Kensington Market Research


Graffiti and posters on the front of 241 Augusta, Kensington Market, Toronto, ON. Photo by F. Hemmasi.

Since 2017, I have been involved in a variety of research projects within Kensington Market, a diverse, historically immigrant neighbourhood in Toronto’s downtown core. 

Research began in 2017 with the inspiration of University of Toronto’s Ethnography Lab‘s Kensington Market Research Project led by Professor Joshua Barker. With Prof. Barker and the Ethnography Lab’s support, I began the Kensington Market Sound and Research Project with a team of graduate students in our ethnomusicology program. Original student ethnography team members were M.A. students and recent graduates Jennie Horton, Jardena Gertler-Jaffe, Dennis Lee, and Ryan Persadie.

In 2018, I received an Insight Development Grant from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) to support the graduate student research component. This project is entitled Toronto Music City: The View from Kensington Market and is a collaborative research project that takes the City of Toronto’s 2016 “Music Strategy” rollout as an opportunity to investigate the intersections and divergences of cultural policy, new musical developments and already-existing musical scenes, businesses, and musicians. With a team of student ethnographers, I am undertaking a team ethnographic investigation of music-making in Kensington Market, one of Toronto’s most diverse downtown neighbourhoods, to apprehend the Strategy’s impact on the ground. Current student researchers on this project are Dennis Lee (MA ’18, doctoral student), Jon Wu (MA ’19), Helen Abbott (MA ’20), and Kristen Graves (doctoral student). A website showcasing much of the research is here. 


A mural off of Baldwin Street in Kensington Market. Photo by F. Hemmasi.

In 2020, UofT ethnomusicology graduates Jennie Horton, Jon Wu, and Helen Abbot, current graduate student Dennis Lee, and I share our research into music and urban development in Kensington Market at the Society for Ethnomusicology’s annual conference. The research appears in two panels:

1. The Sonic Life of a Neighbourhood: A Team Ethnography of Toronto’s Kensington Market This panel is comprised of four single-authored papers growing out of a team ethnographic study of the sonic and musical life of a single urban Canadian neighborhood: Toronto’s Kensington Market (KM). Located in Toronto’s rapidly developing downtown core, KM is notable for its narrow streets populated by private homes, and low-rise apartment buildings; a great variety of small storefronts, restaurants, cafes, and music venues; its history as an immigrant market district; and its reputation as a countercultural, anti-corporate pocket in a downtown increasingly characterized by newly constructed glass and steel condominium towers. KM also boasts a rich but little-studied sonic life, including many full-time music venues and short-lived “DIY” performance spaces; even more restaurants, bars and cafes regularly featuring live music and DJs; recording studios and record stores; a lively busking scene; and a rambunctious, competitive collection of community organizations. Research in KM with diverse constituencies (musicians, community activists, music bookers, shopkeepers) and locations (a puppet theater workshop, street corners, a Chinese Canadian association, a punk and metal music venue, and the Market’s virtual presence in social media) creates a vibrant portrait of contemporary urban sonic and musical experience. Taken together, this research elicits multi-perspectival insights into local dynamics and the major forces in contemporary urban sonic-musical life: the displacement and online iterations of musical scenes, gentrification, festivalization, and the struggle to be heard and recognized in a diverse, increasingly unaffordable city in which music is treated as economic resource.

  • Coalition TO: Local and Translocal Scene Formations in Toronto’s Punk and Metal Underground, Dennis Lee
  • The Sonic Dimensions of Placemaking: An Urban Street Festival on the Ground and Online, Helen Abbot
  • Voice and Silence in an Urban Canadian Context, Jonathan Wu
  • Negotiating Sound and Noise in the Gentrifying City, Jennie Horton

2. Fieldwork at Home: Local, Ecological, Canadian Perspectives Tending the Urban Musical Ecosystem: Cultural, Economic, and Scholarly Cultivation in Policy and on the Ground, Farzaneh Hemmasi


Illustrator and map-maker Marlena Zurber’s rendering of Kensington Market.

Also in 2020, I was honoured to receive a Connaught Community Partnership Research Award to fund a new collaboration between the resident-led activist organization Friends of Kensington Market (FOKM), the Kensington Market Business Improvement Area (KMBIA), the University of Toronto Department of Anthropology’s Ethnography Lab, and the University of Toronto’s Ethnomusicology program in a two-year ethnographic project called Keeping Kensington “Kensington:” Value, Affordability, and Culture in Toronto’s Kensington Market. 

Canadian Music Week, May 2018


Image source: @Music_Canada

In 2018, I had the chance to moderate a fascinating panel at Canadian Music Week’s Music Cities Summit called “How Public Spaces can Contribute to Scenes and Strategies.”   Read more and see a video of the event here.

Music and the Marketing of Kensington Market

music-in-kensington-posterThe original KM team and I were delighted to speak in the Ethnography Lab’s Methodological Extensions speaker series. I talked about the musical ecosystem metaphor as it appeared in my conversations with KM residents and city policy-makers. Jennie Horton spoke about Toronto’s vanishing venues crisis as it appears in Kensington. Dennis Lee talked about his research at the now defunct Coalition music venue. And Ryan Persadie spoke about Round Venue’s queer people of colour burlesque scene.