The former home of various schools, the Kensington Market Lofts houses 145 lofts split between 3 buildings with 2 addresses on 2 different streets. The lofts range in size from 521 to over 1,700 square feet with ceiling heights between 10 and 22 feet. The buildings that combine to form the Kensington Market Lofts generally feature large windows, concrete ceilings and either hardwood, concrete, or bamboo floors. Open floor plans, mezzanines and the occasional terrace or balcony… and the fact that a couple of different buildings were converted together to provide unique floor plans. Amenities include a multipurpose room, a courtyard with resident barbecue, and a free book exchange.
The Kensington Market Lofts is in the heart of Kensington market, obviously. It’s set back enough from Spadina Avenue that the busy hum of the street is dampened. Walls of windows mean the lofts get lots of sunshine, even in the winter. The Nassau building was a school in the 1920s and then a campus of George Brown College. In 1999, the building and its back-door neighbour on Baldwin Street were converted into lofts by Context Development Inc. (the same group that did the Tip Top Tailors and Loretto Abbey loft conversions).
The Kensington Market today is a diverse and vibrant neighbourhood with an interesting historic past. It’s also full of people who appreciate being in the heart of one of Toronto’s most famed retail areas. Kensington is known for its vast selection of produce, meats and cheese, as well as hip hangouts and quaint coffee shops. Heck, I used to shop for “edgy” fashions back when I was a teenager. I even lived on Bellevue Avenue for a while as a kid, right next to the old Bell Telephone College Trinity Exchange!
Kensington Market was part of a 156 acre lot bought by Colonel George Taylor Denison in 1815. The Denison family built a house which they named ‘Belle Vue’ in 1815 to north of Denison Square. The Denisons were responsible for building of the St. Stephen’s Church in 1858 because they wanted to have a place to worship. Denison Avenue which runs along the western edge of the market was once the driveway from their family house leading to Queen Street.
The land which made up the Kensington Market area was a wooded area. The St. Stephen’s Church used to be known as St. Stephen’s in the Fields before Kensington Market was developed. At one time, Russell Creek ran across what is now Bellevue Avenue. However, like many creeks in Toronto, it was covered over and became part of the sewer system.
Beginning in 1854, the Denison estate was subdivided into lots which were purchased by English, Irish, and Scottish immigrants. These immigrants were labourers and skilled tradesmen. Many of the street names reflect this early influence (Oxford Street, College Street, Kensington Avenue). In the early 1900s, Jews from Central and Southern Europe began to move into Kensington Market.
Kensington Market began to exist as a market in the early 1900s. It began with merchants pushing hand carts through the streets to sell their goods. Soon, merchants moved their hand carts in front of their homes on Kensington Avenue. By the 1930s, many of the first floors of houses in the market had been extended to create storefronts.
Kensington Market continued to evolve and change with each new wave of immigrants. In the 1950s, many Portuguese immigrants settled in the Kensington Market followed by immigrants from the Caribbean in the late 1960s and more recently Latin Americans, Vietnamese, and Chinese immigrants. Some feel that the Kensington Market Lofts development represents the next wave of immigration in the market.
As with most buildings in the Kensington Market area, the buildings that make up the loft development have been used for a wide variety of purposes and have grown and changed since they were first built. Originally, the lots which now make up 21 Nassau Street and 160 Baldwin Street contained mainly residential housing. However, in 1880, a carriage painter was located at 21 Nassau Street and in the 1940s an automobile service centre operated on the south east corner of 160 Baldwin Street.
In 1836, the entire south side of Nassau Street which was then called Cambridge Street was made up of individual houses. In 1922, the homes in the lots from 1 to 21 were torn down. After the property was vacant for a few months, the Toronto Board of Education bought the lots. It was at this time that the property became known as 21 Nassau.
The Toronto Board of Education had bought the property in 1923-1924 to build a public school. Construction began on the building in 1924. The building was named the William Houston Public School after William Houston who was a member of the Board of Education, a political writer for The Globe and Mail, and a witness to the fatal shooting of George Brown. The school was opened on September 2, 1925. The school had about 12 classrooms and held about 650 children. Even back then declining enrollment was a problem and the school closed less than 10 years after it opened.
After being unoccupied for two years, Harbord Collegiate used the building as an annex from 1935-1936 and then in 1936, the Family Welfare Department took over the building for a period of six years. In the 1940s, the Canadian government began to use the school for military purposes as a signals’ school and for troop accommodation and during the Second World War, the air force held training for new recruits in the building from 1942 to 1946. After the war, the Ontario College of Art took over the building for a period of five years from 1946 to 1950.
In 1948, the Ryerson Institute of Technology which was then known as the Toronto Rehabilitation Training Institute was looking for more space for its construction trades training program and for its automotive mechanics training program. The property was purchased by the federal government and leased to the provincial government in 1952 for the use of the Provincial Institute of Trades.
During 1953 and 1954 the second and third buildings were constructed. Construction work was done partly by the students and teachers of the school. George Brown College grew out of the Provincial Institute of Trades and the Provincial Institute of Trades and Occupations. George Brown College was established by the provincial government on November 22, 1967 to serve the City of Toronto as part of the new province-wide system of Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology.
William Davis, the Conservative Minister of Education at the time, recommended that the college be named after George Brown. George Brown (1818-1880) was a 19th century Liberal party leader, father of Confederation and founder of The Globe newspaper which was the forerunner of The Globe and Mail. George Brown died in 1880 after having been shot in the leg by a disgruntle employee. His wound had not appeared serious but he died about six weeks after being shot.
In 1968, George Brown College made the Kensington Market buildings one of their five campuses in Toronto. In 1970 the title for the property officially transferred from the provincial government to George Brown College. While the Kensington Market campus was in operation, more than 1,000 full-time and 600 part-time students used the buildings.
Due to the growing enrollment at the College during the 1960s and 1970s, many of the programs offered by the College were operated out of the building. Child care, English as a Second Language, Fashion, Hospitality, Automotive Repair were all offered in the Kensington Market buildings. At one time, a Retail Meat Cutting course was run out of the basement of the 160 Baldwin Street building which sold meat to many of the institutions in the central Toronto area. The buildings also housed a full restaurant and a child care centre as well.
Most of the College programs had moved out of the Kensington Market campus by the end of 1994. The College performed a variety of work to prepare the buildings for sale and in 1998-2000 the buildings and property were developed by Context Development as the Kensington Market Lofts development. The Kensington Market Lofts is a loft conversion right in the heart of Toronto. It is situated in the centre of the ‘Market’ and close to other vibrant neighbourhoods such as Chinatown, Little Italy, The Annex and Queen Street West.
Today, the Nassau Building is a 61-unit, 4-story building with terraced street level units and 1-2 bedroom lofts. The Baldwin Building is a 6-story building with 79 lofts with the top level set back to create terraced penthouses. The Kensington Market Lofts feature a rooftop garden to help reduces heating and air conditioning costs as well as reduce rainwater runoff. The buildings are heated and cooled by an efficient central system which reduced energy consumption overall. Water is also heated in a central source to reduce energy costs.
Today, the Nassau Building is a 61-unit, 4-story building with terraced street level units and 1-2 bedroom lofts. The Baldwin Building is a 6-story building with 79 lofts with the top level set back to create terraced penthouses.
The Kensington Market Lofts feature a rooftop garden to help reduces heating and air conditioning costs as well as reduce rainwater runoff. The buildings are heated and cooled by an efficient central system which reduced energy consumption overall. Water is also heated in a central source to reduce energy costs.
Big thanks to the Kensington Market Historical Society for much of the information on this page.