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REMEMBER THIS: 1880s mark arrival of telephone, water works, poor house, temperance movement

In this week's column, History Hound Richard MacLeod continues his historical highlights in Newmarket from the years 1881 to 1900

In this third instalment of my series on our local historical timeline, we pick up the narrative in the year 1881 and we will proceed up to 1900 and the turn of the century.

The year 1881 opens with a huge celebration of our Newmarket’s incorporation. William Cane is our newly minted mayor, a position he will hold until 1889. Erastus Jackson, owner and editor of the Newmarket Era, is our reeve.

The scourge of the diphtheria epidemic is upon us, one of many epidemics we will have to weather in the next few years.

The area’s first telephone was installed by Danford Roche in his Aurora store in 1881. Roche also owned all the telephone poles in the area at the time.

In 1882, a plebiscite was held, and a majority of the taxpayers voted to erect a town hall with a new farmers market facility, the cost being $6,150.

This is also the year that Newmarket decided to engage an engineering firm to draw up plans and get an estimate on installing a town-wide water supply system. I think that may have been prompted by the prevalence of major epidemics that plague Newmarket and area.

In 1882, the Newmarket school board purchased property on the northeast corner of Timothy and Prospect streets with the intention of expanding the school grounds.

On July 1, 1883, the town hall on Botsford Street was officially opened. It was this year that the old Methodist Church at Prospect and Timothy streets was demolished. And 1883 was the year that the Salvation Army first arrived in Newmarket.

We suffered through a nearly constant threat of fire locally and to this end, in 1883, we finally passed a bylaw prohibiting wooden buildings on Main Street. Did you know that standard time was officially introduced this year?

The Industrial Home (Poor House) was officially opened on Yonge Street on the southwest corner of Eagle Street this year. The Newmarket Era seemed to be quite excited about a hat factory that opened on Main Street by W.H. Ashworth.

The year 1884 marked the first telephone line linking Newmarket with Toronto and Barrie to the north. The new registry office for North York was erected this year at an estimated cost of $5,250.

A town committee was struck with H.S. Cane (our future mayor) and B.F. Reesor as its heads to investigate a comprehensive town plan for improved fire protection and a centralized water supply system. It was also in 1884 that the cornerstone was laid for the new Anglican Church (St. Paul’s).

The first indication of Newmarket’s efforts to move toward town-wide Prohibition appeared in 1885 when the citizens raised a petition for a bylaw to remove the sale of all liquors from grocery stores and to license the sale of alcohol. This bylaw was subsequently passed into law on February 19, 1885. Along with the passing of the bylaw, this year marked the beginning of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union locally. 

A huge fire broke out at the Cane Woodenware Factory this year with 100 employees being displaced from their work and a total loss of $50,000.

An interesting event is tied to the year 1886. The first electricity generated locally occurred at the Cane Factory in a small, private plant.

It seems absurd to us today but the headlines in 1886 surrounding the annual financial report for the Industrial Home (Poor House). In the article they stated proudly that they had been able to reduce the cost of retaining an ‘inmate’ at the home down to a mere $1.07 a week from nearly $1.22 the year before. The Industrial Home would be renamed the House of Refuge in 1933, York County Home for the Aged in 1947 and York Manor in 1954. Changing names did not change the fact that it was a horrible place within our community.

In 1887, the street lighting was still mainly by kerosene but there was a report from the Fire and Lighting Committee recommending that we convert to electrical lighting.

The year 1887 marked the digging of the first artesian well, at a depth of 140 feet on the west side of Fairy Lake. Property was acquired for the construction of a pump house and reservoir beside the well and the pumps were to be operated by steam rather than by water power. Water mains and hydrants began to appear around town that year.

By October 1888, the water project was complete and operational. The citizens of Newmarket could now enjoy domestic water service, a huge step forward in the reduction of local epidemics. Then in 1889 the water system was expanded, and a new reservoir was built on high land located on Garbitt Hill (Prospect Street). Two additional artesian wells were added in 1890.

The year 1890 marks the switch of street lighting to electricity from oil lamps. A new industry opens in Newmarket, the Novelty Manufacturing Company, encourage to relocate here by tax and financial incentives. It was located where the Office Specialty would eventually land.

In 1891 the cornerstone for the new Common School (Alexander Muir) at Timothy and Prospect streets was laid. Our first prime minister, Sir John A. MacDonald, died this year and note is made in the local papers of a large memorial service being held at the Town Hall.

In 1892, a proposal was made to appropriate $8,000 to increase the capacity of the water system that would involve increasing the mains from six inches to 10 inches and to purchase the pumps producing a larger capacity. It is also reported that the market for horses locally went through the roof with local farmers lining up to make a quick buck.

In the year 1893, provincial government legislation paved the way for the expansion of the Metropolitan Railway’s expansion north to Newmarket and on to Sutton.

The original High School, built in 1877 was destroyed by fire this year. There was a petition presented calling for the town to install a town clock.

In 1894 a bylaw was passed outlawing privy pits anywhere within 200 feet of Main Street. A date of July 15th was given by which time they all needed to be filled in and other arrangements made. In residential areas, the outdoor facilities must be at least 50 feet away from any well used for drinking water. Again, Newmarket would see a drop in the spread of water born diseases soon after.

The year 1895 was a big year for Newmarket. The Office Specialty arrived in Newmarket; a Rochester New York based enterprise which manufactured office materials. Through an intense series of negotiations, the town was able to secure the re-location of the company to Newmarket, securing for its part a promise of a guaranteed workforce of at least forty people and a promise to remain in Town for at least five years. In return the company was promised reduced prices on utilities and a tax deferral for a period of ten years. The arrangement was a stroke of genius as the Office Specialty became a fixture locally, one of the ’big three’ industries locally.

1895 also marked the year that the public library system was created, and control of the libraries were shifted to the local municipalities, making the library system truly public.

The year 1896 brought the shift to all night lighting on the streets (prior the lights went off at midnight). Electricity arrived in local households this year. A highlight of the year was a demonstration of Edison’s newest invention, the ‘Anamatograph’ or ‘Kinetoscope,’ which were fancy terms for moving pictures held at the Town Hall during three scheduled demonstrations.

Meetings were also underway to privatize the generation and supply of electrical power under government hands and away from private enterprise.

In 1897, we received our first enclosed rink. A company was formed to purchase a piece of land on the west side of Main Street at Simcoe Street. One thousand shares were sold at $1 per share. The rink was officially opened in the winter of 1898.

Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee was warmly celebrated locally on July 1. A former science teacher at Newmarket High, J. D. McKay, purchased the Express and Advertiser newspaper and re-located to the corner of Main and Botsford streets on the ground floor. Of interest is the fact that he had the first typesetting machines outside of Toronto proper.

In 1898, council first began discussions of the idea to replace the wooden plank sidewalks with granolithic sidewalks. This was not without some local concern as many felt that paved sidewalks would prove to be too slippery in wet weather.

On May 17, 1899, Newmarket lost a kingpin of politics and industry when first mayor William Cane passed away. It was this year that the extension of the Metropolitan Railway was completed from north Toronto to Newmarket. The tracks were initially up the centre of Main Street, and the main terminal was located at the King George Hotel. This was to be the first completed electrical radial line in Canada.

In 1899, Office Specialty had 80 employees and it opened that year a steel division to produce steel products, including the debut of its snow shovel.

A new railroad station was built on Davis Drive, replacing an earlier station built 1854. Freight sheds were added to accommodate the rapid increase in freight services. In 1899, the average weekly freight arriving in Newmarket consisted of six cars of merchandise, two cars of lumber, two of coal, one car of buggies, one of marble (which fed my families business Luesby Memorial), and one car of fruit. Freight going out weekly included eight cars of woodenware, seven of merchandise, five of grain, one of processed flour and one car of horses.

A short distance from the rail station was the blacksmith shop of Robert Manning on the north side of Ontario Street, just west of Main, which opened in 1899. It was to burn down in 1950.

Our mayors during the period 1881 to 1900 were an eclectic group comprising William Cane (manufacturer), Erastus Jackson (newspaper editor) T.H. Lloyd (veterinary), T.J. Robertson (barrister) and H.S. Cane (manufacturer). Not a professional politician amongst them.

We have now arrived at the end of the 19th century and in my next article in the series I will pick up the story with the year 1900.

I would encourage everyone to examine the long list of articles that I have created for Newmarket Today, as most of the events chronicled in this article are covered in much more detail in their own article.

Sources: Clippings from The Newmarket Era and The Newmarket Courier, Oral History Interviews conducted by Richard MacLeod, The Memorable Merchants and Trades 1930 to 1950 by Eugene McCaffrey and George Luesby, The History of Newmarket by Ethel Trewhella, Stories of Newmarket, An Old Ontario Town by Robert Terence Carter

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.




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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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