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Many of Newmarket's prominent families called St. Paul's their spiritual home

In this week's Remember This?, History Hound Richard MacLeod explores one of Newmarket's earliest churches and the legacy of early families that can still been there today

Over the next few months, it is my goal to highlight the history of the many churches in our town, beginning with St. Paul’s Anglican Church currently located on Church Street at D’Arcy Street.

While the current structure was erected in 1884, there are many predecessors as far back as the early 1830s. Rev. Adam Elliott, in an article dated 1833, refers to having preached two sermons in the village of Newmarket on Jan. 20 to a large congregation.    Later that spring, he noted he had celebrated Good Friday and Easter Day with local congregations and that he felt that Newmarket should be made the centre of a field mission and area expansion.

He references a recently constructed church for “area Episcopalians” and his accounts of the fervor of the local inhabitants tells us there was an active church structure here most certainly as early as the 1800s.

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A church had been built in 1824 that was said to have been 36-by-56 feet without a chancel or transepts. Transepts and a gallery were to be added later. In a February 1933 article in the Era, a Guelph lady talks of how her great grandfather, William Tatham, ministered here about 1830.  We do know that William Tatham taught in a log schoolhouse on Prospect Street and in other Anglican Churches in the immediate area.

Many of you have probably visited the Pioneer Burial Ground, an Anglican cemetery, on Eagle Street. This old graveyard has been in use since the time of our earliest settlement.  The land was deeded to the church by Christopher Beswick and he is buried onsite, having reportedly died at the ripe old age of 118 years. The pioneer burial ground will be the subject of an article in a future article.

The old church was of heavy frame construction and the spire was later covered in tin.  The melodeon and choir were situated in the gallery when it was built and at one time the choir consisted of Col. Cotter and his family, with the Colonel on the violin.  It should be noted that Col. Cotter resided on the site of the Presbyterian Church. The pulpit and prayer desk were built against the north wall. Area military men and their ladies rode to the church on horseback in the beginning.

The church bell served as the village curfew bell for many years prior to 1875, a bell many say was a gift from Lady Franklin, wife of the explorer Franklin.  Another story has the bell coming from Lady Elgin, who is said to have donated it after her visit to Newmarket in 1847. The bell was somehow cracked and could not be repaired but eventually, a group from the congregation, with the assistance of the Office Specialty in 1929, was able to repair the bell. The organ has been in use since 1872 and was purchased by Sir William Mulock’s mother.

The years around 1812 brought British military men to our vicinity and after the war, along with their families, became a considerable portion of the congregation. In local memoirs, they speak of the splendor of the three-level pulpit, the ‘horse-box’ pews with tables for prayer books, and the parson’s flowing preacher’s gown.  It also seemed to have been cold on the feet as mention is made of the need to bring foot warmers to church.

Some of the earlier ‘missionaries’ to hold services here were: Rev. Adam Elliott, Rev. Williams, Canon Ritchie, Rev. H. H. O’Neill, Canon S. P. Ramsay (1848) and Canon Tremayne (1873).  In 1837, Rev. R. Athill established a repository for local records for the area, quite apart from those held by the Toronto diocese.

In 1841, Rev. G. C. Street, during his incumbency, established daughter churches in Aurora, Sharon and Holland Landing.

It seems that a controversy waged on within the Diocese owing to the perceived ritual excesses being instituted within the Toronto church and in 1877, the local parishioners petitioned the Bishop to send only clergy of moderate opinions without any propensity for what are termed ritualistic peculiarities.

There existed a fair amount of friction between church and state at the time, which was to be expected. What they called the ‘light teachers’, rival sects of Friends, and many other new religious communities clashed with the more conservative churchgoers of earlier days who had based their social order on loyalty to the flag and to the old Church order.  

This social order code was best stated by Governor Simcoe who described himself as ‘an Englishman, and a member of the church where Christianity is administered in its purest form and a member of that government where laws are most equal, and justice is administered in mercy’.  May of the local population begged to differ with this, explaining perhaps the social unrest in the area (the 1837 Rebellion being but one example). How interested the members of the church were in these matters, we can only speculate. If you visit St. Paul’s today, you will notice an eagle lectern, a memorial to Colonel Cawthra and an east-facing window dedicated to Canon Ramsay.

The old church was demolished in 1884 and the present, gorgeous Gothic building was erected that same year. Rev. Spragge was the rector at the time. The traditional Anglican custom of the construction of the building on an east-west grid was adhered to in this rebirth. I understand that very little remains of the original furnishings of the old building except the organ and some books.

The history of the present church is far better known to most of us, of course. Over the years, the congregation saw the removal of some of the older families prominent in its early community life by way of death, or relocation, names such as the Dudleys, Gorhams, Gambles, Mulocks, Cotters and Cawthras – the who’s who of early Newmarket life.

During the Great War (First World War), many men of the church, following what was a tradition going back 100 years or more in church history, stepped forward to answer the call to arms for liberty and now rest abroad in foreign graves.

In 1884, the congregation built the present church, the foundation stone having been laid by Mrs. Munk, then a Mulock, and she also laid the foundation stone for the beautiful memorial hall, which was added in 1929.

The present rectory was built at the same time as the current church in 1884 but the earlier incumbents, it is said, lived in various houses around town. The first rectory that I could confirm was on land owned by the Glebe family on Eagle Street, the old Blizzard house.

Further to the church bell, the bell had been used to toll the time of day and as a fire alarm in town over the years. You can read my articles on the whistles of Newmarket for more information.

Reverends Ramsay and Tremayne took a great interest in the old Mechanics Institute, the early centre of education in the town, first public library and presenter of local entertainment. The church was instrumental in the financial stability and governance of the local institution at a time when funds were limited and facilities scare.

I should mention that in addition to the Memorial Window referred to earlier, there are eight others worthy of mention. There are windows in memory of the Hon. J. G. Spragge and his wife, Sarah Roe of fur trader William Roe fame, to Anna Ramsay, Samuel Sykes, Ann Dudley, Henrietta Smith Lepard and three for Joseph Cawthra’s widow, a Marble Mural Tablet in memory of Walter Dudley, who was the first station master in Newmarket, and one in memory of John Cawthra, who was the first representative of Simcoe County in the Parliament of Upper Canada. Yes, it is a treasure trove of Newmarket history, set in one of the most beautiful buildings in Newmarket.

There is also an oak tablet, beautifully hand-carved by Alvin Hilts, a Roll of Honour honoring the 17 local men who gave their lives during the First World War.

The pulpit was donated in memory of Reginald Brunton, who was killed overseas. The baptismal font was donated by C. H. Simpson in memory of her son.

Not to be missed is the statue of John Cawthra, which I still believe is still in the vestry.

Finally, I would like to mention the names of a few other prominent families who called St. Paul’s their spiritual home – William Roe, Dr. Bentley, Samuel Sykes, William McMaster, John Townley, Alfred Boultbee, Vincent Denne, T. J. Robertson and the Brunton family. The families involved in the establishment and growth of this church are truly part of the Historical Hall of Fame of this town.   

Sources: Newmarket Era Collection 1860 to 1968; A History of the Town of Newmarket by Ethel Trewhella; Stories of Newmarket by Terrence Carter; St. Paul’s Newmarket Newsletter January 1993; St. Paul’s Heritage - A Commemorative Booklet March 2, 1997; A short History of St. Paul’s Church by Rev. Arthur J. Patstone  

******** 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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