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Let's go back to year of change for Newmarket: 1906

In this week's Remember This, History Hound Richard MacLeod examines a year in our past when the horse and buggy began losing its battle to the car

Thanks to input from our readers, I get great ideas for future articles and, this weekend, I bring you one of those ideas. The concept is to pick a year from our past and detail what happened in Newmarket that year. 

I have chosen 1906, a year, I would argue, that was the beginning of a boom here in Newmarket. We were still dependant on many of the old way of doing things, but we would very soon be plunged into the modern era.

Let us set the scene. Our mayor at the time was N. J. Roadhouse, who was beginning a three-year term (1905 to 1907). Mr. Roadhouse had taken over from Mayor H. S. Cane, who had served from 1897 to 1904.  

In my article on H.S. Cane, I make the case that H. S. Cane was our most effective mayor based on the degree of growth and enlightenment, so Mayor Roadhouse would have found himself caught up in a wave of change in 1906 Newmarket.  

I have posted a postcard view of Main Street 1906, which clearly shows the old and the new existing side by side. Notice the radial rail tracks beside the cars and horse and buggies.

The population of Newmarket was approximately 2,500, primarily agrarian, and there was a tangible feeling of change in the air. 

Mayor Cain had brought the telegraph, telephone and electricity to Newmarket during his reign. In 1906, there were 140 telephones in service locally. We had a new waterworks system running north on Main Street and then along the established street system to local houses. There were no sewers at the time, but they were contemplated.   Main Street was still dirt. There was a debate about the installation of a natural gas line, but it was thought to be not economically feasible. 

The preferred modes of transportation were still the horse and buggy or walking, but new modes were on the horizon. The Metropolitan Electric Railway was providing the town with an easy and lucrative connection to Toronto and it still ran up the centre of Main Street.  

There was considerable annoyance by local merchants, tradespeople and farmers (my grandpa at Luesby Memorial included) and they needed to do something. However, horses were still holding their own in their battle with the train and the automobile. 

The townsfolk and local farmers had petitioned in 1902 to remove the tracks from Main Street, as the train scared the horses and wagons and buggies had difficulty navigating the street due to the tracks. A bylaw was passed that restricted the train’s speed on Main to eight miles per hour.  Eventually, in 1907, the railway would be moved behind the Main Street buildings (see a portion of the tracks still there beside the Newmarket Public Library).

In 1901, Eckbird S. Cane, a member of the Cane dynasty, purchased Newmarket’s first automobile, a single cylinder Winton, able to travel from Newmarket to Lake Simcoe on one gallon of gas in less than one hour. This forebode both the end of the horse and buggy era and the end of the radial line, although it wasn’t entirely clear at the time.  

In 1906, industry was king in Newmarket with Cane’s Woodenware, Office Specialty and the Davis Tannery the largest of a growing number of businesses. There were three carriage makers, a cheese factory, the infamous pickle factory, flour mills, marble works, cabinet makers, a foundry and a brewery. What more could one want?

The streets were alive with visitors, prompted by the expansion of the radial line to Jackson’s Point and Sutton. People were flocking to Newmarket to work in one of the expanding factories and the Holland River had been widened from Cook’s Bay to Holland Landing in anticipation of the new Newmarket Canal.  However, the Canal was cancelled abruptly in 1912.

Businesses on Main Street expanded during this period. The R. A. Smith grocery store at Timothy and Main was enlarged and extended down to Cedar Street and many of the businesses enjoyed a golden period of growth and prosperity.

The Bank of Toronto opened a branch on the east side of Main Street, in the former barroom of the Central Hotel, across from where the post office is now located.  Eventually they moved to the old location of the Sovereign Bank, on the northwest corner of Main and Botsford, now a goulash restaurant.

An article from the day indicates that “given the number of strangers in town”, two night  constables were to be hired to help keep the peace. Remember, Newmarket’s prohibition bylaw was in full force and there was a real sense that we were at peril from the flow of demon rum and all those newcomers. 

As an indication of the massive growth taking place, it was reported in 1907 that housing rental prices tripled from $2.50/$3 a month for a house in 1906 to just over $7.50/$8 a month. Inflation had hit the Town of Newmarket and that is a sure indication of growth.

In the coming years, Newmarket would endure economic slumps and periods of slow growth (post depression Newmarket comes to mind), but fortunately we bounced back thanks to the insightful vision of men like Mayor Boyd, who succeeded in bringing the Army Camp to Newmarket in 1939, work for our local workforce and thousands of soldiers who kept the local economy vibrant.

I hope you enjoyed this look back at one year in the life of Newmarket.  Let me know a year that you think changed our Town and we will highlight it in one of these articles

Sources: The Memorable Merchants and Trades, 1930 – 1950 by George Luesby and Eugene McCaffrey; The Main Street Story 1800 – 1950 George Luesby and Eugene McCaffrey; Newmarket:  The Heart of York Region by Robert Terence Carter; Oral History Interviews conducted 1979 to 1988 

******** 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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