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Kensington Market in the Heart of Toronto

by Jennifer Polo

Kensington Market in the heart of Toronto, Canada, is a hidden utopia that beckons the traveling soul. Stumbling into the maze of quaint one way streets after the insane pace of downtown feels dream-like for a second. Your nose and taste buds propel your body towards the aromas of freshly ground coffee and baking bread. A samba beat reaches your ears and grows louder as you wander in its direction.

And there it is. 

Lined with canopied fruit and vegetable merchants and vintage clothing shops, this small community of immigrants is eccentric, frenetic and peaceful simultaneously. People from every background and life surround you.

Europeans, Asians, Africans, South Americans, gay, straight, whatever; they’re everywhere, exuding vitality. Some soak up the sun on the Bellevue Patio while devouring eggs Benny dripping with a creamy, lemony hollandaise on a homemade cheese biscuit. Others haggle with vendors for the mounds of gleaming vegetables and swollen fruit.  A couple draped in vibrant saris strum a soft tune for the people passing by. A small clapboard house spills the sultry sounds of Latin music onto the street. The rhythm merges with the crowd and inspires a raw energy as you browse through racks of vintage clothing and artwork.

You exchange smiles with others and the sense of well being and belonging overwhelms you. No longer do you feel like a traveler peering into someone else’s world. Everyone here operates as a part of a collective consciousness. The fast-paced, corporate Toronto has vanished away into something organic, historic and beautiful. Those who visit Kensington are all travelers. Time travelers.

This community has been battling for its survival since British immigrants walked in over a hundred years earlier. Since then, many different cultures and races have taken up residence here but the market has remained relatively untouched by the hand of time. As the city expanded and the buildings rose higher, the people of Kensington Market repeatedly rallied to keep their streets their own. Stores and people exploding with colour and vibrating life are proof that they’ve succeeded. 

As you continue along, merchants bewitch you to stop and sample their wares. Fresh cheeses, meats and homemade chocolates from around the world are but a few that entice you.  You grab a juicy mango and sit down in the sun outside the bakery to watch life go by. The tangy-sweet fruit explodes in your mouth with your first bite. The juice dribbles onto your chin and you soak in the beauty that surrounds you. For the first time, you’re not a weary traveler but a welcomed soul existing peacefully.

The sun drops in the west, painting everything in a golden orange light. The moment speaks to your heart and you are replenished. You ask a passerby how to get out of this labyrinth that has captured your heart. 

He turns to look at you, a wide smile stretching across his pink gums.
“You can’t ever leave Kensington, man. It follows you wherever you go.”

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