Why Kensington Market could soon get heritage designation

Kensington Market could soon be designated a heritage district after residents began lobbying for it five years ago.

City to put forward proposal for Heritage Conservation District status this spring

Sylvia Lassam, a member of the Kensington Market Historical Society, is advocating for the neighbourhood to be designated as a heritage district. (Lisa Xing/CBC)

Standing at the intersection of Augusta Avenue and Nassau Street in the heart of  Toronto's Kensington Market, Sylvia Lassam points to Oxford Fruit. 

There used to be shops selling fresh produce at each of the four corners, she says. 

"Now, there's only one." 

Lassam has been a Kensington resident for 15 years, and part of a number of community groups, including the Kensington Market Historical Society. They have been at the forefront of a movement to make the quirky, historic neighbourhood a heritage conservation district.

By spring, that goal could be closer to reality as the City of Toronto unveils a draft proposal for the designation. 

Municipalities have the power to preserve neighbourhoods in this way under the Ontario Heritage Act.

"Since 2005, all new heritage conservation districts must have a plan to help manage change in the district while protecting and enhancing its cultural heritage value," the province's website says.

A grocery store on Kensington Avenue. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

"Once a heritage conservation district designation by-law is approved, property owners in the district will need a permit from the municipality for any alteration that's not considered minor, as well as any demolition or new construction. Whether a permit is approved or denied will usually depend on how well the change fits within the guidelines in the district plan."

No big box developments

One of the residents' main goals is to guard against big box developments in the area.  It's one more tool in the group's "toolkit of things that we can do to help preserve ... the important things about the market," Lassam said. 

"It's one place where you don't have to feel like you're in a sort of a standardized mall," she added.

The Big Fat Burrito at Kensington Market in Toronto. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

Kensington Market is a unique part of the city with no two blocks the same size. Its historical significance is rooted in the immigrants from around the world who settled there from the mid-19th century on. 

It also became home to artists, students and activists. 

"We want [any change] to be good for for the community, rather than just good for a private investor," said Lassam, who spoke about residents effectively warding off a Walmart development in 2014. A Loblaws eventually did move in. 

As the heritage district project moves forward, it seems like the city is on board with preserving the character and spirit of the eclectic community. 

Kensington Market is known for its eclectic vibe. (Lisa Xing/CBC)

"It's not just about the built environments," said heritage planner Shelby Blundell. "It's their sense of identity in the community as an affordable area." 

The city's planning committee will host an open house in this spring to seek community feedback on the heritage district designation. It will then bring forward a staff report to council later this year. 


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