Kensington Market Toronto, with its specialty food stores, vintage clothing stores and laidback restaurants and cafes, makes for a great mini-day trip for the avid shopper and the curious cultural explorer.
As if to prove the old saying that “size doesn’t matter”, Toronto’s Kensington Market district is tiny, only about five blocks wide by five blocks high. (Its borders are: College Street in the north, Dundas Street in the south, and from Bathurst Street to Spadina Avenue.)
Nevertheless, the reputation of this community far outweighs its physical size. Kensington Market has been a popular destination for more than a century, and in 2006 was even declared a National Historic Site of Canada.
So what makes Kensington Market Toronto so popular?
Creativity and Diversity; Food and Fashion; and a little Canadian History as well.
Vintage Clothing Stores and other Shops in Kensington Market Toronto
If you're shopping for vintage clothing, Toronto offers a range of possibilities. Many of the best vintage clothing stores in the city are clustered in a small street in the centre of Kensington Market: Kensington Avenue.
I first became familiar with the vintage clothing market about twenty years ago. In those days I used to shop at Courage My Love, a store on Kensington Avenue that sells vintage pieces and imported fashions from Mexico and the Far East. Recently I returned to my old stomping grounds and was pleased to see that Courage My Love (established in 1975) is still there, along with other one-of-a-kind vintage clothing stores which are often creative on the outside as well as the inside.
The vintage charm of the Victorian buildings in this community and the creative license residents have taken with their well-loved properties lend the area a unique flavour.
Some of the other clothing shops in Kensington Market are:
Dancing Days - 17 Kensington Ave
Ego Vintage - vintage shoes - 9 Kensington Ave
Exile Vintage - 20 Kensington Ave
Flashback Vintage - 33 Kensington Ave
I discovered another one the other day: Bungalow at 273 Augusta Avenue.
It has second-hand and new goods, clothing and furniture and even furniture and home décor items. I saw a funky Borg coat with a New York label on it (a coat with a past!) that I would have bought if it’d been my size. Unfortunately that’s the one downfall of second-hand shops; you certainly do get diverse items, more so than in a chain store, but that also means that items are “one of a kind”… if it’s not your size, you’re out of luck!
Another cool shop, just across the street from Bungalow, is Blue Banana Market, at 250 Augusta Avenue, just one block south of College. This place has diversity in buckets, with booths occupied by a wide range of vendors selling handicrafts, imported toys, housewares, art work, clothing etc. I guess it’s a Canadian version of a souk. Wander in, and before you know it you’ve killed an hour just looking through everything. Kensington Market is a great place for browsing, even if you don’t have a particular shopping agenda in mind.
In other market shops you’ll find new, designer clothing as well as colourful fashion from India.
Food & Drink in Kensington Market Toronto
Kensington Market is known for its food shops selling delicious baked goods, meat, fish, produce and specialty treats from across the globe and just around the corner.
Love cheese? Me too. Just walking into Global Cheese, at 76 Kensington Avenue, with its rich aroma, sends me into a fromage frenzy:
Kensington Market also boasts a variety of ethnic restaurants – Asian, Latin, Middle Eastern, Portuguese, etc. Some even combine different cuisines, like that bizarre Hungarian/Thai combo, the "Hungary Thai".
If you can’t find anything in the market itself, wander up to College Street where you’ll find lots of dining places. One I discovered recently is Caplansky’s at 356 College. It’s a relatively new but old-fashioned Jewish deli with smoked meat to die for (although I found the latkes a bit too crunchy). Warning: this place is packed on the weekend so be prepared to wait in line a bit.
History of Kensington Market Toronto: The Story of Canadian Immigration
One of the things I like best about Kensington Market is that it’s not just a “shopping district”. It’s also a multi-cultural residential area where generations of newcomers to Canada have settled and raised their families, and they still do. It started with Irish and Scottish workers in the 1880s, followed by Jewish immigrants in the early 1900s (when the area was known as the Jewish Market), and then by other new arrivals including Portuguese, Caribbean, Latin American, Asian, African and Middle Eastern.
Here’s a shot of one of the last remaining Jewish synagogues (there used to be many more):
And a Chinese community building:
When many Canadians think of Kensington Market, one of the first things that comes to mind is the King of Kensington, a CBC television show starring Al Waxman that ran from 1975 to 1980. Visit Bellevue Square Park in the south end of the neighbourhood and you’ll see this statue erected to him:
The park has a homey, human-sized feel to it… quite different from a lot of highrise downtown Toronto. And there's a lot of individuality which you can see even in this cozy duplex:
Another famous “sculpture”, if you can call it that, in Kensington Market is the “Community Vehicular Reclamation Project”:
….or as it’s more commonly known, the “garden car”. It's an old car that has been stripped of its insides and turned into a giant planter for flowers, veggies and weeds. It is parked on Augusta Street during the spring/summer and is usually towed away for storage every fall but we caught it here in November covered in snow. Like other characters in Kensington Market Toronto, it celebrates creativity and renewal, important qualities in Canadian history, and worth treasuring.
You might also want to visit
Here are a few other interesting neighbourhoods that are walking distance from Kensington Market: