1880s, houses were built on small plots for Irish and Scottish immigrant labourers coming to Toronto, which are moderate in size and exemplify true Victorian architecture.
During the early twentieth century, Kensington became populated by eastern European Jewish immigrants and some Italians 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”.
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 moved into the area. The arrival of new waves of immigrants from the Caribbean and East Asia changed the community, making it even more diverse.
Today the neighbourhood is a noted tourist attraction, and a centre of Toronto‘s cultural life as artists and writers moved into the area. In November, 2006, Kensington Market was proclaimed a National Historic Site of Canada.
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 is discount and surplus stores. It is also home to many restaurants covering a wide variety of styles and ethnicities. One must visit Casa Acoreana with its colourful interior.
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.
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.