New Market
Phillip Hong
On a particularly humid summer's afternoon, an old friend from broadcasting school and I decided to down a few cold ones at a spot she found groovy. Of course, knowing my preferences to alcohol in general, I chose an incredibly nerdy glass of tonic water while my counterpart drowned in beer. After a lengthy conversation about the stresses of becoming this country's next sources of hot air, I noticed we were incredibly close to a familiar building. My friend was enjoying the ad hoc patio, not noticing the constant neck dodging - I was trying to figure out why I recognized the area in such a different form. We eventually walked past that building, and she continued walking, gladly ignoring the fact that part of my history was staring in my face.
I used to dread trips to Kensington Market and Chinatown when I was younger, in part because it involved spending most of the day out of the house on precious time off school; this also signaled a visit to the hair stylist, despite my attempts to harvest locks not unlike those from Cousin It. For some reason I wound up looking like Justin Bieber and that was the cue to a very boring haircut.
But these were days where I used to see my grandfather. Despite our own schedule, he used to travel down to Kensington Market every weekend. In fact, Gramps regularly studied transit maps and asked the grandkids to help him navigate around most of Peel Region on paper just so he could make plans to go into the city. He used to visit his friends, play a game or two of mahjong and wagered in pennies. Much less pathetic than those frequent coach buses to Rama or Niagara. They all congregated at the Hainanese Association of Ontario on Augusta Avenue, conveniently down the road from my hair butcher and the local computer repair shop (another story entirely). Gramps would come with us home, smiles at hand, and would even tap to a little soft rock in the car if he won the jackpot of a nickel or so.
This is the same neighbourhood that seems to have been the source of much recent controversy, mainly in the form of new retail. Eyebrows were raised when a Starbucks outlet was planned to open there, and a nearby proposal that included a Walmart drew a lot of ire and media attention. It's one of the cultural hubs of Toronto, people cried, and they theorized about the destruction of a certain identity that Kensington Market had. It's not a very rational argument, most recently exercised against a new proposal to erect a national chain supermarket in the area.
The cries for cultural nostalgia remind me of a similar train of thought, but this comes from the former East Germany. Before you cry Cold War on me, I speak from a more social standpoint. Ostalgie originally was a German fascination with the lifestyles and social order the old communist system was perceived in bringing. This became very noticeable when it comes to foods people missed, and at least one cola manufacturer does better than its American competitors in parts of that country thanks to the memories that came with consumption. Some have even begun wondering if a return to the divided past would be helpful for their lives (since capitalism wasn't kind to the east, and West Germany had a stronger economy). Not a direct comparison to Kensington Market in a political sense, but doesn't it bear familiar feelings to a matrix of NIMBY-ism and a thirst for what used to be?
It would be next to impossible to replicate the old Kensington Market as how I remembered it to be, not only because dear old loving Gramps is buried halfway across the world on glorious Hainan Island. Just as people come and go, it's a fruitless task to be against something for the sake of nostalgia. The affected retailers obviously want to establish there because as reality has shown, there's a demand for them. New memories and realities will be established in the area, regardless of what's built.
A community constantly evolves, and this evolution keeps the city dynamic. The ideal evolution reflects the constantly changing makeup of said community, not just because it's a symbolic hub for anything or anyone.
Phillip Hong is a columnist with
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