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Most of Newmarket's growth came at expense of farmland

In this week's Remember This?, History Hound Richard MacLeod recalls the many housing subdivisions built following the 1950s

 I have often stopped and thought of just how the tiny little town in which I was born back in the 1950s has become a major urban centre on the brink of becoming a city before my very eyes. 

Let’s take a look at the urbanization of Newmarket and, in particular, the development of the subdivisions that have transformed the town.

When I was a mere lad, the town limits were Huron Street (Davis Drive) to the north, Mulock Drive to the south, Leslie Street to the east and Yonge Street to the west.

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At the turn of the 19th century, optimism was the prevailing mood of the town. Houses were scarce and carpenters’ hammers were heard throughout the long days. The building of the electric railway increased employment and new residents arrived weekly looking for houses.  

Owing to this boom of prosperity, the western part of the town was opened from the first tier of lots along Niagara Street to Lorne Avenue. Much of this land had been cultivated as farmland and it was ringed by sizeable plots of woodland. This included the street known as Millard’s Lane, which for a century had been the lane east of the Timothy Millard farm buildings beside the river. 

The first house, No. 379, was erected in this new section in 1904. Joseph Millard owned the land on the north side of the lane and had prepared a plan for lots and streets in the late 1800s. Joseph Street was opened at once and was named for the owner. In a short period of time, these newly opened streets were lined with substantial new houses set in generous gardens and broad lawns.  

In 1910, C.S. McCauley purchased a strip of land from Amos Hill lying between Millard’s Lane and Queen Street and opened Arden Avenue. Only two houses had stood on the Millard side of the street, including the Hill house occupied by Edward Brammer that was removed to Queen Street. When the Davis tannery was established in Newmarket, several of the employees’ houses were brought from Kinghorn and re-set at the corner of Queen and Joseph streets. 

The grounds belonging to The Cedars were still extensive, occupying the block bordered by Park Avenue, Victoria Street and Millard’s Lane. Lots were sold fronting these streets and Elm Street was opened. Mr. Scott of The Cedars erected most of the houses on Park.

You could say the first attempt, in 1912, to create a planned subdivision was an abject failure. The initial area set aside for this subdivision consisted of 16 acres to be called Connaught Gardens, on the north side of Srigley Street, which eventually reverted to the Town for unpaid taxes. It, along with another 16 acres that made up the fairgrounds and an additional 20 acres acquired from Albert and Herbert Stickwood whose farm was on the south side of Srigley east of the fairgrounds, for a total of 52 acres was allocated to the government for the military camp. 

Provision had been made for a water supply, sewers, hydro and telephone services for the initial subdivision development, so it proved ideal for the camp. After the war, the area was re-developed for housing and the buildings were converted to civilian use, the barracks being converted to single family dwellings that are still there today.

The Newmarket of my youth was surrounded by farms, many of which had been around since our founding. It was on this very farmland that our town got started on its way to massive expansion with a new concept in urban planning we would eventually call “the subdivision”. 

Let us look at a few of these farms that became subdivisions.  Kingsdale Estates, located on lot 30 in Whitchurch township, just south of Bogarttown and east of Leslie Street, was built on the farm of Joshua Drurey who has a street named after him in the area. 

The subdivision that includes Lewis Drive was created out of the Charles Lewis farm, located on lot 94, first concession east of Yonge Street, homestead of Eleazer Lewis, an early pioneer.  It stretched from Eagle Street north to Millard along Yonge.

The development along Prospect and Pearson streets was part of the Samuel Pearson farm on lot 32, second concession of Whitchurch, east side of Prospect Street.  Portions of his land became part of the Pickering College property.

The area we now know as Hamilton Heights subdivision, stretching from Belfry Drive to Leslie Street along Davis Drive, was constructed on the land of Belfry Hamilton’s 100-acre farm on the northwest corner of Leslie and Davis around 1946.  Remember, since it was north of Davis, it would have been considered part of East Gwillimbury at the time.

The subdivision on north Main Street just south of Green Lane near the Styles Town Park was built on the farm of Brooks Howard, a prominent local farmer and real estate investor in the mid-nineteenth century.

Do you notice a trend here?  Farmland was being converted for urban use, due to need, brought about by a rapid growth in the population, and perhaps a decreased interest in farming as a way of living.

Another such conversion from agriculture to urban use was the area around Elgin Street, where a farmer named Elgin Evans owned several acres of land along Leslie Street and developed it in the 1950s.

An area that converted from agricultural to industrial is the old Harry Walker farm on lot 1, third concession of East Gwillimbury just north of Davis, west of Woodbine Avenue.  His farm was subdivided into industrial lots in 1952.

On the west half of lot 5, second concession of East Gwillimbury, just west of the Howard farm, and just south of Green Lane, was a farm owned by Alfred Kelly, which was subdivided in the 1980s.  

An earlier farm to urban conversion occurred just to the north of Davis at Lundy’s Lane, where a farm owned by Charles Lundy was developed after the annexing of the land north of Davis by the Town of Newmarket from East Gwillimbury in the 1970s.

In 1948, James Crossland purchased Lots 95W and 94E on Yonge at Millard from John W. Bowser. In 1951, part of Lot 94E was annexed by the Town and a small subdivision was developed on the Millard Avenue extension from Lorne Avenue west.  The other portion, lot 95W was sold for a commercial and housing subdivision to the Glenway developers in the early1980s.

In 1967, 92 acres of land owned by Alexander Rutledge on lot 1, Second Concession of East Gwillimbury, just north of Davis was developed just to the west of the Hamilton farm.  

A number of developers created their own little subdivisions over the years. Harry Helmer established a small subdivision west of Lorne and south of Avenue Road to Eagle with Stanley Miller. Max Boag and Charles Boyd developed the land west of Lorne and north of Avenue, including the Beachwood area, naming many of the streets after family members. 

Glenway was developed partly from the Ernie Crossland farm and partly from Samuel Alexander Doner land on lot 94, first concession west of Yonge. The farm and barns were demolished in 1980 and Glenway took over the land for its expansion.  Along Yonge to the north, new developments rose on the farms owned by the Dawsons and Ballards, to name but a few.

I have, of course, just mentioned just a few of the farms that were subsequently sold and re-developed as subdivisions and this process continues even today with the many developments spreading west along Davis.

The important thing I want you to take away from this article is the fact that up to the Second World War and even into the 1950s, Newmarket was ringed by working farms. In the 1970s, Newmarket annexed the lands north of Davis. In the 1980s, Newmarket pushed out to the west with the Glenway development. Around the same time, Newmarket pushed to the south toward St. John’s Sideroad and much of this growth is still going on. All this development was on the surrounding farmland.

Sources: Newmarket Street Names by George W. Luesby; Industrial Land Inventory 1989, 1991, 1992; Newmarket Era; Newmarket Topic; County of York Gazeer 1881; The History of Newmarket by Ethel Trewhella; and oral histories conducted by Richard MacLeod