Come with me to 1852 Newmarket to take a look at the town’s early newspapers and publishers.
The population was only 500. There were no sidewalks on Main Street north of the Christian Church and only two or three houses had been built in that area. Beyond the main street to the north and west, it was still mainly dense forest.
But somehow , a modest weekly paper of four pages, The New Era, was launched by an ambitious Mr. G.S. Porter, printer and publisher, in his small stationery store in the building on the east side of Main Street, about a hundred years later occupied by Victor Giovanelli and the Jack and Jill Shop.
It was to be printed on a No. 2 Hoe hand press and had a circulation of almost 300. Barely a year later, Porter decided to emigrate to Australia and put the paper up for sale.
On Wednesday, June 20, 1853, two men, Erastus Jackson and E.R. Henderson, would have stepped from the train in Newmarket, both destined to play significant roles in the development of our little hamlet. They had both been employees of the newspaper the North American, but had decided to go out on their own and buy The Era.
Jackson was born in the village of Merrickville on Aug. 29, 1829. Well-schooled for the times, he had become interested in journalism, and through association with various publications, had achieved considerable experience
So, in 1853, Jackson and his partner entered negotiations with G.S. Porter and took possession of the newspaper, which at that time was the only one published between Toronto and Barrie.
Porter had been born in Norwich, England, and had served his apprenticeship in the printing trade there. Due to the conditions in England at that time, he had immigrated to Canada. He commented at the time that The Era venture had been, perhaps, inopportune, given the scarcity of money and the meagre education of his potential readers. He questioned if the times were conducive to a local interest in reading current news.
In the fall of 1853, the paper moved to a large rambling building, erected by Joseph Wood as a paint shop and house, the architect being J.T. Stokes of Sharon (who we encountered in an earlier article on Newmarket Today) at the southwest corner of Main and Mill (Queen) streets. Fifty years later, the Metropolitan Railway Company purchased the site and removed the building to allow the radial line to turn east toward the river.
Mr. Porter withdrew as co-editor in the summer of 1854 and Jackson became sole proprietor and editor until 1883.
The Era was to be published in this building for the next five years, when it moved to one built by Jackson at the southwest corner of Main and Ontario streets. This building eventually made way for the Catholic separate school.
On July 19, 1861, the name The New Era was changed to The Newmarket Era, in ornamental letters approximately three inches in height. This new version was dedicated to News, Politics, Literature, Science, Education and Agriculture. It was met with delight, the Newmarket Courier remarking in 1868 that the new office of the Era was surrounded by comfort, a dwelling house and a well-felled garden and other signs of prosperity.
Just prior to 1876, The Era began publication in the building on Main Street that burned down in June 1956. On this site, a frame building occupied by a shoemaker, Jacob Rhinehart, was removed to make way for the newspaper plant.
In 1883, Jackson retired as editor with his son, Lyman George, taking over. He continued his interest in the paper and in Newmarket. He had personally known several of the early residents and realized that a day would come when the storied efforts of these first citizens would provide pages of exciting Canadian history.
In his retirement, he recorded many stories and reminiscences of the early days of the town that I refer to today in my articles. Thankfully, by his incredible forethought, much of Newmarket’s history has been preserved.
Jackson would speak of his early struggles to make a success of the paper. He commented that during the first years of The Era’s history, the grammar and public schools were relatively new and thus they struggled to establish a newspaper readership. The first 10 years were a struggle to make ends meet.
After the first decade, by faithfully attending council meetings and carefully reporting council proceedings, interest increased and now the people couldn’t do without The Era.
Though Jackson may have relinquished his active interest in publishing the paper, several honours awaited him and in 1883 he was made Warden of York County.
From 1883, Lyman George Jackson continued to be the editor of North York’s most important newspaper, The Newmarket Era, except for a brief interlude, until this death on Aug. 8, 1934. He maintained a lively interest in the town’s many activities, the church, school, band, fire company, and municipal doings. Both Jacksons, through their paper, fearlessly wielded a powerful influence within the community.
In February 1931, Arthur Hawkes and his daughter, Evelyn Crickmore, became the editors, but in May 1932, L.G. Jackson again assumed editorial duties.
Andrew Hebb, purchased the paper and continued as editor until July 1944, at which time he was succeeded by John Meyer who lasted until October 1952. At that time, John Struthers became editor.
The Era amalgamated with the Express Herald, henceforth known as The Era and Express. Col. W.P. Mulock, who along with Hebb was a partner in ownership, bought out the Hebb interest, to become the sole owner in 1946.
Over many years, Newmarket’s oldest paper had provided sterling service, had won many honours and trophies and set much precedence in the newspaper world. By 1956, its circulation had risen to 4,276.
On Saturday morning, June 9, 1956, a fire destroyed The Era building. Despite this calamity, publication continued and amazingly, not one issue was missed. The newspaper was then owned by C.A. Cathers, our MP for North York. He purchased a new building on Charles Street to publish the paper.
A popular and humorous feature of The Era in the early 1900s was the column The Baldwin Breezes, written by the Owl (John Graham). It rarely missed accounts of local events.
Newmarket had a second prominent paper, the Newmarket Express during this time. As mentioned above, Col. W.P. Mulock amalgamated it with The Newmarket Era in 1942. Interestingly, the Express-Herald had represented the local Conservative interests.
The Era had been a Liberal-leaning publication but eventually, Jackson, who leant toward Reform, took the paper in that direction.
The Era has gone through many owners over the years since the 1960s. The paper was renowned, in my mind, for the work of Newmarket’s official historian, Terry Carter, who was editor and wrote for The Era.
Under Metroland Printing, Publishing and Distributing, The Newmarket Era and The Aurora Banner were amalgamated in 1978, then returned to their roots in 2008.
Today, The Era, still part of the Metroland/Torstar chain, has gone the way of most print publications, struggling with deep advertising declines and editorial layoffs and cutbacks, and is distributed as a tabloid-sized paper with the broadsheet edition ending several years ago. It still resonates in the minds of those of us who remember its cherished place in Newmarket’s history.
Sources: Early copies of the Newmarket Era; The History of Newmarket by Ethel Trewhella; Articles by Robert Terrence Carter in Newmarket Era; Stories of Newmarket – An Old Ontario Town by Robert Terrence Carter.