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A few steps away from Chinatown led me into another dimension and era ..... right smack dab into the 60's! Kensington market is a small neighborhood, only a few blocks long, filled with typical 'hippie' attire, second hand shops, bead shops, organic eateries, and flashback style music wafting from windows along the way ........
After a wonderful fruit smoothie, we wandered in and out of the various shops ............ incense was the theme as every shop had a different scent. Some of the clothing was appropriately priced, some was way overpriced - one must use their own judgement in deciding what to buy. But I found the beads and some of the little jewelry type thingies wonderful souveniers for my family ;)
This is a short block, but as you wander you enter other ethnic areas ..... ganga-ville, portuguese land, reggae-ville, etc ...... a wonderful way to taste and smell a little bit of other cultures is to wander into Kensington Market :)
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Kensington Market = Funkytown
The Kensington Market is more than a market, it's a funky neighbourhood in Toronto. The main "drag" is Kensington Avenue but it's actually a few blocks of shops, markets, cafes, bakeries within the perimeters of Dundas Street W, Spadina Ave, College St. and Bathurst St. Kensington and Augusta are the main streets with several cross streets making up the bulk of the shops, many of which are in old houses. There are a lot of vintage clothing and jewelry shops and we also saw craft shops and costume shops, bakeries, and fruit and Veg stands. There are bright murals on buildings and there are racks of clothes and bright fabrics, lanterns and flags outside many of the shops. It makes for a very colourful neighbourhood!
You are also on the edge of Chinatown so don't be surprised to see many shops and signs in both languages. We had a walk through the Chinatown area of Dundas St. W and Spadina, and then walked along Kensington Ave. looking into some of the shops. Later we had a quick coffee in a small takeout bakery that only had two stools for customers! It was mainly based on take out and catering, to be fair. We rifled through the second hand leather coats in Exile and saw some old costumes hanging around the door at another shop. Lots of lovely fresh fruit and veg including some exotic items (but, again, remember, Chinatown is around the corner).
When you enter the neighbourhood, you step away from the bustle of the city, it seems. Though it's busy, it also seems much quieter with less vehicle traffic. The shop owners were happy to see you and would be helpful if you wanted or let you browse on your own. If you're looking for something a bit off the beaten track in a large urban "concrete" jungle, you won't go wrong exploring Kensington Market.
As you walk further west past Chinatown, you eventually cross into the shopping district known as Kensington Market. The Market is bordered basically by Dundas, Spadina, Baldwin and Augusta. Here, once again there are many street vendors, food markets, etc selling their items. This is definitely a more eclectic group of folks, and the thing that caught my eye most often was the vintage clothing that was for sale.
Even though a number of streets run through the market area, it looked to me like driving and parking was a nightmare, so I'd park elsewhere and walk around. It makes it easier to cut back and forth across the street when things catch your eye!
Kensington Market isn't a "market" in the regular sense of the word, it's a collection of ethnic food stores, hip coffee shops, and used retro/military surplus clothes stores. If you ever have one of those days when you wake up thinking, "Hmmm... Today I'd like to buy a military tent, a genuine 60s go-go skirt, a Rastafarian hat, a pound of Mexican chillies, and then sit down to drink a latte while reading Nietzsche to pretend I'm clever," then look no further!
I know there are people that think Kensington is "ultra-cool" or the "jewel of Toronto", and don't get me wrong, I love spending time there, but the whole premise of the neighbourhood is absolutely ridiculous. But that's why I enjoy it; it makes me laugh. ...And I guess there is a nice idea of "world harmony" in there somewhere. It's a fun way to spend an hour or two on a sunny afternoon.
Many of the houses in the area were built in the 1880s to house Scottish and Irish immigrant labourers. "Kensington Market" itself was founded shortly after 1910 by a large wave of Jewish immigrants who were displaced from a different area of the city. They opened tailor, bakery, and import shops in the densely built houses that occupy the streets. Later still, immigrants from the Portugal, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, and draft-dodgers from the US-Vietnam war all moved in. Council and developer plans to demolish and redevelop the area in the 1960s fell through when a mayor sympathetic to the neighbourhood was elected.
An open-air market occurs in the streets on Saturdays.
Kensington does offer one's mind a beautiful break from all the chain stores and franchise restaurants that plague the rest of Toronto's core. Even brand new storefronts and objects look slightly tattered and worn-out when placed here. But that's what this area's always been about... a home for the dispossessed.
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Kensington Market is a great place to wander. I especially love the traffic free Sunday's in the summer. Sadly they are a pitiful once a month. Oh well it's a start.
The market area has great fruit and veggies stands, smelly fish markets along with kitchy second hand clothing store, cafe's and bars and so much more.
Great during the hustle and bustle but once all the shops and markets close down the area looks a little seedy. But that's okay we love it anyway.
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Kensington Market is probably the best place to learn about Toronto's social history in 30 minutes. The market was originally a place where East European immigrants set up shop and lived in the first half of the century. Ukranians, Poles, Russian and Jews started their first stores here after arriving in Canada. As these immigrants, and their children, moved up the socio-economic ladder, new immigrants moved in, and the age of their stores is key to when the wave arrived: first Portuguese and Italians, the Chinese, Vietnamese and finally, the latest wave, Hispanic. The counter-culture feel and the cheap cost of living in the market also attracted large numbers of punks, hippies, beatniks, rastafarians and Communists, all of whom set up shop. Today the market shows clear signs of gentrification, but it is very easy to get back to the immigrant feel of the market.
To be honest I am indifferent to Kensington Market but some people love the place. Then again I know others who found the Kensington disgusting. So I suggest you visit it yourself and judge.
Kensington Market is a small neighborhood in central Toronto especially noted for its outdoor market stalls and its ethnic diversity. With respect to the later, it can be said to be emblematic of Toronto itself. Kensington Market dates from the 19th century and was actually where the Scotch first settled into Toronto. As with most ethnic groups, when they prospered they moved to other neighborhoods and other immigrant groups moved in. Few people are aware that this was at onetime a thriving Jewish neighborhood. In fact the oldest synagogue is in Kensington. More recently the neighborhood has been settled by Portuguese and Chinese. The former group are noted for painted their homes bright colours.
Today most of the outdoor food shops are concentrated toward the northern end of the market area. Elsewhere, there are many second clothing stores and cheap restaurants. Several coffee shops have recently opened up as the neighborhood also seems to be developing into a very trendy area. The area has also become the home of collection of neo-hippies who seem to hang around the outdoor bars, drink cheap beer and mourn the day Abby Hoffman died.
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Kensington Market is in the same area as Chinatown, so you can easily spend a day browsing through both places. My first impression was that it was a bit run down, but you'll find some real deals if you dare to venture inside some of the stores. There's the usual t-shirt shops and souvenir stuff shops as well as some great spice stores, butchers, and foodstuffs.
The great thing about Kensington Market is the diversity of cultures you'll find. It's sort of a world market - you'll find imports from Mexico, the Middle-East, the Caribbean, Italy, China among others.
Definitely leave your car at home. There's no room for a car on the streets of Kensington Market, but don't be surprised when someone attempts to drive through anyway.
Beautiful Hidden Market in West Toronto
Lots of tiny shops and fruit/vegetable stands are hidden in this maze of tiny streets just west of Chinatown. Kensington Market is bordered by College Street (north) and Dundas Street (south) A huge variety of excellent produce and meat shops are found along the hidden tiny streets.
The market is famous for having a cheese shop. It sells only cheese. The choice is huge. You can hardly see the owners behind the counter due to all the cheese piled up. The man did have a sense of humor. I asked if they sell cheese. His response? Sorry, we sold out!
A Garden in the Midst of...
I'm not sure why, but I wasn't especially intrigued with the Kensington Market area. In all fairness, I didn't spend a great deal of time there and maybe it was because I had just enjoyed a nice Dim Sum lunch at the Bright Pearl restaurant nearby and wasn't in the mood for people standing in the street obstructing traffic. Nor did the crowded sidewalks, blaring music and many Rasta shops that seemed to dominate the area entice me, and as I wasn't in the need for any surplus military items I just didn't get it.
But don't let me influence you! You might get it and like it! It is certainly a different sort of ethnic place and the one picture taken was someone's tranquil little garden located in the far reaches of an alleyway. I guess there really is something for everyone and this place was my highlight... So very contrasting to the rest of the area.
We didn't get to spend much time at Kensington Market, the weather was drizzly and unlike the St. Lawrence Market which is indoor stalls, the Kensington Market is a collection of shops. I'll definitely head back to this area should I get to Toronto again.
Along the streets you'll find shops of many different ethnicities selling food, clothing, knick knacks, you name it. Frommer's Toronto 2005 has a lovely walking tour of the Kensington/Chinatown area mapped out.
Interesting things in the windows...
Kensington Market had to have some of the freshest fruit I've ever seen in their store fronts. I wanted to jump in to the fruit stands along Baldwin St.
Between this one and Chinatown we saw some things in the store windows that made our stomachs turn. Funny how we can eat ham and bacon, yet we see half of a pig's head in the window, snout and all...and get grossed out! Ducks with their necks still attached and huge hocks of meat hanging up...it's amazing how we don't see this here, yet it's proudly displayed on a daily basis in other countries and cultural areas.
People Watching at the Cuppa Joe
A bit of European flavour, at the NE corner of Baldwin and Augusta in the heart of Kensington there is an open booth/shack that you can stand or sit, relax, drink a good cup of coffee while you watch life swirl around you.
I am not sure if the name is cuppa joe it is attached to a shop that sells Reunion Island Coffee beans (one of my favorite Fair trade roasteries.
funky little corner
A very interesting little corner, but for me it was basically the most convenient spot to get fruit and veg and do other shopping. Sometimes there is a sweet smelling smoke wafting through the air as you walk by. My Market Bakery has delicious breads and bagels and the cheese shops are also good. Several second-hand T-shirt shops too.
I live in Kensington and its a great place to wander around. I feel like the whole world is on my doorstep.
The Japanese place on Augusta does a great bento box, big fat burrito do killer wraps, and Akram's do the best falafels I've come across. Jamaican doubles at the bakery on the South of Baldwin remind me of a chickpea curry in a big spongy bread, and go down Kensington to check out the Organic Ice Cream shop and its friendly owner.
A massive array of produce shops hawk every conceivable ingredient, so its a good place to go if you want to cook up your own food, or even assemble a picnic.
Vintage clothes shops abound, and are consistently popular with Toronto's fashionistas who prefer not to spend $500 on a handbag.
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