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Happy 9th Birthday Kensington Market Garden Car!

17 May

Garden Car - new spring trunk by Yvonne BambrickI spent part of the afternoon buying flowers, cleaning and doing the spring planting of the Garden Car trunk. While she belongs to the community, I’m her caretaker.

She was in rough shape when we towed her back earlier this week but is looking much better now. Once the sickly willow tree / centrepiece is replaced, we’ll be able to finish planting the centre – likely some tomatoes, basil, mint and flowers. The grass on the ‘front lawn’ also needs to be reseeded, but I think I’ll wait until after the first Pedestrian Sunday so that the new grasslings don’t get trampled.towed back in spring - garden car


Every May since 2007, we’ve brought the beloved local icon out of her winter hibernation spot and back onto Augusta Ave. in Kensington Market.  So integrated into the streetscape is this unique garden that like clockwork when we arrive with the ‘carden’ in tow people inevitably ask why we’re taking her away. Or, without having to say a word, they slow down, and show a now recognizable look of concern. ‘Don’t worry’, we reply, ‘We’ve just brought her back for the summer’. ‘Oh, cool – I was worried there for a second.’ is the general response.  I’m still amazed at how much people care for this colourful oddity, they’re protective even – I truly look forward to these exchanges.

As I puttered away scraping off the tags and posters from last year, pulling out the dead plants, turning the soil, and planting the flowers, quite carefully arranged, I was also regularly engaged in conversation with passersby who stopped to ask questions, and hear the story.  ‘Are you allowed to keep it here?’, ‘What is it? Is is really filled with dirt?’, ‘Cool, did you make this?’, ‘What kind of plant is that?’…  I love spending time sharing the story and history of the garden car with locals, visitors, and tourists. The idea translates pretty well even if there’s a language barrier for the full explanation. I’m fairly confident that the garden car is the most photographed thing in Kensington Market – most people have never seen anything like it.

original garden car - curious kidsBuilt in June 2006 by (now dormant) Streets are for People! and friends, we asked for forgiveness rather than permission, and were allowed by the City to keep it on the street as public art provided that it was insured, and removed for the winter months. Getting permission would have been impossible without the help of our local Councillor, and the support of the Toronto Parking Authority who were willing to waive the parking costs. original garden car - chalk bumper stickers

Nicknamed ‘The Garden Car’, her full name is the Community Vehicular Reclamation Project – there’s even a song, though I don’t remember the words. After 6 seasons, the original Garden Car was put out to pasture in Spring 2012 and found the perfect retirement home as part of the PACT Grow to Learn Schoolyard Gardening Program. This little piece of downtown was quickly embraced by her new uptown neighbours, and apparently much appreciated by the seniors who preferred gardening in a raised bed.Original Garden Car - Fall 2011


The second Garden Car was built in May 2012. With funds for materials provided by the BIA, and a mural grant from the City, I pulled together a small team of local artists to help transform the scrap car (only $200!) into what is now a lovely colourful urban garden. We captured it all on video but have yet to edit the ‘Making of the Garden Car video’ – a project for another day.Garden Car artists - May 2012


In the meantime though, you can see and smell and sit upon this beautiful PARKing spot anytime you’re in Kensington Market – she’s hanging out at the SW corner of Augusta & Oxford.


My comments regarding the National Post opinion piece on Walmart vs. Kensington Market

8 Jul

Since the National Post decided to block my comment (I tried twice), and has now closed the comments section on their opinion piece from last week about how the proposed Walmart on Bathurst St. would be good for Kensington Market, I decided to post my full comment here.


There are several incorrect statements made by the author that require a response. The entire piece is misguided, but I’ll focus on a few points in particular.

1. “Even though, they admit, the prospective site of the Walmart at Bathurst and Dundas streets is well outside Kensington’s borders.”

– No one who is working on the campaign to stop Walmart has ‘admitted’ this. The proposed mall is across the street from the western border of the KM BIA boundary and of the Kensington Market neighbourhood. This development will have far-reaching negative impacts on small businesses for many blocks in all directions.

2.”…(there was) concern for…St. Lawrence Market, for example, with the opening of a Metro grocery store across the street, but the two have learned to coexist by serving different needs.”

-The St. Lawrence Market is an entirely different scenario of businesses all housed within a Toronto Heritage property. No mention by the author of the impact that Metro had on other local independent businesses. Same issue applies to some of the small businesses in and around the new Maple Leaf Gardens Loblaws.

3.”If you want to shop for vintage furniture, exotic spices, and loose-leaf teas, you go to the Market; if you want a pack of socks and a new plastic Brita filter, you go to Walmart.”

– Kensington Market is not just a collection of ‘specialty’ shops – you can buy a pack of socks at Zimmerman’s. Not sure about the filter, but you can buy meat, cheese, bread, fish, fruit, vegetables, coffee, spices, bulk foods, hardware stuff, homewares, linen, furniture, bikes, skateboards, shoes, new, second hand, and vintage clothes, safety gear, plants, cookwear, pretty much all the basics and some more specialized imported goods/foodstuffs from around the globe. The prices, as in neighbouring Chinatown, are pretty low overall, with the exception of a couple higher end stores that have opened more recently.

4. “Despite the ominous aura that seems to accompany every new Walmart opening, the launch of the store at Bathurst and Dundas may actually prove a boon to the community.”

– There’s an ‘ominous aura’ for a good reason. Walmart is known to suck the money out of the local economy and into the coffers of a wealthy US based corporation. They kill good local jobs and replace them with far fewer and less desirable ones.
As per Wikipedia: Wal-Mart has been subject to criticism by numerous groups and individuals. Among these are labor unions, community groups, grassroots organizations, religious organizations, environmental groups and Wal-Mart customers. They have protested against Wal-Mart, the company’s policies and business practices, including charges of racial and gender discrimination. Other areas of criticism include the corporation’s foreign product sourcing, treatment of product suppliers, environmental practices.

5. “Occupying a former retail outlet and adjacent seemingly-always-abandoned parking lot, the mall may give the aesthetic streetscape a lift…”

The development will not ‘occupy’ a former retail outlet – it will replace the existing built form from Nassau up to almost College St. with a hideous, suburban style car-centric mall that has no place in downtown Toronto – hardly an ‘aesthetic lift’. That parking lot is actually used pretty much all the time by visitors to the hospital. The loading dock proposed for this mall is as big as they come, and the truck traffic alone will have a tremendously negative impact on Bathurst St. Think about how hard it is now for emergency vehicles to access the hospital via Bathurst, or even for the streetcar to get through. Add all those trucks, and all the added traffic on Bathurst (and spill over onto residential streets) and that’s another important reason why this development proposal does not fit within this community.

6. “Walmart would offer affordable options to those who weren’t going to buy Kensington Market’s $20 organic homemade pies anyway.”
– See point 3 above.  While Kensington Market does now offer a few specialty goods at a higher price, the bulk of what is sold and sought in the market are inexpensive basics.  Walmart is not welcome or needed in this part of the city. It’s just not worth it.

Kensington’s Garden Car On The Mend

6 Oct

Some folks recently decided to take out  their frustrations on one of our Kensington Market inhabitants – the (mostly) beloved Garden Car, aka: Community Vehicular Reclamation Project.

Just back from three days away in cottage country (my only escape this year), I went to resume my daily check on the only garden I’ve ever been responsible for – to my dismay, someone had smashed the rear windshield into fragments of tempered glass that were now seeded in the exposed soil and amongst the lush plants in the trunk. Not happy. Who would do this?

The Garden Car has certainly taken some hits over the years, but this time I found myself particularly upset.

Anyway, local artist Joshua Barndt and I quickly fashioned and applied a rough patch with the materials at hand – and today Jake & Sameena, a couple of lovely P.S. Kensington volunteers, joined me to remove the remaining glass shards, scrub off the graffiti, repair a tree branch, and install the windshield repair that should last through the winter.

From the photo below taken this evening, you can see that the leaves of the Burning Bush tree in the centre are beginning to turn. They’ll soon match the burgundy wall behind, and the duct tape window frame 😉

All repair materials were sourced at Active Surplus!


Misquoted in NP article – my letter to the editor correction

18 Sep

I’m pretty unimpressed and frustrated with the editor that twisted this piece in such a way as to make my quote appear condescending towards the community I love and represent.  Thankfully they printed my full letter to the editor as a clarification.

Still waiting for the online piece to have an edit included so that the digital archive reflects my true statement and not some manipulated words for a self serving hack.  #NationalPostFail (Update from Sept 19 – link to letter to editor is now included in the original piece online)

Re: Kensington Gets Glimpse Of Potential Big Box Store, Sept. 16.

It should be noted that the quote attributed to me as co-ordinator of the Kensington Market Business Improvement Area (BIA) was very misleading and, in fact, the opposite of what I tried to clearly explain in my extensive discussion with the piece’s writer.

A big box store being proposed in such close proximity can certainly be seen as a threat to the thriving, open-air, multi-generational, and much loved Kensington Market area and business community. That said, this development is in its earliest phase, and a public consultation process, convened by Councillor Mike Layton, has just begun between the developer and the adjacent residential and business communities. I believe that if we have any hope of working together to invite businesses into this development that are complementary to the area, rather than in direct competition with existing businesses, we should all, developer and locals, act like good neighbours and try to work together in good faith.

The same applies as we try to address and minimize the additional impacts this mall will have on local traffic, noise and parking. But perhaps I’m being too optimistic in thinking there is any way to make this work – given the fierce independence of this long-standing community, and the vast number of citizens who will stand to defend it, we may simply end up with a battle to stop this development all together.

Yvonne Bambrick, co-ordinator, Kensington Market BIA, Toronto.

Connecting Community in Kensington Market

31 Mar

This week marks the start of my new role working with the new-ish (late 2010) Kensington Market BIA as their first Coordinator. I’ll be working with the community on a number of area projects (graffiti/murals – (possibly) a farmer’s market that complements rather than competes with local green grocers – BIA website – On-street bike parking – public seating – …), and will continue to serve as Coordinator of our now 8th season of Pedestrian Sundays, alongside Shamez Amlani, and with the help of several new BIA volunteer board members. There will be many opportunities to get involved in this much loved community celebration and I’d love to hear from anyone who’s keen to come hang out and help out!

Our annual Pedestrian Sundays Community Meeting (6:30 to 8pm) is coming up in late April (date TBC).

Follow @pskensington and join our FB Group for updates about upcoming street events in the market.

Really excited to now be working even more closely with my favourite neighbourhood in Toronto!  More info soon.