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“Local Tours” — A Travel Series by Driftscape

Episode 1: Kensington Market, Toronto — PART 1

With the help of its partners, Driftscape, a mobile app designed for travelers and curious locals, brings to you, “Local Tours” — A Travel Series by Driftscape.Join us as we explore Toronto’s unique local culture and history.

In this, the first episode of the series, Driftscape explores Kensington Market.Located in the heart of Toronto and designated as a National Historic Site of Canada in 2006, Kensington Market is one of Toronto’s most vibrant and diverse neighbourhood. A walkable bohemian place that draws artists and tourists to its indie shops, vintage boutiques and art spaces. One occasionally meets students and families living in the Victorian houses along tree-lined streets of this wonderful neighbourhood who share amazing stories of the area.

With the Driftscape app as our local guide we’ll explore stories from Track Toronto, Heritage Toronto, Cancarta Historic Sites, NOW magazine and Queerstory. Rest assured, you’ll get a unique perspective and a peek into the true tales that lie among the streets of Kensington Market.

“It was almost like as soon as you walked inside that boundary of College on the North side and Spadina on the East side you were in a different city.” Says Andrew Cash former resident of Kensington Market, and Member of Parliament.

We start our exploration at ST ANDREW AND SPADINA. This is the first stop on Track Toronto’s Hear Kensington Tour — which uses music as the lens for this neighbourhood tour. You’ll hear from many musicians including Ron Hawkins and Jason Collett who lived in and wrote music about Kensington Market. It’s also the location of the former Labor Lyceum, located at the southwest corner of Spadina Avenue and St. Andrew Street, at 346 Spadina. The Labor Lyceum was an epicentre of political activism for Toronto’s textile workers for nearly 40 years and an important cultural centre through which the collective identity of Jewish Torontonians was forged.

J.B. Salsberg, a lifelong labour activist, wrote that “no single institution and no single building on Spadina — the main street of Jewish Toronto — was more important in the refashioning of the Jewish immigrant into an actively involved Canadian Jew then was the Labor Lyceum.”

The city is dotted with plaques from Heritage Toronto that mark our most historically significant places, and you’ll also find them on the Driftscape app. Heritage Toronto’s plaque tells us that in the early 1950s, the Jewish community moved out of the Spadina Avenue area. The Labor Lyceum, however, remained significant to new immigrant groups and their labour activities. In 1971, the building was sold, and the Association moved to Cecil Street.

It then became home to Toronto’s largest and most glamorous Chinese restaurant Yen Pin Place, followed by a string of eateries like Paul’s Deep Sea Shantung, Hsin Kuang, and eventually the dim sum spot Bright Pearl. The building has recently been renovated to house offices.

Fun fact: This building is rumored to have been teeming with ghosts: Paranormal spirits are reputed to have inspired the lion statues that once stood out front and the building once required the services of an exorcist!


Kensington Market can be an acquired taste for residents — some think the market’s quirks are part of what makes it hard to gentrify, as you’ll hear in Track Toronto’s Hear Kensington Tour. Lowest of the Low frontman Ron Hawkins, has written nearly 50 songs about the city and once lived at this corner in 54 Kensington.

“I used to joke when I lived there that there should be checkpoints at Spadina and St Andrew. You should have to have a passport to get in.” Says Ron Hawkins.

Download the Driftscape App to hear more of Ron’s stories about the market and to hear the inspiration behind his song that references the legendary Sneaky Dee’s located at the edge of the market at College & Bathurst — so worth a visit!

Now onto BALDWIN ST. This street has inspired many songs, from L’Etranger, Delta Will and more. It’s also home to one of the places that inspired rapper Andy Bernstein’s (aka Abdominal) Toronto anthem T.Ode. Through his high recommendation and our own experience we suggest that if you’re a fan of Jamaican Beef Patty don’t miss Golden Patty at 187 Baldwin St.

We’ll leave you to enjoy your patty — but we’ll be back with more stories from Kensington Market in the next installment of our Local Tours — A Travel Series by Driftscape!

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