Some downtown Newmarket residents and the local councillor alike were taken by surprise today when they learned that all that remained of the historic Charles Hargrave Simpson building was the facade that faces Main Street.
“I was there just yesterday morning at the library and I saw construction at the site, but I didn’t see any demolishing going on, obviously something transpired today,” Councillor Bob Kwapis said. “I have not been informed about any demolition permit, but I will contact our engineering department and check where we are with this.”
The Town of Newmarket announced at 8:30 p.m. it is issuing a stop work order until further notice on all buildings related to the Main Street Clock Inc. Development, which includes 188, 190, 192 and 194 Main St.
"The original scope of the work and conditions for the building permits were only to conduct interior alterations to the building," according to the notice.
"The Town of Newmarket is committed to protecting the heritage of the Downtown Area to ensure it is preserved, restored and beautified. Newmarket is taking this matter seriously and will be conducting a thorough investigation. We will provide an update to the community as soon as possible," the notice said.
Newmarket historian Richard MacLeod began receiving calls today from about a dozen fellow local history buffs who told him the building appears to have come down sometime between yesterday evening and 8 a.m. this morning, Oct. 10.
“The Simpson building is gone, and the small building in the laneway just south of that is gone,” MacLeod said, after heading downtown this afternoon to see for himself what was going on. “I’ll be honest, when I heard the buildings were down, the only one I thought about was the Simpson building, it’s the only one, in my opinion, that has any relevance to our history. This is the building where the first female druggist was.”
“It means something,” he said.
The circa-1850 Charles Hargrave Simpson building is at 184/186 Main St. S. It was home to Ontario’s first female druggist, Anne Mary Simpson, who ran an apothecary there from 1886 to 1914.
It is also part of a group of buildings in Newmarket’s historic downtown known as the Clock Tower property and owned by developer the Forrest Group.
It was reported by NewmarketToday on April 16, 2019, that the developer is putting its entire swath of Main Street South historic properties up for sale once it completes restoration work, which includes restoring the facades of the three historic buildings at 184 to 194 Main St. S.
“We’re stripping out the interiors of those buildings and we’re doing restoration, we’re working with a heritage architect and heritage contractor, who we’ve worked with in the past and, following that, we’ll be selling those buildings,” the Forrest Group’s vice-president of operations Colleen Forrest told NewmarketToday at the time.
The property owner applied to the Town of Newmarket and was granted permission by its committee of adjustment in June to separate the Main Street Clock Tower properties into four separate parcels that could each be listed as standalone properties for sale.
“The building they took down is the one that we didn’t want to come down,” MacLeod said. “And it wasn’t the one of the three that was in the worst shape.”
Kwapis said the facade, that wall that faces Main Street, is the most important thing to maintain the building’s historical look and significance.
“Now, when it comes to the back of the building, I know that they’re doing everything to get it up to code and some of the buildings are getting gutted, with new electrical and plumbing going in that will last us another 100 years, but the front will be redone or brought back to its original look,” he said.
“It shouldn’t be demolished because the facade has to be intact, or at least it has to have the historical significance that it had before,” Kwapis said. “I would doubt very much they would take the front down because that would be a big no-no.”
Members of the Newmarket heritage advisory committee on Oct. 1 were given an update on the facade restoration being undertaken by the Forrest Group at 184 to 194 Main St. S. Some of those present say there was no mention about the Simpson building being demolished.