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County once manned toll gates for travel along Yonge

In this week's Remember This?, History Hound Richard MacLeod shares an array of interesting facts you just might not have known about Newmarket
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Rather than focus on one topic this week, I am sharing several interesting “did you know” items that I have found during my research — facts many of you likely didn’t know about Newmarket.

Previously, I have written about the rise of the subdivision on the fertile farms that surrounded Newmarket. At the end of the Second World War, there was concern about housing for the returning troops. While Mayor Dales announced the unconditional surrender ending the war on May 3, 1945, and the local parade was held May 8, plans for the resettlement of men returning from the war actually began in January 1945, before peace was even declared.

Our local government, under the Veterans Land Act, purchased the west end of the Uriah Marsh farm, east of what was then known as York County Hospital and south of Davis Drive, for $6,000. This land was parcelled into 45 half-acres lots and sold to veterans to build their new homes. It was called Sunny Hills subdivision. The development prompted the expansion of Queen and Grace streets to join with a new north-south street called Roxborough.

Streets running east of Pleasantview Avenue had been laid out on 35 acres in 1912 as a speculative venture called Connaught Gardens (the old Srigley Farm), however, it was   taken over by the Town of Newmarket for non-payment of taxes. This area remained undeveloped until portions of it were set aside for the establishment of the military training camp in 1940. This story can be read in my article on Newmarket’s WW2 Military Camp.

The military camp covered approximately 52 acres, extending 660 feet on each side of Srigley Street east of Vale Avenue. There would be 45 buildings constructed.

In August 1946, after the camp was vacated, the land and buildings were re-acquired from the Crown for $34,790. A parcel of that land was then sold to J. W. Bowser, a local builder/contactor, for $25,500. The buildings located to the south of Srigley consisted of nine ‘H huts’, which had housed 136 men. Each barracks was two long frame buildings linked by a central hall containing the kitchen and washrooms. It really looked like an H.

The huts were redesigned by George Luesby Jr., my uncle, into residences. The central parts were removed, and the ends of each leg were adapted to make 24 by 35 foot bungalows for a total, when completed, of 36 dwellings. These new homes were bound by four new streets, Muriel Avenue, Lowell Avenue, Arthur Street and Newton Street. The homes sold for $5,000 each in 1947.

Also, the Town decided to sell several Town-owned parcels of land for between $25 and $100 in an attempt to meet the expected demand from returning service people. The proviso was that there must be a home built within a reasonable time.

In June 1948, the Town acquired 20 acres of land for $7,000 on the south side of Eagle Street, where I live now, extending to the west from Andrew Street to Cawthra Blvd.

A Veterans Affairs Office opened to administer the Veterans Act and negotiations commenced with the Central Mortgage and Housing Corp. to construct 50 houses on this 20-acre site. The formal opening of this subdivision was held April 1949, all homes being occupied by May of that year. Best of all, they were all allotted to veterans.     

The second fact I thought may be interesting to explore is that of the toll road, prevalent around Newmarket in the 1800s. It may surprise you that when Highway 407 arrived, it wasn’t the first roadway in our area to charge for use.

In the mid-1800s, there was a four-mile-long Holland Landing road that ran north from Newmarket and cost between 5 cents and 10 cents to use and even a section of Yonge Street between Newmarket and Bradford was a toll road. There was a toll booth located at the corner of what is now Green Lane and Yonge Street.

If fact, there were so many toll roads by the 1850s that they became a real source of local disenchantment. A popular pastime was sitting and watching people gallop through toll booths and the gatekeepers trying to catch them.

In 1865, Yonge Street was acquired by York County and there were six toll gates maintained by the County. The first was in Toronto (Yorkville) and the rest were along Yonge headed north. There was one on the south end of Aurora near the cemetery and one at Cady’s Corners near Davis and Yonge.

In 1890, a typical toll booth rate for a two-horse vehicle carrying a load was 10 cents and 4 cents for a horse and rider. But by 1896, the roads became free for everyone to use and most of the toll gates were gone. You will remember that in previous articles I commented that the roads were often so bad that a 10-mile trip could take all day, so it seems tolls didn’t go to maintenance costs.

Finally, let us look at a few facts from specific years in our past. In 1923, fire alarm boxes arrived in Newmarket and were attached to the new waterworks system. When an alarm went off, officials from the waterworks would phone the Office Specialty and tell them the location of the trouble. The Specialty would then blow the whistle, signalling the location of the fire.

Back in 1941, a new cement sidewalk replaced the old boardwalk from Main Street to the side entrance to Trinity United Church. Eggs at the market were 20 cents a dozen, butter was 33 cents a pound, chickens were 20 cents a pound and asparagus (phew) was 5 cents a bunch.  

In October 1936, the blockbuster at the Palace Cinema on Main Street was Magnificent Obsession starring Irene Dunne, Robert Taylor and Charles Butterworth. Littlest Rebel with Shirley Temple was the coming soon attraction.

On May 27, 1931, the Newmarket Lions Club received its charter with 36 members,  meetings taking place at the King George Hotel. The same year, Dixon Pencil arrived in town, taking over the Cane Factory and employing 40 people. 

People often ask me the population of Newmarket in any given year, so I have provided a list below of several of the more important years from our past.  I hope you have enjoyed this article, a little different but I think it is informative.

Population of Newmarket 1857 to 1999

  • 1857 – 700
  • 1880 - 2,000
  • 1900 – 2,125
  • 1945 – 3,990
  • 1950 – 5,036
  • 1960 – 8,055
  • 1970 – 11,324
  • 1975 – 24,142
  • 1980 – 29,234 
  • 1985 – 33,186
  • 1990 – 44,566
  • 1995 – 55,875
  • 1999 – 67,350
  • 2016 – 84,224

Sources: Newmarket Era; Elman Campbell Museum; The War Years by George W. Luesby; The History of Newmarket by Ethel Trewhella; The Yonge Street Story by F. B. Berchem; Stories of Newmarket by Robert Terry Carter. 

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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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