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Civic Impact

Layers of Kensington Market Tour glimpses area's deep history

Layers of Kensington Market Tour

“The tour was a way of looking at Kensington Market that draws attention to the different layers that have made up this neighbourhood. We go right back to the end of the last ice age, and then work through the controversial Toronto purchase of 1787,” says Bruce Beaton. On Sunday, May 15, Beaton helped lead a crowd of roughly 70 people through Toronto’s historic market on a tour called “The Layers of Kensington Market.” Beaton, a Director at Large with the Kensington Market Historical Society, also shared details about the area’s history as a Victorian suburb and a Jewish marketplace. “And all those different layers are here still, if you know where to look for them,” he says.

Starting at statue of Al Waxman in Bellevue Square Park, the tour wound through the market, tracing about 25 stops along Oxford, Baldwin, Augusta, College, Spadina, and St. Andrew. “When we were doing the research, we joked that a densely layered walking tour of Kensington Market would require seven hours plus snacks,” laughs Beaton. “We pick and chose things that were visibly notable on the tour, and that had the most relevance to the experience of walking through the neighbourhood.” Landmarks like Grossman’s Tavern and the former site of Zimmerman’s Discount were highlighted, along with parks, synagogues and the shifting merchant nationalities of the area.

The tour was a partnership between the Kensington Market Historical Society and Heritage Toronto. “They asked us to do the tour. It was a great kick in the pants to get it going. They were very supportive and encouraging, and it was great partnership,” he says, adding that the tour can now be adapted to suit different groups, including middle-school students who study urban environments as part of their curriculum. The Kensington Market Historical Society also runs free events at the Lillian H. Smith branch of the Toronto Public Library; their next talk, on June 14, covers "Boxers, Bookies, and Bootleggers: the Underbelly of Early Jewish Toronto."

Toronto recently began a two-year study to decide if Kensington Market will be added to the city’s 21 heritage conservation districts. For Beaton, tours like this help people see the many examples of history that the market contains. “The market is interesting because it works by accident - it’s not a place that you could design. It works because of how it’s grown as an organic beast. It’s vibrant in its chaos.” 

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