Hidden within the clutter of Toronto’s Kensington Market is a strange and surprising collection of little streets. Lined by diminutive rowhouses, they are nestled within larger blocks of houses. They usually culminate in a dead end; some are accessed only by an unassuming laneway, making the discovery of one seem like so much more of a surprise.
Stumbling across one of these streets is like opening a Russian doll: they reveal a secret, smaller world tucked away behind the city’s more officious façade. When I wandered into Glen Baillie Place, away from the street market frenzy of Spadina Avenue, I came across two rows of squat, narrow houses. The houses on the north side of the street, clad in vinyl with mansard roofs, looked like something I might find in a weatherbeaten corner of Halifax. Across the street, the houses were mostly brick, with arched entranceways, an imperfect reflection of their neighbours.
There’s a kind of stillness in these streets. In Glen Baillie Place, a man sat in front of one talking on his cellphone in Cantonese. Across the street, two restaurant workers sat quietly, smoking. In nearby Kensington Place, an even more discreet street behind the shops of Kensington Avenue, an old man sat on his front porch, watching me as I walked by. When I snuck up a fire escape to take a photo of street above, a teenage boy delivering boxes to a Chinese restaurant looked up to see what I was doing.
These streets were apparently built to house English construction workers in the 1880s and 90s. They remind me of the mews scattered across Central London, tiny lanes lined by brick houses that were once stables. Mews houses are now some of the priciest properties to be found in London; recently, in Toronto, news broke that a group of investors has been quietly buying up property around Kensington’s laneways, perhaps with a plan to develop them with shopping and housing.
“If the city moved to make [Kensington's] warren-like laneways more accessible — a process that would involve expropriations, public-space improvements and changes to the city’s policy of rejecting laneway development — it could trigger a jump in real-estate prices as galleries, boutiques and cafés move in to these newly created mews,” wrote John Lorinc in the Globe and Mail. If that ends up being the case, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that Kensington’s little streets might lose some of their secluded charm.
Glen Baillie Place
Tags: Exploring the City, Kensington Market, Redevelopment, Toronto, Urban Design