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Building lots in Newmarket's first subdivision sold for $50

In this week's Remember This?, History Hound Richard MacLeod takes you to Connought Gardens, the Town of Newmarket's first attempt at a planned community

Connaught Gardens was Newmarket’s first planned community. I have mentioned it in several of my articles, but I thought it might be an interesting story to pursue.

Only a handful of people in our community would remember the development, and they are generally of a certain generation. Connaught Gardens was the only major land development undertaken by the Town of Newmarket prior to the end of the Second World War and was considered the future blueprint for manageable development.

This project was named after his HRH the Duke of Connaught, governor general of Canada from October 1911 to October 1916. He was the third son of Queen Victoria and younger brother of King Edward VII.  He was named Arthur after his godfather, the great Duke of Wellington.

When he first visited Canada in 1870, many of the streets and towns were named in his honour (Prince Arthur Avenue in Toronto, the town of Arthur and City of Port Arthur being but a few examples). His daughter was also honoured with the district of Patricia in northwestern Ontario bearing her name, as does the Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry formed during the First World War. His final duty as governor general was the laying of the cornerstone of our new Parliament buildings in Ottawa in September 1916.  As you can see, he definitely left a mark in Canada.

In my article on growth in Newmarket between 1900 and 1914, I spoke of the influx of immigrants from the British Isles who came to Newmarket and found work in our three expanding local industries, the Davis Leather Company, Office Specialty Co. and William Cane and Sons Woodworks.

To provide additional building lots within the town proper, in 1912, the Town purchased a 35-acre farm from William Denne. This farm was located between Srigley and Queen streets, the Stickwood Brickyard  and Alexander Road. 

This land was never graded but was laid out as streets with cement sidewalks, following the lay of the land with no discernible grid being followed. There were no culverts, and no provision made for the spring runoff from the much higher land to the north. The land was surveyed into 50-foot lots. 

The only sign of a pending new subdivision were white posts with semaphore arms where the street names were hand painted in large black letters at each intersection.

By July 1914, all was ready for the grand opening and sale of the lots. It may be noted that except for Pleasant View Street, all the streets carried the names of the councillors of the day. The only other name remaining in this subdivision is Wesley Street, named after prominent doctor J. E. Wesley.

None of the lots were serviced with water, sewers, lighting or telephone lines. A large platform for the town fathers was erected, and a huge sign showing the development plan with numbered lots appeared.  The town project was open for business.

During some of my oral history interviews, I was told that the sale was conducted much like a huge community picnic, with huge platters of food and tubs of lemonade and ice cream for everyone. All of this was, of course, at the Town’s expense.

The lots sold quickly at $50 — yes, $50 for a 50-foot building lot —   however, only one month later, the First World War was declared, followed by a few years of serious inflation and, of course, the Great Depression in the 1930s. This was to continue until the beginning of the Second World War. The development was in trouble, with non-payment of taxes and other financial setbacks.   

With the exception of a few lots along Pleasant View, Srigley and Wesley Streets, all of the lots reverted back to the Town for unpaid taxes. The infrastructure, however, remained intact, with sidewalks and streets laid out.

When it was announced in midsummer of 1940 that Army training camps were to be formed, Newmarket town council was quick to realize an opportunity existed to offer the unused land, which, in return would be an economic benefit and help to alleviate the depressed business and labour problems in the town. 

With remarkable speed and political influence, mayor Dr. S.J. Boyd, reeve Fred Lundy, deputy reeve Joseph Vale and solicitor Norman L. Mathews went to Ottawa and met with W. Pate Mulock, the MPP, and Harry Doyle, the administrator of Wartime Prices and Trade Board. (Harry was born and raised in Newmarket from a well-known family before going to Ottawa).

On Aug.1, 1940, bylaw 834 was passed by council to lease town properties to the Department of National Defence for the duration of the war and for six months after the declaration of peace. This area included 16 acres of Connaught Gardens on the north side of Srigley and another 16 acres consisting of the fairgrounds.

An additional 20 acres was acquired from Albert and Herbert Stickwood, whose farm was on the south side of Srigley east of the fairgrounds. Thus, a total of 52 acres was allocated to the military. Provisions for water supply, sewers, hydro and telephone services were quickly arranged.

Newmarket’s first venture into commercial land development had proven to be less than a rousing success. Thankfully, the Town was able to use this land for the military camp and, after the war, redevelop the land properly.

The military camp extended 660 feet on each side of Srigley east of Vale Avenue and included the fairgrounds to Pine Street. There were 45 buildings erected, including a large drill hall, barracks for 1,000 men, officers quarters, cookhouses, recreation hall, infirmary, messes, canteens etc. Recruiting and enlistments continued to supply the army with basic training at the rate of 1,000 men a month for the duration of the war.

The military camp area was redundant after the war and on Aug.3, 1946, a bylaw was passed by council to repossess the leased 32 acres and acquire the residual 20 acres and all the buildings on the site from the War Assets Corporation for $34,700. 

Within a few days, they passed another bylaw to sell part of their purchase for $25,500 to builder/contractor John W. Bowser. This was the area on the south side of Srigley and included all nine barracks. Each unit had been the quarters for 136 servicemen and were comprised of long-frame huts 24 by 100 feet and joined by a centre section called the “ablution hut” for toilets and showers to make an “H” platform. 

Bowser modified these “H” huts to plans by George Luesby to convert them to residences. The central portion was removed and the ends of each leg in situ were adapted to make a bungalow 24 by 35 feet for a total of 36 dwellings.

The parade areas between the barracks were turned into streets and named Newton Street, Arthur Street, Lowell Avenue and Muriel Avenue, which was not extended to Gorham Street until January 1951 to make it the east limit of the fairgrounds. The houses were sold as soon as they were built in 1947 for $5,000 each.

The land to the north of Srigley was used for light manufacturing until March 1950 and then leased to a printing lithographing company. In 1970, the buildings were demolished, and the land parcelled to provide 11 building lots.

During the war, the southeast corner of Srigley and Muriel was occupied by the quartermaster stores, N.C.O. mess and offices. This location was chosen for a new school site, and with additional property from the Stickwood brothers on the west side, Prince Charles School was erected in 1950. 

The population had increased from 4,000 to 5,000 during the previous five years. This was the first school to be built in Newmarket since 1923.

As they say in history, eventually everything worked out for the best, alas by the ‘skin of our teeth’, mind you!

Sources: The History of Newmarket by Ethel Trewhella; Oral History Interviews by Richard MacLeod; Article Published on Newmarket Today on Our Military Camp and Growth in Newmarket; Stories of Newmarket – An Old Ontario Town by Robert Terence Carter; Newmarket – Some Early Memories by Elman Campbell 

********* 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 [email protected].


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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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