I think it’s fair to say that Kensington Market is a special place in Toronto. It’s located on the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee, the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation and the Huron-Wendat. After the American Revolution, the land was surveyed by British colonial administrators. And in 1815 it was parcelled out to George Taylor Denison who served in the war of 1812.
Denison was the progenitor of Toronto’s prominent Denison family and namesake of Denison Avenue. The family has since come under scrutiny for its relationship with slavery, and their estate was later subdivided in the 1850’s, with the plots becoming a suburb of British and Irish immigrants in the 1880’s. By the turn of the century the neighbourhood had shifted again, becoming the centre of Jewish life in Toronto. After the war however, many of the Jewish residents moved north and the market welcomed immigrants from all over the world.
Modern Day Kensington Market
Today, Kensington Market remains a relatively affordable neighbourhood with a lively social scene and a mix of eclectic small businesses. It’s dense, it’s walkable, and it’s diverse. It’s is a real community, relatively free of the sterility of big box stores and great glass towers. And of course, it’s under threat.
Fortunately, the people of the market have come up with an answer as a community. The Kensington Market Land Trust exemplifies one of the most effective weapons Torontonians have in the fight to keep Toronto a place for everyone. In 2013 Friends of Kensington Market emerged as a coalition of residents and business owners committed to resisting development and gentrification. They scored a major victory when an attempt to turn Kensington into a Walmart was defeated.
It’s an event that, in my opinion, serves as a perfect litmus test in gaging what someone values in a city. In order to better protect Kensington, the Friends began to hold meetings about the possibility of forming a land trust in 2015, successfully doing so two years later.
Kensington Land Trust
What is a land trust? Led by a group of residents and organizations trying to protect the social, cultural and economic diversity of a community, a land trust owns land and assures it is used to meet the needs of the community by providing affordable housing, or other uses that benefit the community.
Land trusts promote community participation in guiding how land is used to benefit the residents, keeping it affordable and diverse. In other words, a land trust is a non-profit corporation responsible to the community it serves. It buys property in order to keep space affordable for businesses and residents. Effectively, a land trust takes property off the real estate market, protecting the community from speculation, rising rents, rising land values, renoviction, gentrification, and displacement.
Last month was a huge milestone for the Kensington Market Community Land Trust (KMCLT) as it acquired its first property. 54-56 Kensington Avenue is a part-commercial, part-residential property with 12 residential units and five commercial units. The commercial units include a variety store, a barbershop, a tattoo parlour and a hat shop. Many of these units are already affordable, with rents for the affordable units ranging around $715. With the building under the control of the land trust, residents previously under threat of eviction have some stability. Hopefully, the KMCLT is able to expand, protecting more properties in Kensington.
As the Kensington Market Community Land Trust gains traction, other neighbourhoods may take notice of its success. Many of Toronto’s other beloved neighbourhoods are under threat from gentrification, Chinatown and Church and Wellesley to name a couple. The land trust may be an effective way to keep communities under the control of those who live in them rather than at the mercy of Toronto’s ridiculous real estate market.