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Kensington Market and Chinatown Toronto (Downtown Neighbourhood Walking Tours)

Feature image credit – collage of Kensington Market by photographer Garrett Campbell

Welcome to Kensington Market – Chinatown, Toronto, one of the most interesting neighbourhoods in the city. Let’s explore via a collection of photos.

Be sure to contact us for a private tour or join a group tour by purchasing a ticket.

From a photographer’s perspective this area is really special. There are a plethora of interesting streets, spots and landmarks, not to mention the high quality of people watching. this area abounds with rich visuals from public art and murals to storefronts, cafes, parks and other public spaces.

Grossman’s Tavern on Spadina / photo by Anthony G. Reyes via Flickr (link)
Colourful murals of Kensington / photo via Bernard Spragg. NZ via Flickr (link)

Background – Kensington vs Chinatown

If you are a visitor or new to Toronto I have to point out that (as you might guess) technically Kensington Market is a separate neighbourhood from Chinatown but they blend together so seamlessly at Spadina Ave that we often think of them as one. Also, “Kensington,” as might be obvious here, is a short form for “Kensington Market.” *(If you are really local you can also just call it “The Market.”

Having said that whether you prefer to visit one or the other or both spots, it’s easy to navigate the streets of neighbourhood and cover both of them within a few hours of walking. Both are often on Top 10 lists for downtown and central neighbourhoods in the city, and you should take the time to venture into both.

The main difference between the two hoods is that Chinatown is oriented toward serving Chinese Canadians and other Asian communities (like Vietnamese) and Kensington has a wider ethnic appeal and diversity. Chinatown may gold a slight edge in the number of eateries but it’s gotta be close!

Kensington Market

Perhaps the best known bohemian locale in the city, Kensington is fresh and funky with a side order of the eclectic and unusual. It’s a colourful neighborhood with some trademark stops like “the Garden Car” and Bellevue Square Park. Walk the main north-south avenues like Augusta Ave and Kensington Ave for the main strips of retailers and food vendors. Art shops, delis, cafes and vegetable markets abound.

Kensington Market signpost / photo by Anthony G. Reyes via Flickr (link)

At the entrance to the market you might look up and see these sculptures of the world with an eclectic mix of objects floating around itt. This unique sign acts as gatepost welcoming the world to Kensington Market.

It does feel like the world mixes here, as various cultures and experiences are mixed and melded together forging a new perspective.

People watching is a top aspect of this neighbourhood as historically hippie types mixed with punks, rastafarians and other free thinkers. I could name drop other cultural types but I think you get the idea. Lots of diversity and alternative life styles among locals and visitors.

For fun you can try some new food from regional favourites like Middle Eastern, African or Latin American. I often grab a snack like a Chilean empanada or Jamaican beef pie in one of the spots in the centre near the confluence of activity at the intersection of Baldwin and Augusta. this central spot brims with activity as cyclists and pedestrians mix.

Throughout summer there is a monthly festival called Pedestrian Sundays which falls on the last Sunday of the month. It’s a clamorous and vibrant street party where the main avenues are closed to cars. The rest of the time cars and delivery trucks move fairly slowly about as the abundance of people walking biking or skateboarding means that it tends toward a people first vibe.

According to the organizers: “Happening on the last Sunday of the month from May to October starting May 26! The streets of Kensington Market are yours and open in celebration on throughout the market. Human beings feel at their best in vibrant, human scale, friendly environments. Pedestrian Sundays allows us all to flourish in just such a space.”

Since it is a downtown neighborhood visitors should always keep their wits about them. Like any place in the big city, you should attend to your belongings.

Quirky textiles hanging outside a shop / photo by Anthony G Reyes via Flickr (link)
Victorian era houses converted to retail / photo by Anthony G Reyes via Flickr (link)

Chinatown

Steps away from Kensington MArket, centred on Spadina Ave from College St to Dundas St, is the neighbouryhoood knwon as Chinatown aka the Downtown Chinatown (there are other Chinatowns in East Toronto and in the suburbs).

In this photo we can see a typical intersection, Dundas at Spadina, with view of pedstrians, colourful sings on restaurants and the classic CLRV streetcar (the old version now retired).

Chinatown by City of Toronto / via Flickr (link)

Photos by Toronto Photographers – Thank You for sharing via Creative Commons

Photo by Davide Russo / via Flickr (link)
Photo by Carl Mueller / via Flickr (link)
Photo by John Maynard / Via Flickr (link)

From a Photographer’s Perspective

Cyclist, pedestrian and funky restaurant “Le Cevicheria” on Augusta Ave, Kensington Market / photo by Garrett Campbell

Garrett Campbell, an Ontario photographer and digital artist, who contributed to this post writes:

“Kensington Market is one of my favourite neighbourhoods in Toronto. To me, whenever I come here, it’s like both stepping a bit back in time and into a slightly foreign land …. but, in a good, refreshing way! Being a big foodie, I like the old(world) city market vibe it still has managed to retain.

The neighbourhood also has a fascinating ethnic history to it. Immigrants have largely made this place what it is, right on up to the present day; from eastern European Jews and Italians first settling here in the early 20th century, to Caribbean and East Asians post war, right on up to those from Latin America settling here most recently.

The old architecture, and great food and market stalls, combined with the amazing character and history make it a ‘must see/must do’ destination whenever I’m in Toronto. The other best part? Chinatown is right beside it! 🍺🥨✌️”

Kensington Market’s famous “Garden Car” public art project / photo by Garrett Campbell

Credits

Photos in this article by various artists via Flickr

Further photos contributed to this article by Garrett Campbell. Here’s more about the artist:

“I have been a photographer and digital artist for over 15 years, with an interest that started in college. My first camera actually was a Fuji Finepix, and I recently found the same model at my local hock shop, bought for nostalgia. It is a huge passion of mine and I’m so glad there are places like Instagram and Tdot.com to let me be creative doing so.”

THANK YOU GARRETT!

Kensington Market Tour and Photo Walk

Please join our event on Saturday May 25. The cost is $9. On the tour you will learn more about the culture and history of Toronto and your purchase supports the ongoing work of Tdot Shots. You can buy a ticket on this site. Thank you.

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