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Annexation of East Gwillimbury helped fuel Newmarket's 1970s boom

In this week's Remember This?, History Hound Richard MacLeod recalls when the provincial government moved Newmarket's border at Davis Drive further north towards the Green Lane

In an earlier article, I wrote about Newmarket annexing parts of East Gwillimbury the 1970s as part of my vanishing farmlands story.  Let’s look at the whole story of the amalgamation of those areas to the north of Davis Drive that were previously part of East Gwillimbury.  I am sure that you remember it was quite a story at the time. 

The landscape of Newmarket, Aurora and East Gwillimbury had changed little since 1849. The County of York had been established with clear boundaries and a great deal of green space surrounding the major centres, essentially farmland.

Then in 1971, the Ontario government decided to move us from a county system to a regional system of governance and the Regional Municipality of York was established to replace York County. It was touted as a financial and organizational step forward by the powers that be at the time.

The result for Newmarket was the expansion of our boundaries, which brought an overnight jump in our population from 14,000 to 24,000. If you lived north of Davis Drive, this change meant your address was changed from East Gwillimbury to Newmarket.

East Gwillimbury had allowed heavy urban growth to develop on the north side of the Davis Drive boundary and this was all to become part of Newmarket, the town’s northern boundary moving farther north towards Green Lane.  

Our southern borders were also re-adjusted with Newmarket gaining the area south of Mulock to St. John’s Sideroad, our new boundary with Aurora. We also gained land to the east, with the new boundary becoming Highway 404. 

The 13 municipalities in York Region suddenly shrunk to nine. Newmarket did remain the home of this new regional government, a position it held under the old York County structure.

Right from the very beginning, there was bickering between the various urban centers. Newmarket Mayor Bob Forhan, who interestingly enough, would leave the mayor’s chair to become chairman of York Region in 1978, seemed resigned to the fact that these outside forces had fundamentally changed the very nature of the town.  

I will be writing an article on mayor Forhan in the future, in which I will further discuss his insistence on a new deal for the town, one where it could direct the growth, and benefit from it.  

Under his plan, which he called the ‘user- pay philosophy’, developers were mandated to build and pay for roads, sidewalks, and sewers in their new subdivisions and make cash contributions to the town’s coffers to fund libraries, recreation facilities, and other services deemed necessary for the new residents of Newmarket.

 His plan was eventually adopted by the other towns but as we have seen, this arrangement has not proven to be without its issues over the years.

One of the first tests of this new way of doing things was the Quaker Hills subdivision built by the Schickendanz Group, which had purchased the Craddock family farm. They built their own streets and installed all the necessary services at their own expense. You will remember they built a pool on William Roe Blvd. in 1973,  as well as paying substantial lot levy fees to the town.  

DelZotto Homes, the developer of a north-end subdivision near the hospital, built the Hollingsworth Arena for the town in 1973 and contributed to other facilities. The floodgates then flew open and the farmlands that buffered our communities were quickly swallowed up and it seemed that at some point, Sharon, Newmarket and Aurora would become one large community.  am not sure that the provincial government has ever really given up on that idea.

The period from 1974 on was one of rapid growth here in Newmarket, with a new 55-unit shopping mall arriving in 1974, two major factories and new apartment buildings seeming rising by the month.  

Mayor Forhan was right, this new future had firmly arrived on our doorstep and it appeared that there was little we could do about it except attempt to control it as well as we could.     

The squabbling between the various communities was to go on for years and there are still issues that are yet unresolved to this day. One challenge from 1978 comes to my mind.  The mayor of East Gwillimbury, Angus Morton, took Newmarket and the annexation issue to the OMB (Ontario Municipal Board), arguing that the edict from the provincial government was flawed and he wanted a full hearing with the plan that it would be overturned.

His argument was essentially that a large area south of Green Lane, now part of Newmarket, should be designated rural, green space and not residential, providing a buffer between East Gwillimbury and Newmarket.  

Both sides lawyered up with Newmarket arguing that East Gwillimbury had no right to tell Newmarket what to do with its new land or its citizens. A developer, Lionstar Investments, also hired legal representation and the fight was on. There were, in total, four OMB hearings.

Newmarket, of course, claimed the matter was a waste of taxpayers’ money and was contrary to the provincial government’s vision for Newmarket, interestingly enough. 

Years later, when plans were being considered for the development of the former Howard farm, clearly on the north side of Green Lane in East Gwillimbury, Newmarket attempted to intervene. There would appear to be an uneasy truce that exists to this day.

And what are the lasting effects of the government’s decision in 1971 to first create the region and then take part of the land north of Davis Drive and give it to Newmarket?  This, of course, is the million-dollar question. Newmarket was able to increase its tax base, allowing it to fund growth and expansion.   

Even though it was just in the 1970s, it seems to me that that area had been part of the Newmarket family for an exceptionally long time.  I do miss the green space that used to be part of that gap between Newmarket and Sharon from when I was a child.  

It is hard to say whether East Gwillimbury would have left the area agrarian had it retained title of the area. Governments tend to crave tax dollars.

The main issue most people seemed to have with the York Region structure is the feeling that decisions affecting their neighbourhoods were being made by a third level of government with its own agenda. I am not sure if this is the case, but I understand the concerns raised.

The annexing of Aurora south of Mulock Drive to St. John’s Sideroad seemed to present fewer issues over the years, though it was certainly not without contention. An example of a small rift was when Fairy Lake was being drained and cleaned and Newmarket insisted that the pond had been contaminated during the Aurora years upstream.   

I am basically an historically motivated individual, and all these areas were really one and the same in my mind. My relatives lived in Aurora, Newmarket, Sharon and what was then called East Gwillimbury concessions.  I really do not put much stock in boundaries and man-made divisions.

I believe that Indigenous people have it about right, land is simply the land and people do not have the right to fence off a portion. However, since the 1970s, we have seen so many fights about this small area of land and how it should be used. What would our ancestors have said about that, I wonder?  

Did you live in an area that was annexed in 1971? What is your feeling about what transpired?      

Sources: The Newmarket Era; Newmarket – the Heart of York Region by Robert Terence Carter; Oral History Interviews conducted by Richard MacLeod

NewmarketToday.ca brings you this weekly feature about our town's history in partnership with Richard MacLeod, the History Hound, a local historian for more than 40 years. He conducts heritage lectures and walking tours of local interest, as well as leads local oral history interviews. You can contact the History Hound at thehistoryhound@rogers.com.

    

 




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About the Author: Richard MacLeod

Newmarket resident Richard MacLeod — the History Hound — has been a local historian for more than 40 years
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