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Booming '50s created need for second high school in Newmarket

In this week's Remember This, History Hound Richard MacLeod wraps up his series on Newmarket High School with highlights of sister school Huron Heights Secondary

This weekend, I will tie up a few odds and ends regarding my series on the history of Newmarket High School, which I first started writing for Newmarket Today back in 2018. You can go to the Remember This section to catch up on any of segments that you may have missed.

Let us begin with a brief look at the cadet program that used to be offered as part of the curriculum at NHS.   

The cadet movement in Canada can be traced back to pre-1860 when Volunteer Militia Rifle Companies were being formed as part of a re-organization of the area’s militia.  In 1879, the Associations for Drill in Educational Institutions became part of the militia.

Cadet organizations were begun by the government of Canada back in 1903, although the Ontario government issued regulations for the formation of high school cadet corps years earlier in 1898.

Military training in Newmarket Grammar Schools started the first year after Confederation and although it was initially small, it was one of the first cadet corps within the Dominion.

Formal cadet training was held for one week in early May each year and consisted of marching, foot and rifle drills and platoon formations.Bayonet practice was discontinued in 1919, just after the First World War had ended. 

Inspection by an officer of the Queens York Rangers was held on the Friday during the training period, starting with a march that would form at the town hall and end on the school grounds. 

The uniforms were heavy khaki with brass buttons and puttees and, in many cases, were not a particularly good fit.  

A dance was generally held the evening of the inspection and grew to be a popular annual event.

All the uniforms and equipment were destroyed in the great fire at the high school in 1928 but were replaced when the new school was re-built in 1929.

A rifle range was built into the new school and a rifle team was formed that was to achieve considerable distinction, winning the King’s Trophy and Strathcona Medal in 1934. Lorne Patterson and Tom Lowndes were judged top marksmen in the rifle competitions.

In 1934, government grants for cadet instruction and uniform allowances were to dry up due to increasing opposition to ‘militarism’ in the federal House of Commons. 

However, the cadet corps at NHS did continue on until 1937. It has not been revived since that time. Our local cadet units not associated with the school or the board have continued to use the school over the years

A rifle club, not associated with the military, was formed in 1951 but lasted only a short time as the rifle range was lost in the renovations during the addition of the north wing, east corner of the school.

Let us now turn to the additions that occurred because of the rapid population growth brought about by the increase in the number of area subdivisions and the post-war Baby Boom. There was a resulting increase in enrolment and this led to an increasing accommodation problem within the schools.

A building committee of the Newmarket - Sutton High School district was formed at the beginning of 1955. A survey of the existing conditions and a forecast of future requirements was presented to Newmarket council in April 1955.

The estimated costs for a school enlargement totalled $360,000. Provincial grants would pay a little less than 50 per cent of the cost, with the balance shared by the municipalities served by the high school districts.

The current accommodation was deeded inadequate, having an enrolment of 100 students more than the existing 470 rated capacity limits. 

With the crowded conditions, the auditorium was divided into two classrooms and the lunchroom was converted into a teaching area.

Newmarket council approved the estimate, likely realizing there was really no alternative with the increasing number of new people coming into the district.

By September 1955, the architect's plans were produced and approved. The architects for the project were Weir and Cripps Partners, of Toronto.

R.A. Cripps was an early resident of Newmarket and his brother W.H. Cripps had been well known for his drawing abilities in early issues of The Purple and Gold and the Phoenix year books.

This extension opened in 1957 and consisted of a separate building linked to the original structure by a two-level connecting unit. 

The lower level served as an entry and housed offices for the principal and clerical staff. The new wing provided a second gymnasium, a cafeteria, classrooms, science rooms, and rooms for special activities such as music, art, economics and guidance.

Concurrently the older building was renovated. The cafeteria and lunchroom (formerly the rifle range) were eliminated, now divided into a classroom, a locker room and a storage room. The cloak rooms were converted to locker rooms and additional lockers were installed in the upper corridors.

Additional acreage was also purchased from Pickering College for an eastward extension of the playing field.  This area was levelled, and a football field and a 100-yard track were added to replace the area that now accommodated the new north wing/

During the 1950s, the influx of subdivisions and developers again impacted high school conditions. The rapid increase in the population pushed the school’s accommodation to the limit and these changes brought about some hard decisions concerning the teaching and training in area schools and they were to be forced to adapt.

This new concentration of suburban areas would result in a more centralized administration of secondary school affairs. 

With the approval of the minister of education, the Newmarket/Sutton District School Board recommended a separation of the two districts. The Sutton District wished to control more closely its own schooling.

On Nov. 29, 1959, Bylaw No. 2905 was introduced by York County council for the dissolution of the Newmarket/Sutton High School District.

The Village of Sutton andTownships of Georgina and North Gwillimbury were thus detached and the remaining Town of Newmarket, Township of East Gwillimbury and part of Whitchurch Township became known as the Newmarket High School District. The bylaw was set to take effect on Jan. 1, 1961 with a new board of trustees. 

Before the bylaw could become valid, it required the approval of all the municipalities involved. Sutton approved the resolution on Feb. 9, Georgina on March 1, and North Gwillimbury on March 7, 1960, but on May 5, Newmarket council declined it by a vote 6 to 2.  

It was felt that the reduced area would increase the cost per pupil to $153 or 73 per cent of total assessment (it has remained between 65 per cent to 75 per cent since). However, when they learned that the province and the county would provide funding, they eventually relented.

Despite Newmarket's objection, the bylaw was finally ratified on June 8, 1960 in York County council by a vote 22 to 21 in favor of separation. 

NHS principal J.W. Lockhart pointed out that there was no room for expansion in the existing high school and thus a new school would be necessary.

On Sept. 20, 1960, the Newmarket High School District School Board was requested by the Department of Education to prepare a proposal for a new secondary school to meet this new demand for increased enrolment.

By December 1960, as the result of a survey report, a request for York County financing was made for $815,000 to construct a 20-room school in what was then East Gwillimbury Township to serve an estimated 580 students, to be completed by 1962.

Once they had the go ahead, negotiations began in January 1961 for the purchase of an 11-acre site north of Davis Drive, part of the Roy Watson farm. Currently, it was all farmland from east of Bolton Avenue to Leslie Street.

They intended to call the new school Huron Heights Secondary School and it was to open in September 1962. Delays in planning ensued due to several changes in policy for federal and provincial grants for technical education.

Originally an academic school was planned but when the two governments offered to underwrite the cost of a technical training centre, the initial plans were discarded and new ones were quickly submitted.

In the meantime, the overcrowding at Newmarket High became more acute. It was decided to operate the two schools in shifts at Newmarket High until Huron was ready for occupation. 

The morning shift ran from 8 a.m. to 12:40 p.m. and comprised 566 students and 31 teachers, while the afternoon shift was comprised of 648 students and 33 teachers. 

J.W. Lockhart was the supervising principal of both schools, with L.G. Shepherd the principal of Huron and I.C. Harris the principal of Newmarket High.

By June 1963, the new Huron Heights was sufficiently completed for students to write their final examinations on site. 

In September, the school was fully occupied and officially opened on Oct. 30, 1963. The cost was estimated at $1.5 million with the province paying $1.1 million and York County paying $400,000.

In 1965, a 23-room addition was added to double the student accommodation from 610 to 1,190. Tenders were opened on Sept. 25, 1964 with the final approval received by Nov. 20. Construction commenced at once with the completion date being September 1965.

A further extension of 29 rooms was planned to commence in 1967 and be completed by 1969, adding seven more rooms for business and commercial classes, 10 more for academic classes, three geography and five standard classrooms. A Gymnasium and change rooms were added along with a larger library and a new cafeteria. The former library was converted into a classroom and former cafeteria was converted into an audio/visual and seminar room.

With Huron Secondary in operation as a fully equipped composite school complete with academic and vocational facilities, NHS was able to return to its academic role.

I have now examined the history of Newmarket High from conception to up to the period when I left NHS. I still have several stories to tell, of course, and I shall return periodically to share them, but I think that I have covered most aspects of the “Old Lady” in my series over these past two years.

You can check out my whole series of articles at if you have missed any of the series.  

Sources: The History of Newmarket by Ethel Trewhella; Articles from The Newmarket Era; Articles from The Toronto Star; Stories of Newmarket – An Old Ontario Town by Robert Terrence Carter; The History of Newmarket High by George Luesby, High School Magazine “PURPLE and GOLD” 1922 and 1928, Interview with Mr. Elman; Minutes of Newmarket Council, York County Council bylaws; Records of Inspector, Department of Education.


Newmarket resident Richard MacLeod — the History Hound — has been a local historian for more than 40 years. He writes a weekly feature about our town's history in partnership with Newmarket Today, conducts heritage lectures and walking tours of local interest, and leads local oral history interviews.