As I’ve said many times before, Kensington Market represents my idea of what Toronto and ultimately, Canada, means for me. It’s a place where old and young, rich and poor, every ethnicity, rub shoulders in peace. But despite the recent wave of gentrification, it’s not a place for everybody. It’s not manicured and some would say that it is definitely rough around the edges. Its origin as a cheap market for working class immigrants is still evident and one of the things that fascinate me, ever the historian. One can see the different waves of Canadian immigration history in its stores: first there were the Jews, then the Chinese, the Portuguese, the Jamaican and more recently, the Latin Americans. All of this is evident at the corner of Augusta and Baldwin where we hang out. Louie’s Cafe, where we spend many hours, is owned by three generations of Portuguese immigrants, their neighbour is Solly, the Jewish butcher, who grew up in the market and serves his own coffee at Louie’s, across the street is a Chinese fruit and vegetable stand where the matriarch of the Portuguese family does her shopping. The owner respectfully carries her shopping and walks her across the street when she’s done. Next door is the Chilean empanadas place. It’s a tight knit community.
Above all, Kensington teaches us not to judge by appearances. We’ve seen men in expensive suits sitting beside a group of very rough-looking punks, who were always apologetic and polite if they bumped into you. We are one a first-name basis with some of the local street people, who are always very nice and dignified.
Markets are a place filled with a special energy that capture much of the soul of a community. As Javier Reverte said so beautifully in his book about his African adventures, to really understand a place, one needs to visit its public markets. I take that to heart and try to always visit a local market where I am. In Montreal, we were regulars at Jean Talon, with its special Québécois atmosphere. In Barcelona, our favourite market was the Mercado de l’Abaceria Central, in Gracia, which was busy every day of the week. Here in Toronto, despite having visited the St. Lawrence Market a few times, we quickly took to Kensington.
This morning was a particularly nice one to be in the market. The air was dry and the sky was a perfect shade of blue. I regretted not having my camera.
But here’s a b&w from last year: