Kensington Market


Heritage Minute reveals immigrant culture of Kensington Market

Kensington Market in the heart of downtown Toronto has always felt like home to me. As an immigrant, I relate to its uniqueness as well as the essence and the spirit of the shop owners. I’ve walked around there, ate there, shopped there, and even partied there. There is something for everyone in the Kensington Market.

Canada’s latest Heritage Minute pays tribute to this immigrant-friendly neighbourhood. It’s also very much different than past Heritage Minutes —  instead of focusing on a single character and hiring an actor or actress to play the part, this Heritage Minute is an animation, depicting the journey of one shop over five decades.

Heritage Minutes are 60-second stories that use actors and costumes to mark an important part of Canadian history. This latest Kensington Market animation piece is the 88th presentation put together by Historica Canada and it is classed as a short documentary film.

The idea for the Kensington Market special came from filmmaker Michael Goldlist, who wrote and pitched the new Heritage Minute inspired by his personal family history. Goldlist’s grandfather, Charles Goldlist, opened a chicken shop in the market after he emigrated from Poland in 1948 as a Holocaust survivor. Goldlist ran the shop for decades and  lived among many other Jewish families who settled in the neighbourhood. The large immigrant population in Kensington Market opened the way to other cultures, as the chicken shop was later replaced by a Portuguese fish market, followed by a Jamaican music store. There is so much history to be found in the Victorian style buildings that not only housed immigrant business, but homes and families as well.

Next to Goldlist’s chicken shop, his neighbour William Mihalik opened a clothing store after he emigrated from Hungary in 1958, and today the clothing store takes over both properties. Tom’s Place is still thriving and very much family run by Tom Mihalik, his son Tom Jr., and his daughter Anett.

Tom was only 12 when his father started the second-hand clothing store, but he grew up in Kensington where he was surrounded by different nationalities. Today, Tom’s Place offers top-quality business suits.

The Heritage Minute was scripted by Goldlist and narrated by Tom Mihalik

“They thought my voice was very, very fitting because I still have an accent and they thought that somebody with my understanding of the area could speak from his heart, which I did.”

The stories of immigrants who found their first home and their first business in Kensington Market won’t end here, as there are many similar stories and experiences to be found. All you have to do is walk through the narrow streets and take in the bursts of different cultures.

Check out the latest Heritage Minute below:

What’s your favourite shop at Kensington Market? Let us know in the comments below!

Kensington small businesses are essential for sustainable growth

If the financial district is the brain of Toronto, Kensington Market must be the heart.

The market is an artistic centre of culture that holds a variety of unique retail boutiques, beautiful art, an eclectic combination of hippies and punks, and several fun restaurants and bars. In the middle of inner-city Toronto, this fragile ecosystem is threatened by rising prices, condo development and gentrification. But, there are people in power who want to keep Kensington local and sustainable, and protect it from being overtaken by large buildings and corporations. A property tax adjustment pilot project targeting small retail businesses could save the area.

Nigel Murray, owner of Dancing Days, a vintage retail shop in the area, feels the pain of the property tax hikes. “Last year, my property taxes were $7,000 and it went up with the property assessment to $15,000,” Murray says. “How much business can you possibly do when the rent is so high?”

The motion to support small retail businesses in Kensington Market is being supported by Councillor Joe Cressy and Councillor Michael Thompson. The project would incentivize high-risk retail businesses that are in expensive areas to stay open by providing lower property taxes. By providing financial relief in the form of tax adjustments, retail businesses can stay afloat and Kensington Market maintains its artistic and cultural roots.

Small retail businesses provide more than just artsy items for consumers, they offer sustainable growth and cultural integrity to a neighbourhood. The people of Kensington value creating community and in keeping money local. Kensington Market is a prime example of how a community can be dense, but doesn’t need to sacrifice its identity in order to grow sustainably. Density is often equated with development, but it can also be created by building cultural value into neighbourhoods and using existing space to foster independent market places instead of large-scale shopping centres.

Kensington Market’s popularity also drives up prices. Everyone wants to take part in the cultural phenomenon of the cool and artistic marketplace in downtown Toronto, and wealthier investors are taking an interest in the area. “Kensington Market is coming up,”Walter Munos, owner of One Heart Design, says. “Where there are the artistic people, the rich people come. These owners know there is a change because the rent gets higher every year.”

Since controlling the popularity of the area is nearly impossible, the solution must be to protect the cultural integrity of Kensington Market at a city level. the motion to protect small retail businesses in Kensington Market was approved at City Council on Tuesday to be reviewed by the executive committee in October. If the project is a success, it can also be repeated in other areas and local and sustainable community development can continue to prosper in Toronto.