If one site in Toronto can be called my neighbourhood, it’s Kensington Market. This unique collision of Toronto history is the vibrant, distinctive, tasty, and delightfully diverse backdrop for all my eras in this metropolis. Whether it’s as an art student in the 1980s; a theatre designer with a few bucks in my pocket to spend on costumes, props, fashions, haircut, furniture, jaguar lamps, or dinner in the 1990s; as an opera designer in the late 1990s and early twenty-first century; or as a trauma intuitive and author in the past decade, I comb through the market for the eclectic, counter-culture morsels that shape both my life and artistic vision. Alongside privately owned neighbourhood shops in Little India, Little Italy, and the Queen & Spadina matrix, I gladly thrive and drop my earnings or budget on the hallowed ground of the legendary Kensington Market, most notably encouraging and supporting the shop owners, artists, and its mindful neighbourhood custodians.
On this hot, sticky afternoon, Michelle and I roll in from College Street onto Augusta Avenue, flamboyantly cruising against traffic amid loud cheers and hollers. Our spontaneous greeters are worthy of the official Burning Man greeters at midnight Sunday, a week before the man burns on Labour Day Saturday. “Welcome home!” “Good on you for leaving the Default World behind!” they seem to say. Armed with wit, rebellion, and infectious exuberance, the unscripted welcome of the Kensington denizens both soothes and electrifies us. We are home. These are our people—whatever that means when one considers the diversity; it’s just that—diversity, imagination, gusto, activism, and joie de vivre in whatever unique combination—as long as it smells authentic.
No matter the era, Kensington can be said to be a ’hood with a heart. Whether it offered a hopeful start for Irish and Scottish immigrants in the 1850s; was a poor and densely packed ’hood populated by Eastern European Jewish immigrants and some Italians in the early twentieth century; a thriving Jewish market selling imported items from the homelands of various immigrant communities; a bustling hub for sixty thousand Jews living and worshipping at more than thirty local synagogues during the 1920s and 1930s; an asylum for political refugees from the Azores in the 1950s; a den welcoming the first waves of immigrants from the Caribbean and East Asia in the 1960s and later from Central America, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Iran, Vietnam, Chile, and other global trouble spots; as well as a steady stream of students from George Brown College in the 1980s and 1990s, it throbs with a compelling if slightly mysterious blend of cultures and culture. Kensington can still be said to be a working-class and immigrant community, yet it also thrives on a unique blend of commerce and high-octane art. All matter of writers, artists, and rebels can be found creating, performing, writing, or protesting, whether they are bursting at the seams with fatty delicacies or jam-packed with organic nutrients, sometimes collapsing under the pressures of Life but always celebrating autonomy, justice, alternatives, hope, and creativity.
It’s not only my honour to be an active participant in the market’s vibrant tapestry this summer but also a thrill to be embraced by Anne J. Gibson’s lens. She is one of the market’s artists, sporting a straw cowboy hat, lurking behind doors, windows, and lamp posts, ready to trap her subjects and their light in her viewfinder. The art-bike experiment, is most willingly caught in her compassionate and perceptive web of light and shadow.