It’s on, Newmarket. The town awarded a contract to a park architecture firm that will help guide the development of the 11.6-acre Mulock Estate into an iconic Central Park-style recreational green space on the northwest corner of Yonge Street and Mulock Drive, Mayor John Taylor announced Sunday on the grounds of the historic property.
“We consider today the start of the public consultation,” Taylor said, as he led an early tour for media of the property’s heritage home that was built in 1870 and was once home to Sir William Mulock, a prominent Newmarket resident fondly remembered as the grand old man of Canada.
The Town of Newmarket purchased the property from the Mulock family for $24 million in 2018, and took ownership of the estate last October.
Toronto’s award-winning PLANT Architect Inc. will lead the park development project, a process expected to take about eight months and will include consultation with key stakeholders, including the community, town staff and council members, and subject-matter experts. It’s hoped the municipal park will be up and running by 2022.
Hundreds of residents took advantage yesterday of an invitation from the town to take a one-time-only peek at the sprawling property and main floor of the heritage home, all of which is closed to the public during the development process.
The anticipation was palpable as long lines formed for a guided tour of the storied home, where Sir William Mulock, Canada’s first labour minister and postmaster general, entertained the likes of two former prime ministers, Mackenzie King and Sir Wilfrid Laurier, and Guglielmo Marconi, an inventor who laid the groundwork for radio technology.
“Imagine the entertainment that would have gone on here, the political parties, the meetings,” Taylor said. “When you realize what we have here … who lived there, what is the history and what occurred there. This is a house that really can stand on its own with many of the great historic homes of Canada. So, it’s really quite a treasure.”
Newmarket Historical Society board vice-president Jackie Playter said the purchase of the Mulock Estate is “the best thing the Town of Newmarket has ever done”.
“To me, it’s just so special,” said Playter, who saw the inside of the home for the first time Sunday. “It’s absolutely beautiful just the way it is.”
When it comes to imagining what sort of future use the heritage home could have, Playter and fellow historical society member, Joan Seddon, agree that an event centre would be ideal.
“I like the event centre idea, even having art shows here with all the artists we have in Newmarket would be great,” Joan Seddon said.
Playter adds: “I think it could be like the Sharon Temple (in East Gwillimbury), you could have weddings, 50th anniversaries, all kinds of fundraising events. School kids could come here and learn about the history, as well. Totally restore it and use it as an event centre. That way we don’t have to go to Vaughan all the time.”
Longtime Newmarket friends Heather Burling and Ann Campbell said the stately heritage home lends itself to some “grand events”.
“I could see high tea parties and galas held here,” Campbell said.
Burling, herself, enjoyed an afternoon tea on the veranda of the home in the 1950s.
“At that time, you would see the Mulock family around town, they are very nice people,” Burling said. “But the town only had about 4,000 people then and everybody knew everybody.”
Many visitors said they hoped the property would retain its natural beauty, which includes mature trees and a large black walnut grove.
Linda and Leo Prosty, Newmarket natives who now call East Gwillimbury home, are history buffs who said the estate should be preserved for its heritage value.
“I wouldn’t like to see the house torn down, but I’m sure there’s going to be some other uses proposed for the grounds,” Leo said.
“Even just gardens would be lovely, someplace to walk around, sit and picnic, read a book,” said Linda. “And inside the house, a gallery of some sort would be lovely. I’d like to see the heritage retained because of so much development lately, we’ve got to protect our historic sites.”
Resident Dora Feltham said she and her husband were struck by the possibilities as she walked the gravel path off Mulock Drive onto the property.
“We thought, wow, what a beautiful area for a park and, my initial reaction was it would be very well utilized,” Feltham said. “I think the park area should be kept natural, with a family environment. I’m sure the town would do a good job of keeping it clean. Don’t clear it out, keep it close to the way it was.”
Resident Dianne Wood, who originally thought the town’s purchase of the property didn’t provide good value for tax dollars, said she’s come around to a different view.
“At first, the $24-million cost is a bit shocking, but when I studied it more, I realized it’s a good deal,” she said. “It would be lovely to have public gardens here, I would love to have something like that.”
Local historian Richard MacLeod said he’d like to see part of the heritage home become an exhibition centre or a museum.
“The post office alone, for example, could be interested in doing something since this was the home of Canada’s first postmaster general,” he said. “There’s all kinds of visiting exhibitions that would want to use this place. I think that would be great.”
As visitors to the Mulock property spread out around the grounds, basking in the sunshine and taking part in an assortment of heritage-themed activities for children and enjoying live music and snacks, one local family said they appreciated the opportunity to do something fun together close to home.
“We came out today because it’s something to do, to get out with the family in the nice weather, and take advantage of what’s being offered by the town,” said Kapil Gawtam, who attended the event billed as a heritage picnic with wife, Dimple, and children Ella and Riaan. “I heard they might build a skating trail, like the one in Richmond Hill or Brampton. Something like that would definitely be different, I like the idea of some kind of a trail to skate with the family.”You are invited to share your ideas at Hey Newmarket on what you’d like to see included on the Mulock property, as well as your thoughts on what the Mulock house might be used for.