UPDATE, Oct. 14, 1 p.m.: Newmarketers Margaret Davis and Gordon Prentice won the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario Award for their efforts against the Main Street condo development.
"It was an astonishing victory. But it shows what people can do when they join together, united in a common purpose," Prentice said.
Longtime Newmarket resident Margaret Davis did not want to see a huge seven-storey condo building at one of the corners of the downtown Main Street she knew well.
Along with Gordon Prentice and dozens of other residents, she battled hard against a developer's proposal to bring a 165-unit complex to the corner of Main Street South and Park Avenue, where the historic Clock Tower building and adjacent heritage buildings stood. The eight-year battle was ultimately a success, with the developer eventually selling the properties and new businesses reoccupying the buildings.
“That somebody is coming in with big bucks to erect this monstrous thing on the corner, it just really got to me,” she said. “So I thought I would try and do something about it.
“They just hope they’ll give up,” she added, of how developers often approach these conflicts. “We didn’t. We just hung with it the whole time. And gradually, (the Forrest Group) disappeared.”
Their efforts are now being recognized by the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario. Davis and Prentice have been nominated for the A.K. Sculthorpe Award for Advocacy, as part of the 2022 ACO Heritage Awards. The winner will be announced Oct. 13.
The organization said the nomination recognizes "Margaret Davis and Gordon Prentice for their unwavering campaign against the Clock Tower project in Newmarket and demolition of the city’s Main Street heritage."
Although they are the only two named nominees, Davis said it was a team effort.
“So many people helped though along the way. This wasn’t one or two people,” she said, adding hundreds signed an online petition against the project. “There were about 20 people that were really very instrumental in getting to the success we had.”
The campaign was followed by a former ACO president, Prentice said. Part of the campaign included setting up an ACO branch in Newmarket.
“It’s a great thing. It’s recognition, I suppose, for what the community did,” Prentice said, adding that the proposed project “would have been a blight on the historic downtown.”
He said the effort included plenty of advocacy work, as well as research to counter the arguments of the developer.
“We just went into a huge amount of detail. Whatever Bob Forrest came out with, we could counter it,” he said. “That’s the way you got to do it. You can’t just wring your hands and say stop. You have got to take the developers on and answer any questions.”
After an unapproved demolition of the historic Simpson building, the town secured an agreement for the developer to reconstruct it. New businesses are occupying several of the properties Forrest sold off, with a boutique hotel set to occupy the Clock Tower at the corner.
“This hotel is going to be really nice,” Davis, a centenarian, said. “These guys really know what they’re doing.”
Main Street Newmarket has plenty of history, she added. Although more people have come to Newmarket, she said there is a heritage to protect.
“All the people in this area are very keen to keep it the way it is.”