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In review of decades, the '60s mark massive growth in Newmarket

In this week's Remember This?, History Hound Richard MacLeod caps off a year of articles with the highlights of the decades since Newmarket was incorporated as a village

In keeping with the beginning of a new year, this week I’ll highlight the progress that occurred with each decade from the incorporation of the Village of Newmarket in the 1850s up to the 1970s. It is my hope this article, coinciding with the arrival of 2020, will serve as both an overview of our heritage and progress while reviewing the many events and achievements I have chronicled over this last year.

As 1850 arrives, we in Newmarket find ourselves citizens of a small hamlet in the northwest corner of the Township of Whitchurch, with no representation on the local township council, but most certainly paying more than our share of the tax burden.

This would change in August 1857 when our request to the federal government was granted and we became the Village of Newmarket. We now had a reeve and six councillors, with the reeve sitting on the township council. This was to be our form of government for the next 23 years while our village grew and prospered. It is said one-fifth of the township total taxes were collected locally.  We still did not even have a representation on the county council, I might add.  

We now skip ahead to the year 1880 when we finally applied for and received a charter of incorporation as the Town of Newmarket. We would elect our first town council Jan. 1. 1881 consisting of a mayor, reeve, deputy reeve and six town councillors, with the reeve and deputy reeve representing us on the county council.

In the 1880s, we also had the arrival of the Grand Trunk Railway and a telegraph system but no telephones, clean water supply, indoor plumbing, central heating, automobiles or other amenities that we take for granted today.   

When you went shopping on the Main Street, you would see stools with red velvet covers in most shops, there for the convenience of the customer. The service was outstanding. Main Street had a plethora of hitching posts catering to the carriage trade. Our streets and homes were lit by kerosene lamps and we drew our water from pumps in the back yard (hence the issues with spreading of disease). Knowledge of sanitation and the spread of disease through water was still in the future.

An account in the local paper divided the rapid increase of population into two categories. The first consisted of the industrious, those men and women who cleared the forests and built a small log cabin and furnished it with simple homemade furniture, rugs, quilts and other handiwork.

The second group were the layabouts, those who spent their lives in taverns or brawling in the hotels and streets. Their wives were left to fend for the family, with little food and still less future. This was when the local Woman’s Christian Temperance League was organized (1880) and the Salvation Army established its presence (1883). Both organizations saw the need to ‘clean up the population’.

By 1889, most of the virgin forests had been cleared and the excellent agricultural prospects arising from the rich soil were extolled. This is the period of the grist mill, the place where farmers brought their crops to sell and make money and the location when the locals could go to purchase flour, cornmeal and rolled oats.

Along with the grist mills, packing firms arrived with bacon, ham, sausage and headcheese. Other industries arrived to convert hides into leather and factories dedicated to the sawing of logs to make building lumber and shingles, as well as buckets, tubs, and washboards. The phoenix Woolen Mill made high-quality blankets and cloth for our garments. 

We also acquired an engine works for the casting and assembling of steam engines. A foundry on Timothy Street made simple farm implements, stoves, and all matter of pots and pans. You could also find a hatter for men and women, lots of breweries and taverns, two carriage works and several saddle and harness makers. We also had a monument maker and a furniture maker.

It was around our incorporation that the Old Town Hall and market building was erected. Locals participated in the Rebellion of 1885 and we, of course, celebrated Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887 and Diamond Jubilee in 1897.

During the 1890s, a new tannery arrived, new buildings were erected by the Agricultural Society at the Fairgrounds and the old Novelty Works, where Office Specialty would locate in 1895, made tricycles, dolls, carriages, bikes and wagons.  

We also had an organ factory, manufacturing parlour organs. Our new water works system arrived in the 1890s, thanks to Mayor Cane. Both the Alexander Muir and a new high school were built this decade. Also, the old kerosene lamps were replaced by arc lamps. In 1899, local boys were off to the Boer War and the Metropolitan Street (Electrical) Railway finally reached Newmarket.

During the first decade of the 1900s, concrete sidewalks replaced the old wood plank ones. Electricity came to Newmarket and our stores, homes and churches were gradually converting. The Metropolitan railway was extended north to Sutton, the turning basin for the canal was dredged and locks one and two were constructed.  

Also part of this decade, the old wooden bridges were replaced by iron and concrete and, of course, the Davis Leather Company moved to Newmarket, becoming a world famous source of calf leather. Pickering College was built in 1908 and a new addition was added to Newmarket High. In 1910, Prohibition passed, closing all taverns and causing the demise of many local hotels. The Forsyth Hotel was purchased by the prohibitionist and renamed the King George Hotel, which became a dry hotel.

In 1913, an agreement to purchase our electricity from the Metropolitan Railway people was reached. During the First World War (1914 to 1918), Newmarket raised two battalions, the 127th and the 220th. Pickering College became a military hospital as part of its contribution to the war effort. The Connaught Gardens development, Newmarket’s first land development began selling residential lots just west of the Fairgrounds in 1914.

During the 1920s, the highlights were a new sewage system and the paving of local streets. Two entrepreneurs, Ted Rogers, who worked at Pickering College, invented the A.C. radio and Frank Bennett invented the oil burner, selling his creation to Imperial Oil.  The Fairgrounds was demolished, York County Hospital was founded by Dr. Dales and the Newmarket Hockey Arena was built and Newmarket High got another addition.

The 1930s saw the sale of the Cane Factory and arrival of Dixon Pencil to Newmarket. One does not forget that the Great Depression hit Newmarket very hard during this decade. With the outset of the Second World War, plans for our Basic Training Military Camp were put into place, beginning as the 1940s opened.  

The 1950s brought the honour of being chosen the county seat for the County of York. Mable Davis donated her home and grounds to the county, the site of the new County Administration Building while her grounds becomes an incredible nature reserve named the Mable Davis Conservation area. 

During the 1950s, our boundaries expanded and a massive growth in subdivisions began. The new public library opened on Park Avenue and the Newmarket Era Building on Main, beside Roadhouse and Rose Funeral Parlour, was destroyed. It was during this time that the Newmarket Plaza on Davis near Yonge Street was opened.

The 1960s are best known for a massive period of growth in population. During this decade, the regional government apparatus was adopted, and the County School Board was inaugurated.

By the 1970s, more land was annexed from the surrounding townships and Upper Canada Mall was built.  The hospital was expanded and sadly, the Alexander Muir School was lost to developers. 

I hope that this trip back will serve to refresh your memories of articles I have written over the last year.  You can always go back to read past articles on Newmarket Today’s site if any of these highlights prove of interest. I will begin with the 1980s and Newmarket’s Centennial celebration in a future article.

Have a spectacular New Year’s, everyone!

Sources: The History of Newmarket by Ethel Trewhella; The Newmarket Era – Through the Years; Newmarket Progress By The Pioneers by George Luesby; 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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