kensington market

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Kensington Market, Toronto

Kensington Market, is an older neighbourhood in Downtown Toronto. It is bordered by College Street, Dundas Street W, Bathurst Street and Spadina Avenue. The area, known as Kensington Market is a National Historical Site.

Kensington Market not only services the local community, but also attracts visitors from far and wide. Located in the heart of Toronto the area is well known for it's eclectic mix of boutiques, vintage clothing stores, novelty shops, grocers, cafes and restaurants. Kensington Market has no enclosed areas, but rather a collection of shops and restaurants that make up the Kensington Market District.

If you are visiting Kensington Market from outside the area it is best to leave your car at a parking garage. There is parking available and you can park all day for under ten dollars. The streets are narrow, giving it a European feel. Walking the neighbourhood gives you the chance to take in all the sights,sounds and smells. You will be amazed at the cultural diversity, strange foods, unique stores and vibrant street art. Just remember to bring your camera.

The History of Kensington Market

kensington market 1926
Kensington Market, 1926
Courtesy of the Toronto Public Library

John Denison arrived from England in 1792 with his wife Sophia and three young sons. First settling in Kingston he was encouraged by his friend Peter Russell, who would succeed Lieutenant Governor General John Graves Simcoe as the Administrator of Upper Canada to relocate to Toronto. John Denison died in 1824 passing most of his land holdings to his son George.

George Taylor Denison would continue to accumulate land around York, (Toronto) through purchase and marriage (Esther Borden Lippincott in 1806) and would become one of the wealthiest landowners in Upper Canada. After the war of 1812 during which time he served in the British military George Denison returned to his home at York and proceeded to build a grand estate. The 156 acre parcel of land he chose ran north from present day Queen Street West to Bloor Street and west from Lippincott Street to Augusta Street. Built in the Georgian style of architecture the estate known as Belle Vue could only be reached by a mile long carriage laneway, which later would become Denison Avenue. The site of the original estate is where the Kiever Synagogue now stands across from Denison Square.

Upon George Denison's death in 1853 the property known as Belle Vue (now spelled Bellevue) was inherited by George's third son Robert Brittain Denison. Robert Denison began dividing and selling large estate lots from the Belle Vue property for $350.00 but when he had few offers he divided them into three smaller lots. This made the lots more affordable but also gave rise to narrow houses built on narrow lots.

By the 1870's lovely Victorian style two and three story dwellings built of brick lined the streets. Streetcars enabled residents to travel freely throughout the city. Most of the first residents were of English, Scottish and Irish descent but the turn of the twentieth century would see a shift in cultures when a large influx of Jewish immigrants settled into the Kensington Market area. These new immigrants, somewhat disconnected from the rest of society because of language and cultural barriers began to set up shops in the front or on the first floor of their homes with living accommodations being moved to the second floor. By the 1930's the area was referred to as the Jewish Market or the Jewish Bazaar.

With the end of WWII, Kensington Market would once again see a change in it's ethnic diversity as more immigrants began arriving from Europe, Portugal and Brazil. A new piece of technology called the refrigerator was becoming more common in households reducing the need for the daily trip to the market for fruits, vegetables, meat, fish and milk. These newcomers would fill vacant shops with restaurants and cafes. Muddy yards were converted into vegetable gardens.

The  1970's would usher in a new group of immigrants from Asian and Caribbean countries, creating a truly multi-cultural neighbourhood within North America's fourth largest city. In 2006 Kensington Market was designated a National Historical Site.

Places to Explore

CN Tower
Distillery District
Kensington Market
St. Lawrence Market
The Beaches

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