Mini-walk around Kensington Market
Updated: Jan 2, 2022
We know how eclectic Kensington Market can be. But the neighbourhood has a quieter face. Here’s a short 1.6 km walk to explore its outskirts, including two foodie stops.
If you arrive by car, you might get lucky and find free street parking on Bellevue Avenue. Otherwise, there is the huge Green P parking lot on that street.
The mature tree-lined residential Bellevue is surprising. To the north, at Nassau Street, there is a charming little knitting shop. Beyond Oxford Street, the old houses are more imposing. Not far from College, I admired one of the biggest weeping willow trees I have ever seen away from the waterfront.
The tall tower of nearby No. 8 Hose Station overlooks the area. Did you know that old fire stations included this kind of tower to hang hoses to dry?
Church of St. Stephen-in-the-Fields
The Anglican Church of St. Stephen-in-the-Fields seems frozen in time. The Victorian Gothic Revival church was built in 1857. It was surrounded by a field, hence its name. (Toronto had a population of 45,000 at that time.) St. Stephen was the first martyr at the beginning of the Christian church.
The church burned down in 1865. It was immediately rebuilt in the image of the original church, then expanded in 1890. The beautiful front on Bellevue is the only portion of the original church that remains, but overall, the restorations are in keeping with its style.
Fun fact: In 1927, St. Stephen-in-the-Fields was the first Canadian church to broadcast a live mass! In 1960, St. Stephen's Community House was built (you may have noticed the beautiful building with playground in front on Bellevue). This cemented the church's vocation to help in the community.
Shall we continue?
Just east of the church, at the corner of College and Campbell Russell Lane, a nice surprise awaits street art lovers. There are metal carvings nailed around the wooden utility pole, including a long sword with Latin inscriptions that give it a medieval feel.
Continue to Coffee Dak Lak (283 College Street, open for take-out from noon to 6pm, closed Sundays and Wednesdays). Its specialty is Vietnamese egg coffee, requiring a 10-minute whip to give it the perfect creamy texture. They also make Vietnamese sandwiches.
Don't miss the huge village painted on the wall in the next alley, then continue on College and turn right on Spadina for a dip in Chinatown.
A (very little) bit of history
This part of Spadina also brings us back in time. Gwartzman's Art Supplies (448 Spadina Avenue) has been owned by the same family since 1945. The owner's grandparents lived on Baldwin Street in 1925, when 80% of Toronto's 45,000 Jews lived in the area. Their arrival marked the beginning of the Kensington Market, then known as the Jewish Market.
In 1948, El Mocambo (464 Spadina Avenue) was one of the first cocktail bars in Toronto. Its name and iconic palm tree were inspired by San Francisco nightclubs. It has been in jeopardy several times. In 2014, the large neon palm tree was even up for auction on eBay! A financier and hard core music fan saved it. El Mocambo is now a production house waiting to reopen.
Other points of interest
The west side of Spadina has several fun Asian gadget stores (temporarily closed). Turn right on St Andrew Street, noticeable for the cat balancing on a chair above our heads...
Then go up Kensington Avenue. This is the street where you'll find the most vintage clothes stores in Toronto (when they reopen). Until then, we still can go there to order Japanese soufflé pancakes from Hanabusa Café (77 Kensington Avenue) make in front of our eyes in their big window. It's like eating a little cloud!
You can go savour them in Bellevue Square. To get there, I recommend turning left on the bustling Baldwin Street, then left on Augusta Avenue. Take the little hidden alley just past the King's Café (192 Augusta). Find the mosaic of mirrors on a narrow wall, a good spot for a selfie, then you'll be back in the Green P on Bellevue Avenue. Turn left to get to Bellevue Square. Note that the east side of this park is often home to some colourful buddies... but the west side is quiet.
If you want a more challenging stroll, walk 8 minutes eastbound on College, past Spadina, and take St George Rd to reach the University of Toronto campus.
This post is a companion to walk #9 KENSINGTON/CHINATOWN Truly Eclectic Stroll in local author Nathalie Prézeau's latest walking guide: Toronto BEST Urban Strolls which you can get on amazon.ca or by contacting the author directly: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can pick up the book at 299 Booth Avenue, the author delivers in Toronto and Canada Post takes care of the other destinations.