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Kensington Market, Toronto: Down Augusta Avenue


Toronto's Kensington Market is a world of unexpected and doesn't-quite-fit-together. It's not a central market with a hall or field, and it even resists any attempt to describe it as a cluster of stores selling something in particular.


That's because a walk down Augusta Avenue, the spine of the Kensington Market neighborhood will take you from the particular to the peculiar, from the familiar to the wait-a-minute. It's a living neighborhood of poor people, hip people, immigrants of several continents and ghosts of its past communities. All within sight of the downtown business district.

Yes...on wheels. Duh.

I ended up in Kensington Market on a whim. I was looking for a chance to see more Toronto during a break from a family weekend, and Googled 'one afternoon Toronto' and picked it out from the dozen or so options that came up. With no further research, I started my walk.


From the brief description, I expected hip, but I had no idea what a mix I was getting; mostly when you get hip, you get only that. But Augusta Avenue is the child of waves of immigration, going back to Irish and Scottish arrivals in the mid-19th century and later enough Jews that it was called 'the Jewish market." 

Lots of art and artists on the street...and some musicians, too...


Then in the 1950s, anti-Salazar Portuguese, especially from the Azores. In the 1960s and 70s, Caribbeans and East Asians added to the mix, along with a sprinkling of U.S. political refugees. The 80s and 90s brought immigrants from China, Somalia, Central America...almost any global trouble spot.


While the earliest immigrants are gone (except perhaps for hip descendants), most of the more recent groups are still sprinkled in the neighborhood, and some blocks look as if they could belong far, far to the south.

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It's a great neighborhood for an afternoon walk, and it's clear that if you have money, you could never starve on Augusta Avenue. If you have an afternoon in Toronto, give it a try. And silently thank the fates that a financial dip in the 1960s saved the area from being turned into high-rise apartment projects.


Legal marijuana is coming to Toronto soon, but on Augusta Avenue, it looks as if it's arrived already...and I'm a little suspicious of that smoked fish, too...


So, did the owners really start out to make this unlikely culinary mix...or were they just trying to remind aging hipsters of long-ago days at San Francisco's Hungry i with a bad pun?


Packed close together, different nationalities share the street; there's no more than a few paces between this Hispanic grocery and the headquarters of several Chinese community organizations.


It was an inviting thought, but the store wasn't really that big...


A poster opposing Doug Ford, a candidate for provincial premier, with another pun...


And some last artworks before heading home...



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The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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