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September 11, 2013
By Edra Bayefsky daughter of Aba Bayefsky

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Kensington Market is famous in Toronto. The area is now bounded by Queen St. West to Bloor, and Lippincott to Augusta.

Kensington Market is famous in Toronto. The area is now bounded by Queen St. West to Bloor, and Lippincott to Augusta. The market began in the 1880s when the large estate of Captain George Taylor Denison was subdivided into small plots of land. Immigrants began moving in to this area, some making shops out of the fronts of their houses.

Raisin-Egg  
‘Raisin Egg Loaf From Kensington Market’ Oil on canvas, Aba Bayefsky, 1988


 

By the 1940s it was the Jewish merchants from Eastern Europe who were dominant in ‘Kenzigtn’ as it was then called – without the ‘market’.  By the 1970s it was a changing ethnic environment, immigrants arriving from the Azores, the Caribbean, and East Asia. As different waves of immigrants moved into and out of the market, the produce and merchandise would change as well reflecting diverse traditions. In the late 1930s teenaged Aba Bayefsky was drawn to the bustling life of the market. Fruits, vegetables, cheeses, smoked fish, barrels of pickles and in particular the fresh baked bread and bagels, became the subject matter for his paintings and drawings. In these earlier years the market served as a social centre where people gathered to meet and discuss, as well as to buy and sell. Vendors would advertise themselves vocally, shouting out what they were offering  and haggling with buyers over prices. Bayefsky loved the life and activity and he described the smell of the fresh baked bread in his journal that he kept for many years.  In 1989, in his sixties, he held an exhibition entitled Bread, Buns, Bagels. 

“I began drawing in Kensington at the age of 16. I am now 68 and after hundreds of drawings it still stimulates… the market has been like a magnet – an irresistible attraction magnet for the past 50 years,” he wrote in his journal on July 26, 1991.

 Many of the old, quaint houses are still there in Kensington and the shops still popular. The fascination with the market is as strong as ever with the formation in 2012 of the ‘Kensington Market Historical Society’ dedicated to preserving and sharing the rich history of this Toronto landmark.