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Post-war Newmarket boomed with new subdivisions, businesses, as vets returned home

In this week's Remember This, History Hound Richard MacLeod highlights the urgent need for new housing, industry, education, public utilities and services following the Second World War

I have been looking back on pivotal years in our community’s history over the past 2-½ years, specific years that I felt were worthy of re-examination. Let’s go back to the years 1945 to 1948, post-war Newmarket. 

It was on May 3, 1945 that our mayor, Dr. L. W. Dales, made the official announcement locally of the unconditional surrender of Germany, ending the Second World War in Europe. Our reeve was Fred Lundy and the deputy reeve A.D. Evans. Council was made up of A.V. Higginson, J.L. Spillette, Frank Bowser, Joseph Vale, Herb Parks and G.M. Byers.

Those serving as town officials included Wesley Brooks as our clerk-treasurer, Nellie Holliday and then Doris Cane as our chief librarian, James Sloss our police chief and James Leeder our police officer.

Chief Sloss would resign Jan. 22, 1945 to enter into a business partnership with Ken Howard at the Artic Lockers on Timothy Street. Sloss had worked for Cousin’s Dairy delivering milk when he first arrived in Newmarket in 1931 but in 1937, he had become chief of police.

Two major events of 1945 were related to the end of the war and the pending return of our soldiers. V.E. Day was celebrated locally with parades and public services on May 8 and on Aug.16 V.J. Day was celebrated, marking the end of hostilities with Japan.

Post-war conditions locally would only add to the series of perplexing problems confronting the town. There was an urgent need for new housing, industry, education, public utilities and services. Plans for the resettlement of our military personnel returning from combat would begin in January 1945 before peace was even declared

From the local papers, we learn of a series of meetings taking place at Newmarket High School stressing the need for vocational training for our returning veterans.

In an earlier article, I outlined how, in 1912, the streets east of Pleasant View Avenue were part of a speculative enterprise known as Connaught Gardens, which had been laid out on a 35 acres piece of land. Concrete sidewalks and road allowances were set out, but no other services were added.

The town took it over for non-payment of taxes and the whole district remained idle until a portion of it was taken over by the federal government in 1940 with the establishment of a military base for elementary training. 

The camp site covered a total of 52 acres extending 660 feet on each side of Srigley Street, east of Vale Avenue, including the Fairgrounds right up to Pine Street. There had been 45 buildings erected for various military purposes including a large drill hall, barracks for 1,000 men, officers’ quarters, cook houses, recreation hall, infirmary, messes and canteens.

Recruiting and enlistment continued to supply the Army with basic training at the rate of 1,000 men a month for the duration of the war. However, at the end of hostilities the camp would close.

Town council’s plan was to repossess their 32 acres and acquire the remaining 20 acres and all the buildings from the Federal War Assets Corporation.  This became a reality in August 1946 at a cost of $34,700. 

They then sold part of the land for $25,000 to John W. Bowser, a builder/contractor who hired my uncle, George Luesby, to convert the military barracks into housing units and to re-purpose the other buildings. In 1946, they took over the south side of Srigley Street, including all nine barracks consisting of two long-frame sections joined at the centre by a utility room. 

These were then converted into bungalows by removing the centre portion, adapting each section into dwellings each 24'x 35' for a total of 35 bounded by new streets, Muriel Avenue, Lowell Avenue, Arthur Street and Newton Street. They were all sold for $5,000 upon completion.

The Newmarket branch of the Canadian Legion (No. 426) was established in 1946. Lt. Col. K.M.R. Stiver was elected charter president with a membership of approximately 250 Legionnaires. The officers’ mess on the north side of Srigley was deeded by the town in 1949 to serve as their headquarters. 

The organization was named the Milton Wesley Branch #426 Canadian Legion for Milton Wesley, who had been instrumental in the early development of the Legion. 

A memorial to the fallen from 1914-1918 had been unveiled on D'Arcy Street in September 1935 and, in July 1939, a Veterans plot had been dedicated in Newmarket Cemetery for the departed veterans with no families. On June 20, 1948, a monument was unveiled in the cemetery and on Oct. 13, 1991 another monument to veterans of all wars was unveiled at the Veterans Hall at 406 Millard Ave. 

In June 1948, Ottawa announced that it would establish a regional office in Newmarket to administer the Veterans Land Act and Soldier Settlement. Initially located in the I.O.O.F. hall on Millard Avenue, it had previously housed Club 14, a dance pavilion during the war patronized by the soldiers from the army camp. 

Under the act, the VLA purchased land stretching from the west end of the Uriah Marsh farm east of York County Hospital and south of Davis Drive for about $6,000. The property was  divided into 45 half-acre lots and sold at a nominal cost to veterans to build their homes using their own design and effort. 

It was called Sunny Hills subdivision and was Newmarket’s first post-war land development. This created extensions to both Queen Street and Grace Street eastward to a new street they named Roxborough Road.

The need for new housing was vital as the population grew from approximately 4,000 in 1945 to over 5,000 in 1950. In June 1948, the town acquired 20 acres on the south side of Eagle Street extending west from the end of Andrew Street to what is now Cawthra Road for $7,000.

The VLA and the Central Mortgage and Housing Corp. arranged for the construction of 50 houses on this site. The formal opening of this subdivision was held in April 1949 with all the homes sold by the end of May. With this development, Lorne Avenue was opened from Eagle Street to Andrew Street and the new streets of Cawthra Road and Rogers Road were created.

On the north side of Davis Drive, west of Leslie Street, the 50-acre farm of Philip Hamilton was subdivided into quarter and half-acre lots. This was the beginning of the development westward along Davis to Yonge.

The north side of Davis was in the Township of East Gwillimbury but was annexed to the town in 1971. In 1946, several town-owned lots were sold at nominal prices ranging from $25 to $100 with the proviso that a house would be built within a reasonable time.

Deputy reeve Joel Spillette, chairman of the property committee, said that the policy was intended to convert non-revenue land for building purposes thus providing a tax return and to provide additional housing.

The town was rapidly changing with the rapid decline in the farm population. The old forms of merchandising, education, social activity, municipal administration, and environmental control were all in a state of flux. 

The legendary elm tree, the mythical ‘Trading Tree’ that had stood in the centre of Timothy Street was cut down in 1947.  You can read my article on Newmarket Today for some background information on the local legend.

Main Street became more active during the 1940s. Saturday night shopping brought about social gatherings on the street, in the stores, poolrooms and the bowling alleys.

My Mom told me that it was generally difficult to pass through the dense crowd of shoppers and gossipers lining the street. This popular pastime would gradually diminish with the shorter Saturday workday and the move to Friday night shopping I am told.

Local happenings during this period picked up substantially. In March 1945, the Newmarket Lions Club began to publish the letters of thanks they had received from the Newmarket boys overseas in thanks for their care packages from home.

The Ice Follies came to town, performing at the Newmarket Memorial Arena. It also appears that Newmarket enjoyed an early spring in 1945 as James Law, William Bosworth, Andrew Murdison and C.E. Vandervoort were out lawn bowling on April 9, 1945, which was touted in the paper as a club record for the earliest match ever.

The town was still on edge in 1945 as many of the prisoners of war had still not been released. Fred Evans, who was said to still be in Germany was hopeful that he would make it back by Christmas 1945.

On June 28, 1945, headmaster Joseph McCulley of Pickering College undertook a two-month mission to Europe to aid in the repatriation of Canadian servicemen.

Hillsdale Dairy announced that on September 24, 1945 they would begin their daylight delivery for the winter months. 

Several of the town’s elders passed in 1945, including J.E. Nesbitt (former mayor) and Minnie Doyle, eldest of one of Newmarket’s oldest families.

In June, several locals passed their examinations at the Toronto Conservatory of Music including. Betty McCaffrey, Helen Epworth and Noreen Ayers.

Life appeared to be slowly returning to normal. One of the prominent ads in the local newspaper at the time speaks of a large Halloween party taking place on Oct. 30 with Russ Creighton and his orchestra at Club 14, the WW2 canteen on Millard Avenue.   

On Jan. 3, 1946, the good ship Mauretania brought many Newmarket veterans home from abroad. Two of our local heroes who arrived on the ship were Sgt. H.A.D. Evans and Sgt. W.J. O’Holloran and the town breathed a collective sigh of relief.

In October 1946, the Newmarket Legion received its charter with Ken Stiver as its president. A total of 250 local Legionnaires are initiated into the Newmarket branch.

Joseph Vale became our mayor in 1947 and Keith Davis was elected president of the Newmarket Tennis Club in April. On April 10, 1947, the first houses under the Veterans Land Act were allotted to the priority veterans.

In September 1947, Beatrice Lyons is elected to the Council of the Canadian Bar Association, the first female council member. Lyons was also the president of the Women’s Law Association of Ontario. 

In 1947, Fairy Lake was drained for almost a year while it was cleaned out. This process would have to be repeated over the years.

In 1948, the Newmarket Business and Professional Women’s Club was formed with Kay Peel as its first president.

In April 1948, Newmarket’s first town bus service was initiated by Larry Needler. In May, Norman Sedore opened his motor sales business at the corner of Queen Street and Main Street.  

And in November 1948, Max Boag formed his own record company, Tip Top Records, with the recording studio in his basement. Everyone was astounded at the Canadian celebrities who made their way to Boag’s basement on Avenue Road to record.

The entertainment scene in town was enriched with three presentations by the Newmarket Dramatic Club, which staged in the Old Town Hall, Don’t Darken My Door, Curtain Cue, and You Can’t Always Tell.

I hope that you have enjoyed this brief look back. I know I will have missed events or people, but I have done my best to capture the feel and atmosphere of the period.

Sources: The Newmarket Era; Oral History Interviews by Richard MacLeod; The War Years, An Essay by George Luesby 


Newmarket resident Richard MacLeod — the History Hound — has been a local historian for more than 40 years. He writes a weekly feature about our town's history in partnership with Newmarket Today, conducts heritage lectures and walking tours of local interest, and leads local oral history interviews.