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Newmarket's Boer War soldiers honoured with pomp and ceremony (9 photos)

In this week's Remember This?, History Hound Richard MacLeod shares the story behind Newmarket’s role in the 1899-1902 Boer War fought between the British Empire and South African Republic and Orange Free State

The story behind Newmarket’s connection with the Boer War isn’t well known.  

In 1899, Great Britain declared war on the Boers in South Africa. At once, Lt. Col. T.H. Lloyd of Newmarket, commanding the 12th Battalion, York Rangers, offered their services and a cablegram of acceptance was received from the Imperial War Office shortly afterward.

At that time, a branch of the Red Cross was first organized in Newmarket, its patron was the Hon. E. J. Davis and it continued until the end of the First World War, at which time the charter was handed in. 

The mayor and council created a committee to organize a patriotic concert to raise money for the benefit of the men who had gone off to South Africa and their families, and to distribute medals to the Volunteers of the Fenian Raid.  

When word came of the victory at Pretoria, a local holiday was granted, the citizens band engaged in preparation for a grand celebration. Rockets were procured for a magnificent display visible from the old dam that was partly composed of a platform with a railing extended over the water.  

On the platform, the band was stirring the fervor with patriotic music. The box of rockets and other fireworks had been set upon this platform and the first rocket was set off.  Unfortunately, it was thrown backwards and exploded among the remaining rockets. An uproar ensued as a great geyser of colourful combustion went up. Bedlam reigned.  

Members of the band were thrown into the water where, clinging to their instruments, they floundered. One rocket shot through the drum, ripping the heel from the shoe of the drummer.  And still the fireworks continued.  

A portion of the dam was damaged but though the bandsmen received a thorough ducking, no lives were lost.  I am sure it must have been unanimous that of the many celebrations staged throughout Canada, those of Newmarket must have been unique.

As each boy returned from the war, a reception and banquet were held, each soldier was presented with a gold watch and $100. T.H. Brunton acknowledged how thankful he was that his son had come home, but his thoughts were with the parents of Wesley Haines, who would never return. 

Wesley had died of enteric fever and his remains are with other Canadians who fill South African graves. Private Haines had enlisted in the Royal Regiment of Canada in the first contingent.

It was thanks to Mr. A.R. Watson that a memorial was erected to young Private Haines.  He sparked the idea in September 1900 and a meeting was called. Mayor Cane presided, assisted by C.G. Ross, manager of the Ontario Bank, and L.G. Jackson, editor of the Newmarket Era.  

Mr. Watson outlined his plan to erect a tablet in the public school, but Mr. Jackson suggested that a monument be set up in the public cemetery. It was decided in the end to set up a monument on the waterworks lawn.  

The public were asked to subscribe, the money to be collected by the Ontario Bank. In January 1901, there was a good response, the total amount being $305.61 and further funds were obtained from a financially successful patriotic concert.  

As far as I have been able to ascertain, Wesley Haines, William Brock, Harold Brunton, W.J. Hartford and Thomas Mills were the boys from Newmarket who volunteered. Two contingents were sent from Canada. They were not away long, but each boy kept in close touch with home by frequent letters, most of which were published in the two local papers.  

Even the gift of chocolate sent by Queen Victoria was preserved for those anxious ones back home. Harold Brunton returned in August 1900 to a big reception.

Tom Mills arrived in May 1901 having been severely wounded during the campaign.  When he arrived by trolley from Toronto, Main Street was packed with people and as he stepped from the car, the band welcomed him.  

Tom and his waiting brother, Bob, were hoisted into a carriage and the procession moved along to the Fire Hall.  T.H. Brunton and ex-warden T.J. Woodcock addressed a welcome home to Newmarket’s returned son, who stood up in the carriage and made a short speech of thanks. The red-coated volunteers then harnessed themselves to the carriage, the Mills brothers seated within, and proceeded to the Mills home on Second Street. 

Sir William Mulock was asked to procure a captured Boer cannon from the British government to be placed in front of the monument.  From my article on the Cannons of Newmarket, you will remember that the Department of the Militia at Ottawa eventually sent a cannon, although two huge mortars were contributed from the government ordnance at Kingston. 

Eventually they were raised and mounted solidly on huge rock-faced piers 60 feet by five feet and two feet above the lawn, in position to flank the Haines monument. During the Second World War, every municipality was urged to  contribute all available material to the war effort and these mortars were sent to Aurora to be melted down in 1942.

Tenders ranging from $200 to $1,000 were received to erect this monument, which would stand eight feet five inches above the foundation. That of Cassidy & Allen, the local monument makers, for $325, was considered the most satisfactory.  

The inscription would read: 

In memory of

Private W. Haines
A member of the 1st Canadian Contingent

Who died for his Queen and Country

In South Africa

6th of June, 1900 


In August, Cassidy & Allen reported that the memorial was being lettered and in September it was placed exactly 30 feet from the sidewalk on Water Street, unveiled by the Hon. F.W. Borden, minister of militia. 

The monument stands nine feet, seven inches above the foundation, granite with a dark bluish tinge in a solid but graceful shape. This is surmounted by a bust of Wesley Haines in fine Sunapee granite, which was sculpted by Walter Aylward of Toronto for $350. It is an excellent likeness and an early piece of this distinguished artist’s work, who, after the First World War, designed and executed the Canadian monument at Vimy Ridge.

Plans were made for the Horticultural and Agricultural Societies to unite to hold an Old Home gathering on the last day of the Fall Fair. The Old Boys of North York Association planned to visit Newmarket Fair. 

That year, 1901, was an exciting one in Newmarket with patriotism at fever pitch and grand arrangements were made for the unveiling ceremony, Newmarket citizens united to make the occasion a success.

The Haines monument was to be unveiled at 10:30 in the morning of September 19.  A reception worthy of the town and the expected guests was organized. It seems to have been one of the finest processions ever organized in Newmarket.  

The North York Old Boys, 500 strong, were accompanied by the 48th Highlanders Band, the Royal Grenadiers Band, the 12th Regimental Band, York Rangers of Aurora, the Indian Band from Christian Island, the Newmarket Citizens’ Band and two companies of the 12th Regiment Volunteers.  

The Volunteers formed a hollow square around the monument. On the platform were the Haines family with the grandmother of Wesley Haines, Mrs. Israel Haines, aged 86. 

Aemilius Irving, K.C., president of the North York Old Boys Association, was asked to unveil the monument, requesting that Private Brunton, who was not wounded, Corporal Mills, who had been shot in the arm and permanently disabled, and Bugler Williams, who had sounded the call for the battle of Paardeburg, assist in the unveiling. At the same time, the crowd sang the national anthem accompanied by the massed bands.

An account published in the local newspaper in 1930 stated the waterworks lawn was suddenly transformed by the placing of a well-selected collection of verdant conifers intended to form a background for the monument and the pair of 1811 mortars, each more than 5,200 weight, that flank it at the rear. In front of their bases we may soon hope to see beds prepared for a mass of brightly blooming plants and a sodded knoll.

The monument was eventually moved to the area adjacent to St. Paul’s Church on D’Arcy Street, along with other monuments commemorating our military past and the cannons were melted down.

The important point is that the little Town of Newmarket answered the call and rejoiced in the victory united. 

Sources: Minutes of Newmarket Council, Jan. 10, 1900; The Newmarket Era; The History of Newmarket by Ethel Trewhella; Stories of Newmarket by Robert Terence Carter.


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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