The extent to which large modern cities have grown to look more and more like one another over the last few decades, is pretty much horrifying – but there are other forces besides money at work in every town – and far better places to take its pulse and learn its character, than any heartless steel and glass tower-farms.

Toronto has a lot of very distinct and flavourful neighbourhoods, thanks not only to one of the most international populations in the world, but also the interesting combinations as people from all over, new and old, find nifty ways to cooperate.

Caribbean Corner (top photo)

But Kensington market has a very special place in the heart of every downtown kid (and indeed, many from the suburbs, too), because it has managed to stay a very active chaotic mixture of everything for decades, without ever losing it’s cool edge, bargain appeal, and reliable ongoing value to an extraordinarily wide range of people.

The best fishmongers and butchers, some of the last fine tailors not pitching to the bespoke set, the international house of cheese (a childhood favourite, like the huge bakery on the opposite corner), military surplus stores, tons of cool little restaurants and clubs – and a wild range of unique shops catering to communities from all over, inexpensively!

On top of this, it’s long been a fashion destination (full of superb vintage shops and home to many start-up designers), a centre for all sorts of passions – foodies, artists, vegans, anarchists, punks, potheads and for many years the most reliable destination for street music lovers of all kinds (street festivals held every other weekend, all summer long). Don’t like the Ska you’re hearing? – just walk a half a block, you’ll get some spirited punk instead, or perhaps some high energy soul!

Cool and fierce

Tons of interesting people live in the market, also – many artists, revolutionaries of various denominations, and uncountable uncategorizable free-spirited eccentrics – which means that glorious self expression like this is never squelched by a squeamish condo-board.

You won’t ever mistake this door for anyone else’s – not even if you’re seriously drunk!

Nor are you likely ever to casually insult or slight the occupants – just in case!

Midnight pocket warmers

Part of what makes Kensington so much fun for eating, is that you can get a gourmet meal with artful plating, or super-savoury hand-food, just as easily, or (as is the case for me too often), enjoy so many good cooking smells as you stroll by, that you get too confused to pick anything!

This shot really reminds me of late night fast food work, though my own stint was almost forty years ago now. Sublime quality of loneliness and intermittent human connection. Warmer feelings, somehow, when the customer is coming in out of the dark and the chill.

Also – small medium and large, I think they mean – normal to OMG! That bottom burrito looks like an all-day challenge! (great deal, at the price)


Pretty much everything in Kensington is a canvas – the back-alleys are famous targets for roving photographers (second only to the vast linear gallery of graffiti alley, on Queen, which is more resplendent than ever).

But the storefronts too are almost always decorated. If not in a nostalgic faded bittersweet way, then in something more whimsical or else purposefully artistic.


Is one example of a more purposefully decorated place (a truly superb spray-art Miles Davis, graces its exterior). Inside it looks surreal (in a way that instantly reminded me of Nan Goldin), and also way too cool for me!

Not disdaining that in any way – I enjoyed my club days a lot, but I know when to make room for those with sharper wits and better information!

Repurposed Chic

This store is actually considerably less dilapidated than the ones I used to eagerly browse myself, back in the early eighties – but the point is, kids have been coming down here to find weird old abandoned fashions and make something new out of them for ages – and there are still tons of shops of this type – a venerable Kensington synthesis of the old rag and bone places and the vanished haberdasheries.

Need a cheap suit? Cats-eye shades? A hat from the thirties, Cigarette case, or Zirconium cufflinks? Military surplus, vintage dress-shops, biker leather, new designer, Tibetan and Indian fashions and fine custom tailors all available just round the corner, just in case you’ve hit the wall, and decided to go in a whole different direction.

Sleeping grocery

I think the most important thing about Kensington’s long endurance as a wonderful place for everyone, is that it is still a truly fantastic working-class market. Fishmongers, fruit markets – food shops from all around the world, selling not to the bored upper classes, desperately seeking novelty and exotica, but mostly to those to whom these delicacies never ceased meaning home.

Taste is a precious anchor – and not just a big part of culture, but also of how we welcome others.

Am I crazy to think Kiwi, Plantain and Lime would be brilliant together?  Maybe with a bit of coconut?

I am always curious about what you are thinking

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