New Heritage Minute features Toronto's Kensington Market

Historica Canada has produced an animated Heritage Minute to tell the story of Toronto's Kensington Market and other neighbourhoods that welcomed waves of newcomers throughout the 20th century.

'It's where cultures that might not otherwise come together find themselves side by each,' Historica CEO says

Holocaust survivor Charles Goldlist opened his poultry store in Toronto's Kensington Market neighbourhood shortly after arriving in Canada from Poland in 1948. (Harry Joy, circa 1960)

Toronto's Kensington Market, a neighbourhood built by successive waves of newcomers, now has its own Heritage Minute. 

The latest Heritage Minute is unlike any of the 87 previous ones — there are no period costumes or actors playing central figures in Canadian history. Instead, watercolour-style animation tells the story of a little Jewish chicken shop that gave way to a Portuguese fish market that was itself replaced by a Jamaican music store.

The 60-second story chronicles change in the popular downtown Toronto neighbourhood and half a century's worth of Canadian immigration.

Filmmaker Michael Goldlist pitched and wrote the new Heritage Minute, which begins with the story of a chicken shop his grandfather, Charles Goldlist, ran for decades. Charles Goldlist was a Holocaust survivor who immigrated to Canada from Poland in 1948 when Kensington Market was a largely Jewish immigrant neighbourhood.

"I know that that story is not just common to me, that is so many people's story," the 34-year-old filmmaker said on a recent visit to the Toronto neighbourhood.

Filmmaker Michael Goldlist wrote the Heritage Minute, which looks at both his grandfather's Kensington Market business and those that came after. (Jonathan Castel, CBC)

"Kensington is special because it has multiple generations of people coming from multiple places and having that same sort of story, where they show up, work hard as hell, and succeed and leave their mark on Canada — and Canada leaves its mark on them."

Story shows 'we're all able to live together'

Anthony Wilson-Smith, president and CEO of Historica Canada, says this minute is meant to capture the immigrant stories common to the newcomer neighbourhoods in Canada's bigger cities. 

Stories from places like Montreal's  St-Laurent Boulevard, known widely as the Main, share a similar history to Kensington Market.

Kensington Market is roughly bordered by College Street in the north, Dundas Street in the south, Spadina Avenue on the east and Bathurst Street on the west. The busy city neighbourhood has welcomed small business owners for decades. (John Castel, CBC)

"The markets are the motors of the country, the motors of communities where everybody meets and greets," says Willson- Smith. "It's where cultures that might not otherwise come together find themselves side by each."

That's the story of Tom Mihalik's father, who immigrated from Hungary in 1958 and opened a clothing store beside the Goldlist chicken shop.

The Jamaican music store is gone now — Mihalik's Tom's Place clothing store has taken over the property that once housed Goldlist Poultry. Mihalik, a fixture in Kensington Market, was called on to narrate the Heritage Minute.

"They thought my voice was very, very fitting because I still have an accent and they thought that somebody with my understanding of the area could speak from his heart, which I did," said Mihalik.

"This one minute that you will see will reflect that we are all different and we come from different backgrounds, yet we're all able to live together."

The Kensington Market Heritage Minute is the second one dedicated to Canada's more recent immigration history. Earlier this year, Historica produced a minute about the journey and reception of the boat people refugees from Vietnam.


Ron Charles

CBC News

Ron Charles has been a general assignment reporter for CBC News since 1989, covering such diverse stories as the 1990 Oka Crisis, the 1998 Quebec ice storm and the 2008 global financial crisis. Before joining the CBC, Ron spent two years reporting on Montreal crime and courts for the Montreal Daily News.