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In fair weather and foul, Newmarket's early doctors made house calls

In this week's Remember This?, History Hound Richard MacLeod reviews the town's early physicians, druggists and dentists

Newmarket’s early doctors had practices that covered an apparently boundless territory. In those years prior to the arrival of the car and paved roads, in fair weather and foul, often on horseback, they arrived at isolated homes to administer help to the sufferer and to comfort the anxious family. 

Sometimes the only facility in which to operate was the kitchen table, with a neighbour holding the coal oil lamp. In many cases, the tearful thanks of the family were the only reward. 

Dr. Christopher Beswick was Newmarket’s first doctor, who enjoyed a good reputation as a physician and surgeon among our pioneer settlers. He died March 28, 1839, aged 118, and had lived alone in a house on Eagle Street. 

Beginning with the 1860s, the physicians of Newmarket included Dr. J.W. and Dr. J.J. Hunter, who occupied a house at the corner of Market Square and Timothy Street. Dr. Heard and Dr. Thomas Pyne, a graduate of Dublin University, had an office on the north side of Gorham Street. Pine Street, running between Gorham and the Fairgrounds, was named after him.  

Dr. John Nash lived in a house on Main Street, opposite the Royal Hotel. When this was destroyed by fire, he then occupied a house, later demolished, beside the shop of Stewart Beare, on the west side of Main, north of Millard Avenue.  

Dr. David Rogers, a descendant of Timothy Rogers, built the large brick house and office occupied by the Health Unit on Main in the 1950s. There were also Dr. P.V.R. Dafoe; Dr. Marten; Dr. Cross on Gorham Street; Dr. W.R. Bentley and Dr. Thomas Bentley, both on Main Street South with combined office and drugstore; Dr. Stanley Scott at the northeast corner of Main and Ontario Streets, the site of a service station in the 1950s; Dr. Collins on Prospect Street and Dr. Playter.  

Dr. Joseph Widdifield, a graduate of Victoria University, Toronto, the Royal College of Surgeons, London, England and the Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh, began practice in Newmarket in 1870.  He gave up medicine and entered politics, being the representative of York County in 1879, 1883 and 1886. He became sheriff of the county in 1888. 

Dr. F.N. Howe is said to have performed the first appendectomy in Newmarket. The patient was Packy Ruan, who made a good recovery. Interestingly, the cause was to be attributed to ‘one-half cup of grape seeds in the appendix’. Previously this trouble was diagnosed as ‘an inflammation of the bowels’, from which many deaths had resulted.

In the closing years of the century Dr. A.J. Stuart occupied the house on Main Street that was the residence of Dr. Edwards in the 1950s.  

Dr. D.M. Campbell resided on D’Arcy Street and Dr. Stuart Scott had his office in his house on Prospect Street, later on lower Main Street just north of the museum.  

Dr. J.H. Wesley, also a descendant of a pioneer family, arrived in Newmarket in 1895 and opened his office in the store on the site of the later Bank of Montreal. He soon purchased the brick house beside the Methodist Church. 

In addition to a long career as a brilliant doctor, he also served Newmarket as medical officer of health from 1934 to 1946.  

Dr. Alfred Webb, also of pioneer stock, began his practice following the death of Dr. Rogers and had his office and house in the one built by the late doctor.  

Dr. W.G. Butt opened an office in the house beside the bridge on Timothy Street, but later built a fine house and office on Main Street, later the property of Dr. L. Dales, on the southeast corner of Millard and Main Streets.  

Over the years, succeeding this generation of doctors came Dr. W.S. Otton, Dr. J.C.R. Edwards, Dr. S. Boyd, Dr. L. Dales, Dr. Richardson, Dr. J.G. Cock, Dr. G.E. Case, Dr. C.M. Peever, Dr. Margaret Arkinstall, Dr. W.C. Arkinstall, Dr. F. Greaves, Dr. G.B. McClintock, Dr. J.A. Ritchie, Dr. P. Rowan and Dr. C.C. Schofield.

Now if it was your teeth that grieved you, then you sought out the dentist. During the last decades of the century, when drugs to relieve the pain of extraction of teeth had yet to be in common use, a stiff dose of brandy fortified the patient for the ordeal. Charles Terry, Dr. Pearson, A.I. Hollingshead, Dr. William Rogers and Dr. Peck were the local dentists.

Their places were taken by Dr. C.H.R. Clark, Dr. G.S. Richardson, Dr. Wilkinson, Dr. J.W. Bartholomew, Dr. R.L. Hewitt, Dr. Hackett, Dr. W.O. Noble, Dr. C.E. Vandervoot and Dr. G. Kelly. Medical doctors frequently performed the dental operations.

But where did we go to get our prescriptions? About 1850, James James sold drugs in a small shop north of the North American Hotel. The Kerr Brothers were just beyond the hill on Main Street. A. Soutar sold drugs, groceries, wines, liquors and stationery.  Attention was drawn to his store by a huge red mortar.  

Various doctors kept shop and dispensed drugs, as well, employing a graduate druggist.  One of these was Dr. Bentley, who lived in the house at 471 Eagle St. but had a drug warehouse, the large square building still standing but greatly changed in outward appearance just to the west of the Cawthra house on the northwest corner of Main and Water streets. 

Living with him, according to the custom of the day, as a druggist’s apprentice, was a young man, Charles H. Simpson, who with his father, Capt. John Simpson and his four brothers, had immigrated from Yorkshire.  

With his apprenticeship finished, C.H. Simpson purchased the store and house immediately south of the 1914 post office

Another drugstore had been that of James Kelman, which had ceased operating at the beginning of the century when it was occupied by J.R.Y. Broughton, a druggist who had come from Bradford. This was the ‘Best Drug Store’, owned by J.C. Best, a graduate pharmacist, in the 1950s. 

Mr. Kelman was a native of Banffshire, Scotland, and he had immigrated to Toronto in the 1850s but came to Newmarket in 1869. He opened the shop to sell drugs, chemicals, perfumes, spices, vinegar, dye stuff, coal oil, paints, varnish, cigars and ale.  For several years he served as auditor of the village council and was agent for Vickers’ Express and the Montreal Telegraph Company. 

Dr. William Bentley kept a drugstore where the Broadbent bake shop was in the 1950s.

In 1889, Dr. Stuart Scott, son of Dr. Joseph S. Scott of Northumberland County, came to Newmarket and with his brother-in-law as dispensing druggist and opened a drug store in the building next to the Simpson’s Order Office. Dr. Scott was appointed coroner for York County. Later he established his office and house at the south end of Main Street in the building next to the Simpson’s office.  

N.L. Rogers, son of Dr. David Rogers, opened a drug business and in the building W.J. Patterson, dispensed the drugs. Mr. Patterson then began business for himself further south on Main in the residence beside the Presbyterian Church that had been built by the William Cane & Sons Company for David Lloyd, the registrar of York County and one-time clerk of the Town of Newmarket.

Harvey Lane became the next druggist to occupy this store and though the name continued under the name, the Lane Drugstore, it was in fact operated by William Robins, a druggist.  

Morley Rowland dispensed drugs in the store occupied later by Bertram Budd’s photo studio. He was succeeded by Mr. Bell, who later moved across the street to the shop occupied by Reid Atkinson in the 1950s.  

Of course, now every clinic and large chain store seems to have a pharmacy here in Newmarket.

As you can see, the people of Newmarket were in good hands no matter what the malady they may have suffered.

Sources: The Newmarket Era; The History of Newmarket by Ethel Trewhella; Newmarket Centennial 1857 – 1957 by Jack Luck.

**************************** 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


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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