Skip to content

Newmarket, be true to your school

In this week's Remember This?, History Hound Richard MacLeod traces the history of education and our elementary and high schools — you might recognize the one you attended

In this week’s article, I will give you an overview of how the school system in Newmarket got started and grew, and a little background on each of the major phases of this development from the early 1800s to 2000.

Formal education in most of Ontario in the early part of the 18th century usually fell under the auspices of local churches or trade associations and was primarily focused on job-related skills rather than higher learning that would include literacy and mathematics.

However, in 1843, a grammar school was established in Newmarket in a small schoolhouse at the corner of Millard and Raglan (where it still exists today as a multi-residence building).  The local government tells us that in 1853, there were 64 grammar schools in Ontario, under the authority of the Council of Public Instruction.

In 1871, an Act of Legislature changed the grammar schools to high schools and only students who had completed public school were admitted for secondary education. By 1876, the attendance at our grammar/high schools had increased so much that larger accommodation was needed.

In May 1876, the village council funded $,6000 to purchase land and erect a school. Two acres of land were obtained at the corner of Pearson and Prospect streets. The transaction was registered on Jan. 2, 1877. That summer, a one-storey, three-room brick school was built facing Prospect, Newmarket’s first high school.

On Jan. 1, 1881, Newmarket was proclaimed a town with a population of about 2,100. Starting in the mid-1800s, there was a large influx of Irish Catholics into the area and a parish school was erected in 1882 on the east side of the grounds of the Roman Catholic Church on Ontario Street. It was eventually closed in May 1968 and converted to a parish hall until it was demolished on March 15, 1994.

In 1891, a model (primary) school was built on the corner of Prospect and Timothy streets. comprised of six classrooms. It was later renamed the Alexander Muir School in honour of the famous creator of the Maple Leaf Forever who had taught in town.

The school was closed in 1976 and demolished in 1979 after much controversy and a valiant attempt to save it. A retirement home was built on the site.

On the night of March 16, 1893, the high school on Prospect was completely destroyed by fire fanned by the strong winds. The students were to use the new model school until a new high school was ready.

Immediately, plans were made for a replacement and on July 15, 1893, the cornerstone was laid on the same site for a two-storey school with four classrooms. As was the custom, the central portion had two staircases, one for boys and one for girls.

In 1912, an addition on the east side provided three more classrooms on the second floor and an auditorium on the main level. Blackboards were installed in 1923, previously white painted plaster walls were used.

On June 20, 1926, a cornerstone was laid by Sir William Mulock for another addition on the west front of the building for an auditorium, gymnasium and three classrooms. It was opened in December 1926.

Fire again completely destroyed the old portion on March 31, 1928, but luckily part of the new addition was saved. Plans were made at once for a new school and students were accommodated at Stuart Scott School, which had been built in 1923 and named after Dr. Stuart Scott, a longtime school trustee.

The official opening of the new high school was held Feb. 4, 1929, with 12 classrooms, two science rooms, a gymnasium, auditorium, cafeteria and lunchroom. Both commercial and academic courses were taught. The enrolment was approximately 300.

During the war starting in January 1941, trainees from the military camp in Newmarket used four of the classrooms for night school classes.

Population growth and a rise in the birth rate were the major factors in an urgent need for expanded educational facilities. In 1946 alone, there were 506 births. The population had reached 4,450 and was ever increasing.

The existing schools were, by that time, filled to capacity and both the public and high school boards were desperate for additional accommodation.

Plans were drawn up in 1949 for a new school to be named Prince Charles School and located on the south side of Srigley Street, part of the old Stickwood farm and military base. This was the first public school to be built in Newmarket since 1923. The new school was opened early in 1950 with Harold A. Jackson as its first principal.

A sub-committee of the high school board on Feb. 1, 1945 strongly urged the construction of a vocational wing addition of 36 x 48 feet, with two storeys, at an estimated cost of $35,000.

The Province was to pay 75 per cent of the cost, leaving $9,000 for the Town to finance. When this was submitted for government approval in September 1945, the federal building controller refused the application due to priorities for housing construction and lack of a trained labor force in the building trades.

By January 1946, the controls on construction were revoked and the board’s push for immediate action on the increased school enlargement was emphasized. Again, obstacles arose, this time the Department of Education advised the proposal could not be accepted until the local district served by the school was consolidated.

In particular, the Mount Albert Continuation School was to be dispensed with and amalgamated with Newmarket High School. In 1947, this school was closed and the secondary pupils were sent to Newmarket.

Concurrently, Sutton High School required enlargement and was restructured by the directive of the Board of Education. The Newmarket High School Board on Oct. 16, 1947 sent a letter to Town Council stating it was in favour of the high school area plan and that Newmarket High School was not large enough to give adequate secondary education to comply with all the demands.

Slow reaction by the Council greatly annoyed some members of the Board who threatened to resign if a prompt response was not received.

On May 26, 1948, County bylaw #2342 established the Town of Newmarket, the Townships of East Gwillimbury, North Gwillimbury, Georgina, the village of Sutton and part of Whitchurch Twp. to be designated Newmarket-Sutton High School District.

York County Council appointed the school boards with members representing the various areas. The bylaw became effective Jan. 1, 1949.

At a meeting in October 1949 held by the new district board, J. W. Lockhart, principal of Newmarket High School, presented plans for a new wing, a revision of the plan originally drawn up in 1945.

A two-storey wing would be built on the east side of the north end and would not interfere with any future additions. It would contain shops in the basement, agricultural science on the first floor and domestic science on the second floor.

A considerable time lapse was anticipated for a final go-ahead due to approvals being obtained from all the area municipalities, the Ontario Municipal Board and Department of Education, as well as preparation and acceptance of architect’s final plans.

Local approval was given at Newmarket Town Council Jan.19, 1950 and by September 1950, tenders for construction were received, a contract for $95,000 was approved and the building commenced on Oct. 12, 1950. The new addition was ready for school opening in September 1951. Finally, after almost 14 years, the effort to add the first addition to Newmarket High School was a reality.

Prior to the 1950s, there were four public schools in Newmarket: St. John’s Roman Catholic (1882), Alexander Muir (1891), King George (1912) and Stuart Scott (1923). The population increased from 3,990 in 1945 to 5,036 in 1950, primarily due to the return of our servicemen after the Second World War, creating a need for housing and education facilities for their children.

An influx of developers and speculators were busily building housing subdivisions. The environment was changing from agricultural to commercial and industrial. Town Council and school boards were inexperienced in coping with this rapidly changing tide.

In 1955, Councillor Alex Belugin strongly opposed issuing permits to subdivide on the basis that the added growth would need more utilities, schools and teachers, thereby burdening taxpayers and the town's economic structure.

Destiny proved him correct when the education tax doubled in the next decade and kept increasing to climb to 67 per cent of total taxes. Nevertheless, the town extended its borders and as subdivisions consolidated, new schools was built in adjacent areas on parcels of land set aside for the purpose.

Education was transferred from Queen's Park to the Department of Education. Locally this mandate was relayed to York County Council and down to the municipal councils for action by appointed trustees for the relative districts.

The evolution taking place in the 1950s led the government to evaluate the full spectrum of education in terms of implementing practical skills as an alternative or supplement to traditional academic courses. This eventually introduced community colleges in the province for technical training.

The concentration of the suburban areas resulted in the necessity for a more centralized administration of secondary school affairs. With approval by the Minister of Education, the Newmarket-Sutton High School District Board recommended a separation of the two districts.

On Nov. 29, 1959, bylaw #2905 was introduced by York County Council for the dissolution of high school district. Sutton, North Gwillimbury and Georgina were detached and the Newmarket, East Gwillimbury and part of Whitchurch became known as Newmarket High School District.

The bylaw took effect on Jan. 1, 1961 with a new board of trustees in both Sutton and Newmarket.

Before the bylaw became valid it needed approval of the municipalities involved. Sutton, Georgina and North Gwillimbury approved, but Newmarket Council declined by a vote 6 to 2 because with the reduced area, the cost per pupil would be $135 or 73 per cent of the total assessment. (It has remained 65 to 75 per cent ever since). When they learned that provincial and county funding would provide for a new school, they relented

In spite of Newmarket's objection, the bylaw was ratified on June 8, 1960 in York County Council by a vote 22 to 21 in favor of separation. N.H.S. principal Lockhart stated there was not room for expansion in the existing high school and the split would necessitate a new school.

On Sept.20, 1960, the school board was advised by the Department of Education to prepare a proposal for a new secondary school.

By December 1960, as a result of a survey report, a request for York County financing was made for $815,000 to construct a 20-room school in what was then East Gwillimbury Township to serve an estimated 580 students by 1962.

Negotiations were underway in January 1961 to purchase an 11-acre site north of Davis (than called Huron) Drive, part of the Roy Watson farm. At this time, it was all farmland from east of Bolton Avenue to Leslie Street. The school was to be named Huron Heights Secondary School and was scheduled to open in September 1962.  

Delays in planning ensued, prompted by a change of policy for federal and provincial grants for technical education. Originally an academic school was planned but when the two governments offered to underwrite the cost of technical training, new plans were prepared.

In the meantime, overcrowding in N.H.S. became acute. It was decided to operate the school in shifts. The morning shift was 8 a.m. to 12.40 p.m., with 566 students and 31 teachers and the afternoon shift had 648 students and 33 teachers.  

J.R. Lockhart was supervising principal of both schools with L.G. Shepherd principal of HHSS and I.C. Harris principal of N.H.S. By June 1963, the new Huron Heights was sufficiently complete for students to write their final examinations.

In September, the school was fully occupied and officially opened Oct. 30, 1963. The cost was $1.5 million, the province paid $1.1 million and York County $400,000. Before its final completion, plans were already underway to add 23 more rooms to double the student accommodation from 610 to 1,190. It was completed in September 1965.

A further extension of 29 rooms was planned in 1967 and completed in 1969,which added seven more rooms for business and commercial classes, 10 more for academic, four rooms for labs, three geography and five standard classrooms.

Gymnasium and change rooms were increased, as well as a larger library and new cafeteria.

In 1957, Newmarket High added a new wing at the north end, providing another gymnasium, cafeteria, classrooms, science rooms and rooms for special activities such as music, art, economics and guidance. Additional acreage was purchased from Pickering College for a football ground and a 100-yard track.

On November 1, 1966, a new library wing was opened at NHS. This was a single-storey addition on the northwest side of the original building and included a stack reading room, seminar room and audio-visual aid room.

With this addition, the school became a conglomerate and although the individual units proved functional, the esthetic quality of the original building was lost, especially with the necessity to add supplementary portables for classrooms.

The Province of Ontario by legislation introduced Regional Government for York County Jan. 1, 1971. This significant change affected the administration of all elementary and secondary schools within the boundaries of the County north of Metropolitan Toronto. The whole district was divided into four sections to encompass all the schools within geographical areas under the heading York County Board of Education and financed by York Regional Government.

Headquarters for the Board of Education was built in Aurora on Wellington Street. Representatives from the various municipalities were elected to the Board. The takeover by regional government reverted the name Newmarket District High School back to its original designation, Newmarket High School.

A situation arose in 1974 that was potentially catastrophic and the future of N.H.S. was at risk. Relatively minor alterations were needed to update the chemistry lab and other small improvements.

The Regional Board of Education stipulated that if any changes were to be made, the whole school must be upgraded to conform to current building codes and non-compliance would mean closing the entire school.

Two weeks notice was given that the school would be closed permanently and students bused to the new Aurora High School that was not being fully utilized. Of course, this gave rise to strong emotions and a public meeting of 1,000 people unanimously rejected the demand with the result that the Minister of Education immediately approved the estimated expenditure of $200,000 and a guarantee to fulfill the requirements and retain the integrity of the school.

The formation of Regional Government and the York County Board of Education provided a means for the consolidation of teachers in the region to negotiate with a centralized office of administration.

Throughout the 1970s, there were tumultuous, hard and bitter negotiations between the Teachers Federation and Administrative Board over new styles of teaching methods but mainly about wages and benefits.

Due to the lack of set policies for transfers and promotions, out of more than 1,000 teachers in the region, 667 resigned Dec. 5, 1973 and on Feb.1, 1974 at N.H.S., 29 of the 41 teachers quit.

The walkout lasted 52 full days (36 school days) and was the longest teachers strike on record.  I personally lived through this strike.

Continuing controversy continued and in June 1979, the teachers imposed a work-to-rule action to protest offers of salary adjustments by the Board. In retaliation, the Board closed the schools on Sept. 4 at the start of the fall term 1979. By Sept. 7, an agreement was reached to settle the dispute by arbitration and in December an award was finally handed down allowing a 12.5 per cent salary increase.

In 1979, the York Region Roman Catholic School Board erected Sacred Heart High School in Newmarket, which was the third school for secondary education in the community. The enrolment at that time at N.H.S. was 880 students and the Town population was 26,155.

I should make mention that on July 3 to 5, 1981, the greatest event in the history of Newmarket High School took place with the alumnae reunion with more than 4,000 formet students attending.  

Registration was held in the community centre and venues were selected for the various decade dances and social get-togethers: 1900-1949 was at Hollingsworth Civic Arena, 1950-1959 at the East Gwillimbury Community Arena in Sharon, 1960-1969 was at the Newmarket Community Centre and 1970-1981 at Pickering College Arena. This was all preceded by a monster beef-carcass barbecue at East Gwillimbury Community Arena in Sharon on Aug. 30, 1980.

When the Board of Education threatened to close N.H.S. in 1973, a resistant group rose spontaneously to save it by lobbying, letter writing and public meetings. They were successful in their efforts and the school remained.  Nevertheless, the York Region B. of E. persisted and in 1981 they put forth alternative schemes to build a new school but retain it as a French Immersion Centre to comply with Federal legislation for bilingual instruction. This occurred at the time of the Alumnae Reunion and it met strong opposition with sentiments of nostalgia running high.

In 1988, the Mazo de la Roche School was opened for French Immersion.

There were no specific details for a new high school or any location for one, but the unfolding of destiny eventually prevailed. On Nov. 24, 1981, a raging fire in the main building of Pickering College did $2 million in damage. This catastrophe put the College in jeopardy, with the result that it was forced to sell its large acreage farm to help recover from the fire and pay for a major renovation program. The farm was sold in 1985 to a numbered company that planned to use it for a 641-unit residential development.

On June 19, 1989, a public meeting was held in the Newmarket Recreation complex for viewing plans prepared by the Board for renovation and expansion of N.H.S. estimated at $11.5 million. In retrospect, this was a ploy to get public reaction to the folly of trying to preserve the old building.

When Town Council was approving the site of the Pickering College farm sale, the Board requested an area be reserved for schools. In September 1989, it purchased 17.3 acres on the north side of Mulock Drive, west of Leslie Street in part of the subdivision called College Manor, formerly the Pickering College farm.  

Meanwhile, plans were under way for the Dr. John M. Denison Secondary School, being built in the northwest area of the town on Bristol Road. It was ready for students in February 1991.

With approval of the Ministry of Education and a provincial grant, the York Region Board of Education finalized plans for a new secondary school and construction commenced early in 1994 for a $15.7-million high school which retained the name Newmarket High School.

It opened its doors Feb. 5, 1996 for 875 students and 60 teachers, an ultra-modern high-tech institution with capacity for 1,200 students.

The official closing of the Prospect Street school was held Oct. 7, 1995 with few misgivings by latter generations in view of its attractive replacement. During the summer of 1996, the old school was renovated and converted to an elementary school, scheduled for opening in September but this was to be short lived and the abandoned school was totally demolished by July 2001.

In March 1994, the elementary King George School on Park Avenue became a satellite campus of the high school for adult education. It has since become a condo project in recent times.

************ 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].