A new organization plans to dedicate itself to telling the landmark neighbourhood's story.
When George Taylor Denison purchased a large tract of land following the War of 1812, it’s unlikely he would have imagined the history that would unfold in the section of his property that became Kensington Market. Beginning with Victorian labourers from the British Isles, the neighbourhood has welcomed waves of immigrants from all corners of the world.
The ongoing evolution of Kensington Market, and its role in the histories of numerous Toronto ethnic communities, has created a rich legacy of stories, which a new historical society intends to promote. Holding its first public event this evening at Lillian H. Smith library, the Kensington Market Historical Society (KMHS) aims, according to its website, to “collect and disseminate knowledge pertaining to the cultural, historical, and art historical context of the Kensington Market area.”
According to KMHS president Dennis Reid, the idea arose from a chance conversation with Trinity College archivist Sylvia Lassam. They found that, unlike other neighbourhoods across the city, the market seemed never to have had such an organization. After some initial meetings, they gained the support of the Ontario Historical Society, and they incorporated in November 2012.
Reid sees the society as a vehicle for encouraging and enhancing the study of the neighbourhood’s past. He hopes that, besides initiating its own research and collecting oral histories, the group will collaborate with other historical societies, especially among cultural communities with strong links to the area. Along with its website, the group intends to run several public events each year and publish some of its work.
For its first event, KMHS is hosting two speakers who have written about the neighbourhood. Jean Cochrane will present an outline of Kensington’s history from the days of Denison, while Rosemary Donegan will discuss Spadina Avenue’s role in the shaping the culture of the market.
Reid, a University of Toronto art professor and former chief curator of the Art Gallery of Ontario, has long been drawn to the neighbourhood. “When I went to U of T back in the early ’60s, Kensington Market was our kind of touch point,” he told us. “We hung out in this area.” When Reid moved to Ottawa to work at the National Gallery of Canada, he and his friends inevitably wound up in Kensington whenever he visited. When Reid returned to Toronto in the late 1970s, he bought a home near the market. The neighbourhood served as his family’s educational, shopping, and social centre.
“In many ways the market is more polyglot than it’s ever been,” Reid said, when asked about the current state of the neighbourhood he calls home. The turnover and redevelopment within Kensington, and the associated controversy, fits within the tradition of change that has kept the area vibrant amid cultural shifts.