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Part 2 of “Local Tours” — A Travel Series by Driftscape

Updated: Jul 4

Episode 1: Kensington Market, Toronto - PART 2

We finished up part one of our Kensington Tour on Baldwin Street, enjoying a beef patty to the sounds of Abdominal’s T.Ode, outside of Golden Patty at 187 Baldwin St. This street inspired a lot of songs - you’ll notice more yellow signs along Baldwin Street, with lyrics from songs by Delta Will, L’Etranger and more. One of the most interesting musical gems in the market lies at 170 BALDWIN ST. What is now Koi Koi Sake Bar was, up until recently, Grafitti's. Grafitti’s was home to many musical shows and Ron Hawkins of the band Lowest of the Low describes it as “bigger than the sum of its parts”. Ron Hawkins frequently took the stage here, as did other legendary acts like the Drifters and Garth Hudson. Listen to this stop on Track Toronto’s Hear Kensington Tour to hear the story of Garth Hudson’s surprise appearance. You’ll also hear stories from Kensington Sound located above what was Grafitti’s. The entrance is tucked away, and you’d never guess it’s where artists like The Drifters, Alannah Myles, Daniel Lanois, Ron Sexsmith and more recorded albums.

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Kensington Sound isn’t the only recording studio in the market - at 6 NASSAU, near Spadina, you will find a graffiti covered building that was once home to another recording studio, referred to simply by it’s address. It was here that hundreds of songs were recorded, some by Owen Pallett and Feist. Before becoming a recording studio this quaint building was used as an illegal rooming house with tiny carved up rooms. If you’re lucky you may just bump into musician and recording artist David MacKinnon who may share a story about the most memorable album he recorded there - Burning Daylight, by Christine Fellows.

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At 69 ½ NASSAU, you’ll find Paul’s Boutique, a key part of the music ecosystem of Kensington Market. This quaint little store has a unique selection of guitars, bases, and keyboards. It also has a funny little hole in the floor through which you can see into the basement.

As you stroll down AUGUSTA AVE you’ll see more yellow signs with song lyrics on them. This street has been the source of inspiration for songs such as ‘She's the Source' by Thomas D'Arcy of Small Sins. The Embassy at 223 Augusta inspired a song of the same name by Henri Fabergé and the Adorables. If you need to use the bathroom, you can duck into Otto’s Berlin Döner, marked on the Driftscape App by NOW Magazine at 256 Augusta. Here you will find a tempting red button. If you press it you will find out that it temporarily transforms the washroom into a nightclub, cutting the overhead lights and blasting songs from wall-mounted speakers. The disco-themed washroom on the left becomes bathed in blue light refracting off a spinning mirrored ball. The house-music-themed washroom on the right is illuminated by sinister red neons that throb in time with the beat. Fans of urban whimsy will be moved in ways you didn’t know a washroom could move you!

Moving on to BELLEVUE SQUARE PARK, you’ll come across Dension Square which was once the site of the statue of Charlyn, Angel of Kensington. Charlyn has a unique connection to Jason Collett’s family. Hear him tell the whole story when you listen to Track Toronto’s Hear Kensington Tour. This area is also the site of several plaques honouring Al Waxman, the CBC TV seventies sitcom “King of Kensington”, Kiever Synagogue, Alice and Dan Heap, along with other historical facts about the area. Heritage Toronto and Cancarta Historic Sites share these stories on Driftscape.

The shed behind 4 KENSINGTON was once the site of the Canada’s first bookstore for the gay community, Glad Day Books (which still operates to this day, in a new location). In the evenings the book store became the office of The Body Politic, a radical gay newspaper that projected a bold vision of sexual liberation. It’s founder Jearld Moldenhauer tells the story of how despite its uninviting entrance and lack of sign out front, he was always amazed by how many people found their way down the narrow dark passage to the bookstore, a true testament to the vitality and necessity of this new movement. Check out Queerstory on the Driftscape app to see this and more video stories from Toronto’s LGBTQ history.

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Don’t forget to stop by African Drums & Art Crafts at 618 DUNDAS WEST, a uniquely welcoming store that sells beautiful African drums and hosts informal drum circles where anyone and everyone is welcome to come and participate.

Want to know more? Find fascinating stories, local tours, and a whole lot more on the Driftscape app.

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