Skip to content

Newmarket chosen as site for county poorhouse in 1883 (6 photos)

In this week's Remember This, History Hound Richard MacLeod recalls a time, during the 1800s, that it fell upon friends and relatives to provide food, shelter and care for the unfortunate, destitute, ill and aged

In this week’s article, I want to return to the subject of the history of our local health facilities.

During the early 1800s, it fell upon friends and relatives to provide food and shelter for the unfortunate and destitute. But as it came to be a burden on local municipalities and townships, York County Council decided it would be more economical to have an institution where the needy and homeless could be cared for humanely. Newmarket was chosen as a site of one of these institutions and a farm of 50 acres was purchased for $4,500 on the west side of Yonge at Eagle streets.

In 1883, a four-story brick building was erected in the Queen Anne style for $17,200 under the provisions of the Municipal Act as a poorhouse, which was named the County Industrial Home, until it was changed in 1933 to the House of Refuge.

No matter the name, it was always referred to locally as the poorhouse.

In 1949, it was renamed the County Home for the Aged and, finally, in 1954, it was named York Manor.

In 1885, there were 147 inmates maintained at a cost of $1.22 per week. Old age pensions were legislated in 1932 and the eligible residents were allowed $2 each week of the pension as pocket money.

Over time, the farm was increased in acreage and its buildings were enlarged. A prize herd of Holstein cattle produced a profitable operation with the inmates doing all the work.

The Home fulfilled its purpose until it was closed in 1959. The buildings were demolished in 1978 and the land used to erect the Provincial Court House and Land Registry Office in 1980.

Its replacement, York Manor, was located on the west side of Yonge, north of the Eagle extension and was erected at a cost of $1 million.

A west wing was added in 1970 for approximately $750,000 to provide a total bed capacity of 225.

Jurisdiction was under York regional government and was administered by a staff of about 150. The per-diem rate for inmates was $13.50 (1957) and the annual budget was $3 million.

The modern and comfortable facilities were indicative of the vast improvements in social benefits over the previous 50 years. However, in January 1985, a study was conducted by York Region and it was determined that a complete renovation was needed to meet revised provincial standards and would cost about $5 million.

The doorways and corridors were too narrow, residents’ rooms were undersized and lacked closet space; and plumbing and ventilation was insufficient. It was anticipated the proposed modifications would reduce the number of beds from 225 to 160.

As a result of the report, in May 1985, it was decided to build two new homes in the region and phase out York Manor. At this point, Greenacres, the Metro Toronto Home for the Aged, came into the picture.

Before the amalgamation of Greater Toronto reduced the size of York County, an area of 22 acres on the south side of Eagle and west of Armitage Heights had been reserved by the County for a new home for the aged to replace the old county home on Yonge. The reduced size of the County drastically altered this proposal.

Concurrently, the Metropolitan Housing and Welfare Committee was interested in obtaining a site outside the city for the special care of patients residing in the metropolitan area. Negotiations between the County and Metro officials resulted in a transfer of the Eagle Street property to the Metro Corporation. Plans for a new county home for the aged were dropped and the County continued using York Manor on Yonge Street.

The Town of Newmarket had offered 12 acres of land as a gift to the County, which was included in the original 22 acres, to be transferred to Metro and this offer was requested by Metro Council to be extended. During 1953, Town Council passed a resolution in favour of giving the 10 acres to Metro.

In February 1954, construction was approved for an expenditure of $3.2 million to begin in September. Greenacres was officially opened on June 14, 1955, providing 400 beds and 600 full and part-time staff.

Meanwhile, the York Regional government had been established in 1971 with jurisdiction over this part of the county.

During 1985, renovations were made to bring the facilities up to provincial standards and at about the same time, proposals were put forward to consolidate accommodation for chronic care patients in York Region by converting the Metro Home for the Aged for this purpose.

Belatedly, in December of 1985, York Regional Council called for a provincial study on the announcement that Metro Toronto was planning on constructing a home for the aged in Scarborough and another in Etobicoke and had offered Greenacres to the Region as Metro funding was being phased out.

The fate of Greenacres was in jeopardy with threats that it would be closed and sold to developers. After much lobbying and indecision, the institution did remain open.

Finally, in October of 1989, Metro agreed to sell Greenacres to York Region for $2, with the proviso that it would not be used for any other purpose other than for extended chronic care of patients. The takeover became effective Jan. 1, 1991 and amalgamated with York Manor in November 1993. The residents of York Manor were transferred to Greenacres in November 1993. The buildings on Yonge were demolished in 1994 and the grounds landscaped for the York Regional Headquarters.

Let's next look at the establishment of the local Health and Social Unit.

By fate or circumstance, the beginning of the 20th century brought a new era, one determined to combat the horrors of previous generations; plagues of dreaded diseases such as typhoid, diphtheria, scarlet fever, measles, smallpox, cholera and polio.

The causes and cures were not known but the results were well recognized. Remedies were only by trial and error usually from folklore or witches brew of herbal concoctions.

Doctors had their own assortment of drugs and medicines and dispensed them in various forms — powders, pills, syrups or liquids and were invariably considered as a cure-all treatment for all types of body malfunctions, bowel disorders, stomach upsets, dyspepsia, aches and pains.

Patent medicines were well advertised and relatively inexpensive; Burdock Blood Bitters, Carters Little Liver Pills, Lydia Pinkham Compound, Snake Oil and the such, guaranteed to cure every known ailment.

Living conditions and the environment contributed to the contagion. Outhouses and cesspools remained until sewers were installed in 1922. As late as 1944, a survey indicated 45 wells and 13 homes were without sewer connections although septic tanks are still in use in 2001.

The rat-infested garbage dump on Queen Street East was closed in 1945 but only replaced by another similar one at the canal site when Council purchased the government-owned watercourse from Huron Street (Davis Drive) to Green Lane.

Raw sewage spewed from the main trunk line into the same area until a sewage treatment plant was built in 1960.

Medical science had made great advances following the First World War and the root causes of pestilence were being revealed, along with the discovery of antibiotics, vaccines and serums for the prevention and cure of infection and contagion.

This eventually resulted in a successful abatement and eradication of many of the common diseases such as measles, smallpox, diptheria, typhoid and scarlet fever.

In Newmarket, a Board of Health had been established for several years with one of the local doctors appointed Medical Officer of Health. In 1944, Dr. Lowell Dales was the Medical Officer of Health and also mayor (1942- 1946).

He was the most far-sighted and charismatic mayor that the town ever had in regards to all social and administrative functions, particularly public health.

You will remember, if you read my earlier article on the history of the hospital, that in 1922, he established the first hospital and in 1944 persuaded the Council to hire a public health nurse to treat the needs of the community by immunization and inoculation of school children against the many dreaded diseases. She was paid $1,600 per year and had a small office in the Widdifield building at the corner of Main and Botsford streets.

In May 1950, Dr. Dales was influential in forming our first organization for public health by amalgamating the health services of most of the 14 municipalities in the northern part of York County and, in May 1950, the Provincial Department of Health chose Newmarket as its headquarters.

In July 1950, the Webb residence at 171 Main St. was purchased by the Town and after renovations, it became the offices of the newly formed York County Health Unit with Dr. Robert King as its director.

A fire in 1956 in the lower part of the building necessitated renovations and it was officially reopened Sept.19, 1957.

After the completion of the York County administration offices on Bayview Avenue, the Health Unit moved into the north wing in 1959, vacating the town-owned building at 171 Main, which was promptly occupied by the municipal offices of the Town of Newmarket.

In 1966, a new building was erected at 22 Prospect St. for the permanent headquarters of the public health branch of York County.

Regional Government was established in 1971 and the York County Health Unit was renamed the Region of York Health and Social Services.

And there ends our look at the history of several of the health institutions that serviced Newmarket over the years.

Sources: The Newmarket Era; The History of Newmarket by Ethel Trewhella; Ontario’s Abandoned Buildings (online); York Manor – Home for the Aged Municipal Corporation of the County of York 1961; Newmarket Historical Society Newsletter – January 1995 – Article by Terry Carter; Newmarket Centennial 1857 – 1957 by Jack Luck                                                                                     

******* 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].


Reader Feedback

About the Author: Richard MacLeod

Newmarket resident Richard MacLeod — the History Hound — has been a local historian for more than 40 years
Read more