I want to touch on one of the real pleasures of getting involved in our local history: the incredible people you chance to meet. Very few of you who grew up in Newmarket and area do not know the name Ila Haines. I want to share my recollections of two conversations I had with Miss Haines, who I chanced to meet through the local historical scene.
Miss Haines had two very distinct sides to her personality. She could be a most pleasant guide to our local history, reaching out with her stories and generally enthralling this young man with her reminiscences. She could also be quite crusty, giving you the eye when she suspected you were not listening or as enthralled in the topic as she was.
I met Miss Haines, as I have many people in the heritage community, through my uncle and mentor, George Luesby. An introduction by my uncle would open doors and break the ice with people I had always wanted to meet. Miss Haines was one of those people.
I knew of her as an incredible schoolteacher from the oral histories that I had conducted over the years and I had seen her at the local historical society meetings, but I had never actually spoken to her. That changed when, by chance, my uncle greeted her at a meeting, with me close behind, and asked her to tell me about the Haines family and how they fit into the heritage fabric of the area.
The story I relate below came out of a brief conversation I was honoured to have with Miss Haines. It related to the Haines family estate on Leslie Street, to be precise, in the Leslie Valley subdivision area, surrounded by new brick houses and tidy yards.
At that time, the property still consisted of a five-acre mini farm, with a white framed farmhouse dating back to the 1800s, among all the executive houses and treed lots.That five-acre plot is now gone, sold to developers for more housing but the house, thankfully, still remains. A few years ago I attended a planning meeting concerning the Sharon Burial Ground and got the opportunity to get a firsthand look at this historic property, lovingly preserved by Ruth Haines.
Ask any local history buff and he or she will tell you all about the old Haines Farm, once a 100-acre farm deeded in 1806 to Samuel Haines, one of the American immigrants from Pennsylvania who came to call Newmarket home. This property has housed multiple generations of Haines over its 213-year span. The farm initially stretched from just north of Leslie Valley Drive to Jacaranda Drive and west toward Main Street North. For those who don’t recognize the size, it covered about half a concession or more in area.
Miss Haines held me spellbound as she spoke of growing up on the property, among a virtual forest of maple trees and a nine-acre walnut grove that was located on the property. Unfortunately, when the subdivision was built, all the trees were lost. I remember to this day the disdain Miss Haines felt for this tragedy.
She was living in a small 1950s bungalow built by her father at the corner of Leslie Street and Leslie Valley Drive at the time of our chats. Her niece, Ruth, was living in the farmhouse. The farm is long gone but the old farmhouse still fronts Leslie. Most people pass by it today and never even notice the house, obstructed from view by trees and shrubs.
Miss Haines spoke of how she was born in 1912 in that old farmhouse, attending primary school in Sharon before heading off to Newmarket High. Apparently, she and her sister rode to school on a horse or a pony.
She would skate on a pond in the winter located where the TD bank is now, near the 404 Plaza, utilizing kerosene lamps for night skating. She also recalled rides in the family horse and buggy.
She shared that during the Depression, her mother took in summer boarders from the big city. I suspect many who grew up during the Depression can relate to the idea of welcoming boarders to make ends meet. She remembered that her mother would prepare a nice picnic and the family, along with the boarders, would head to the far reaches of the property, deep into the forest, to enjoy nature.
Miss Haines taught in Newmarket for 40 years, until she retired in the late 1970s. She passed in 2009, well into her late 90s.
In the 1960s, her brother, Charles, who lived in Sharon, decided to sell all but the five acres surrounding the house and it became a subdivision.
In 1987, the Local Architectural Conservation Advisory Commission (the precursor to Heritage Newmarket) designated the farmhouse of special historical significance to Newmarket and area.
Thankfully, this 1-½ storey building, built in 1839 of vertical plank on stone rubble, with a bell-cast veranda and gable roof, is still with us today. We have a bit of an anomaly in the area today, a significant piece of history sitting among tidy executive bungalows, hidden away but not forgotten.
The pursuit of our local heritage has afforded me the opportunity to speak to so many people with stories like this. People I likely would never have met were it not for my heritage pursuits. I learned very early in life that there could be a very real advantage to being George Luesby’s nephew.
If you have a story to tell or know someone who has one to tell, please consider sitting for an oral history interview with me. There is no cost to you, you can see the finished product beforehand, and be assured that story and your world will be available to the generations that come after you.
Sources: The Newmarket Era; Collection of Oral Histories; Two Chats with Ila Haines in Person; Heritage Newmarket Records.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.