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REMEMBER THIS: 1930s mark heyday of hockey, theatre in Newmarket

In this week's column, History Hound Richard MacLeod continues his timeline series, beginning in 1930 when the town's population was 3,700

We return to our series on Newmarket's history timeline, beginning with the status of the town as the year 1930 opens.

The total population sits at approximately 3,700. The town register lists 186 persons as being owners of their own businesses, with 98 business and trades located on the east side of town and 88 businesses registered on the west side of town. Remember, Main Street was considered the dividing line.

Our mayor was A. J. Davis, and our council was made up of Frank Bowser, William Winger, Frank Robinson, W.C. Lundy, William Bosworth and Wes Osborne. We had two telephone operators, Viola Hill and Cecilia Quinn, and Orval Smart was listed as the chief constable.

It was the year that the Newmarket Arts Club was organized. Their first exhibition was held in Patterson’s Drug Store on Main in November.

The Metropolitan Electrical Railway ceased operation to Newmarket on March 15, 1930. This line had begun operation in 1899, serving north Toronto to Sutton via Newmarket with four trips daily. The afternoon freight train brought much needed goods from the city to local stores. It was unique in that while it had scheduled stops, it was well known that the friendly staff would stop and drop off or pick up passengers anywhere along the route.

It was the peak year at Office Specialty with sales throughout the British Commonwealth achieving record levels in 1930. There were over 1,000 individuals either directly or indirectly part of the Specialty family. G.I. Manning was its general superintendent.  

April 19, 1930, saw the massive funeral procession for Sgt. Tom Kirk, Newmarket’s chief of police. He was so beloved by the community that a Tom Kirk School Night, established in his honour by the local school board, was held annually in the Memorial Arena and served as the final playoff night for local hockey teams.  A bronze plaque was placed on the second floor of the arena on the west side to commemorate his life. I do wonder where that plaque was moved when the arena was demolished.

That year also marked the change in name of the Veterans Club of Newmarket to The Newmarket Veterans Association, having separated from the North York Veterans, forming its own branch.

The year 1931 found us with a new mayor, J.E. Nesbitt, a local automobile and farm implement dealer who returned for a second term as mayor, having previously serving as mayor from 1925 to 1926.

Many who look back at 1931 will recount the story of the ‘big snow’ that blanketed the entire area on March 8, 1931. Records show that we received 13.5 inches of snow and the storm went down in history, along with that of 1871 as ‘the big one.' The storm was immortalized in photos of drifts on Main and cars buried all along the road.

It was on March 27, 1931 that our local Lions Club officially received its charter with a membership of 36 and John J. McCaffrey as its first president. The first meetings were held every second week at the King George Hotel and that first year, our Lions Club sponsored the Barrie Lions in its bid to achieve its charter. Over the years, that date is an important one for Newmarket as the Lions have played such a prominent role in Newmarket’s community and entertainment life. In future articles, I will detail their establishment of the Newmarket Music Festival and the many music and comedy nights they organized.

The Dixon Pencil Company arrived in Newmarket in March of 1931, taking over the old Cane Woodworks building on Davis Drive and Bayview Avenue. Its first officers were James Law, general manager, Frank Courtney as secretary-treasurer and Barbara Fairy as Dixon’s first office manager. Howard Cane of the Cane dynasty remained as production manager after Cane Woodworks shut down.

The year 1932 still found J.E. Nesbitt as our mayor. The talk of the town was the price of eggs that had increased to 20 cents a dozen. Also in the news was the signing of local hockey product, Bill Thoms, by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Larry Molyneaux was signed by the New York Rangers in 1932. The 1930s were the heyday for local hockey with the rise of the junior team which would go on to win the Memorial Cup in April of 1933. You will probably remember the names Herb Cain, Normie Mann, Din Wilson, Pete Dillman and Sparky Vail who served on these teams.

The year 1932 was a big one for the Newmarket Citizens' Band, which won the Waterloo Band Festival, taking home a prized trophy and individual gold medals. The band would dominate the music scene throughout the 1930s.

In November 1933, the property on the northeast corner of Main and Queen streets, at that time owned by John Roadhouse, the undertaker, was dedicated to the building of the Nazarene Church with 12 members of its congregation.

In 1933, a bugle band consisting of 20 members was organized by Roy Rhinehart, Frank Smith and William Andrews. They purchased eight bugles and four drums from the Odd Fellows Lodge. They would hold their practices at the fire station on Main and would go on to become renowned for their musical expertise.

W.J. Geer purchased the town taxi business from Edward Boyd in 1933, along with the building on Botsford Steet across from the Old Town Hall. Interestingly, the company assets listed consisted of one very old car and a couple of horses.

For local sports fans, the crowning of our own Newmarket Redmen as 1933 Memorial Cup champions was the highlight of the year. You can read about their quest for the cup in an earlier article of mine on NewmarketToday.

In 1934, we elected one of the best mayors we have had in our history, Dr. S.J. Boyd.  

The Citizens' Band continued to win awards throughout the province. The last graduating class from York County Memorial graduated that year, and included Mary Watson, Margaret Stewart, Vera Atkins, Rita Davis and Audrey Edwards.

An article in November 1934 tells us that chickens were selling at 15 cents a pound, geese at 13 cents and ducks at 17 cents. Eggs had gone up to 40 cents a dozen and butter cost 23 cents a pound. I wounder if people sensed a feeling of inflation setting in back then.

Our local lawn bowlers made it to the provincial championships this year with team members Harry Marshall, Larry Bell, Harry Gillman and Mont Goslett. 

On the entertainment scene, Max Boag installs the first amplifier at the Newmarket Arena. The Boag name, along with that of Art West, will prove instrumental on the music scene in Newmarket right through to the early 1950s.

In 1935, the population on record was 3,362 and the number of local businesses had grown to 204. It may be interesting to note that the teaching staff at the local high school had grown to 11 members: J.B. Bastedo, William Kidd, D.O. Mungoven, Carmen Miller, Harry Westbrook, Robert Dick, Florence Cole, A.A. King, Marie Lauder, Janet Thompson and Willa Mahoney. There were also nine nurses on staff at the hospital in 1935.

In 1935, the Skater’s Band under the direction of Max Boag journeyed to Montreal to record their first three records with RCA Victor. The selections were favourite waltzes of the time. Members of the recording orchestra from Newmarket consisted of Max Boag, Art West, Gordon McCallum, Bill Tucker, Gene McCaffrey, Bill Greig and Harry Hodges.  

Council put forward a program allowing residents to pre-pay their taxes with interest of five per cent accrued in January 1935. A prepayment loan of $9.88 would purchase a receipt toward your taxes of $10. One could purchase a payment credit of $100 for $98.80. Little is said of its acceptance, but no mention is made of it in future years, so I guess it did not catch on.

The first plans for a community music festival are put forward by a Mr. Harris in June 1935. With all the music talent present throughout the communities of Aurora and Newmarket, the push was on to establish a festival to hopefully begin in 1936.

Love music was also on the bill throughout the county back then. Notices started to appear advertising dances taking place in the area featuring a multitude of local bands. One that caught my eye was from June 1935, announcing dancing at the Royal Simcoe Hotel in Keswick featuring the Art West Orchestra. It seems that these dances occurred every Wednesday and Saturday night. I know that my mother spoke of how much fun they were and how affordable the evenings out were back then.

Did you know that Newmarket and area experienced an earthquake on Nov. 1, 1935? It seems that the area really shook but there was little, if any, damage. I guess it did make for an interesting Halloween morning.

There was a referendum approaching in 1936 on the question of prohibition and the Newmarket Era was full of letters to the editor and ads in support of maintaining Newmarket as ‘dry.' They would be successful for another 18 years.

The Newmarket Era introduced a four-month subscription rate of 50 cents. Bells in Newmarket started to toll from 7:30 p.m. marking the death of King George V.  The news had been announced on the radio at 6:55 p.m. and word spread throughout the community immediately.

On Feb. 20, 1936, a bylaw came into effect that effectively closed the stores of Newmarket at noon every Wednesday. There seems to have been little if any protest.

A new industry appeared in Newmarket in March 1936; the Lindebalm Clothing factory on Millard Avenue where the IOF building was located. It is said to have employed 12 women initially, with high hope of more once more staff could be properly trained.

A headline from 1936 speaks of efforts by Mayor Boyd and Chief Constable Hall to rid Newmarket of slot machines that had begun to appear in certain establishments.

An ad for the Palace Theatre on Main caught my eye. Two features are advertised in April 1936, the Magnificent Obsession starring Irene Dunn, Robert Taylor, Charles Butterworth and Betty Furness and The Littlest Rebel starring Miss Shirley Temple.

A cartoon series called Goings On About Town first appeared on April 9, 1936 in the Era, the work of James McHale, which was met with local approval.

The death of E.J. Davis, owner of the Davis Tannery, in June 1936 was mourned throughout the community. Davis had been a central figure in early Newmarket and was to be honoured with the renaming of Huron Street to Davis Drive in the 1950s.  

Lions Club member, Harry E. Lambert, was elected governor of the Ontario/Quebec District of Lions Clubs on June 18, 1936.

In July 1936, no less than the chief inspector of the Provincial Police recommended that the town install a stop light at the intercession of Eagle and Yonge streets. Council concurred.

The year 1937 brought the 93rd birthday of Sir William Mulock on Jan. 19. There was a huge local celebration.

On May 12, 1937, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth’s coronation was celebrated throughout the town with a multitude of festivities.

A listing of the features playing at the local theatre, the concerts taking place locally and the dances that were being held tell me that social life locally was thriving.  I love old movies and such classics as the Roaming Lady with Ralph Bellamy and Faye Wray was held over in February of that year due to popular demand.

A quick check of the numbers in 1938 indicate a population of 3,563, deaths of 51, births of 40 and a total of 674 children enrolled in local schools.

Business was booming as well. There were 94 business on the books located on the east side of Main and 78 on the west side of Main for a total of 172 establishments. Dr. Boyd is still our mayor in 1938 and James Sloss still our police chief.

Feb. 10, 1938 was Newmarket Night at Maple Leaf Gardens. Four local lads who distinguished themselves playing professional hockey were honoured: Bill Thoms and Pep Kelley (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Herb Cane and Don Wilson (Montreal Canadiens) were honoured by their town and received silver tea services.

In 1938, the hand-cranked telephone set was replaced by battery-operated models. Our Bell office was one of the first to institute this conversion under the guidance of S.R. Stevens.

It was in 1938 that the south side of the old Town Hall was renovated to accommodate the Newmarket Police. Council designated $1,500 to purchase three cell fronts from Hamilton police. Added by the contractor, Ross Howlett, were a judge’s bench, witness stand, prisoner boxes and central heating. We now had our own local court in the auditorium of the town hall that would provide endless entertainment for this community for years to come.

The big draw in 1939 were the local minstrel shows in the town hall. The shows began with a long parade that circled from the town hall, south on Main to Water Street, and back again. Crowds would line the streets to cheer on the cast. Ang West was the star of these shows that old locals called a ‘masterpiece’ of comedy and music. While viewed today as being particularly politically incorrect, they were in their day a highlight of the season locally.

June 29 to July 1, 1939 was the date of Newmarket’s Old Boys Reunion. Those who were born locally were encouraged to return for these few days to relive their experiences and to retell the story of our past. The gathering drew a who’s who of ex-pats and they say it was an incredible time for those who visited and those locally who attended.  

The year 1939 marked the visit to Canada of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth and one of their stops was the City of Toronto in May. Over the years, I have spoken to quite a few people who followed their visit closely while a couple of them travelled to Toronto to see the royal couple in person.

Herb Cain is having another great year with the Montreal Canadiens, scoring 21 goals, third highest in the entire NHL that year.

The ads in the local papers caught my eye, particularly the Christmas ads. It seems you could buy a box of chocolates or a man’s shirt or tie, or a box of cigars, or you could subscribe to the Era for an entire year for $2.

The play Pygmalion and Galantea, a three-act play, directed by A.N. Belugin was headlining at the town hall in December. The prominent local cast included Hazel Hambly, J. Purdy, Alice Belugin, Charles Cunningham, Vera Belugin, and Gloria Peppiatt. Newmarket was a real hotbed for local theatre back in the 1930s and 1940s.

One of the best stories of 1939 concerns the Newmarket Citizens' Band and its journey to the East Malartic Gold Mine to participate in the ceremony marking the pouring of the first gold brick from the mine in northern Ontario. The band was hosted by Andrew Davis for two days and travelled north by private train. The Art West orchestra also went along and provided the dance music for the various celebrations. 

As the story goes, it was -35 during their visit. The climax of the weekend was the presentation of miniature gold bricks by Davis to each member of the two bands in commemoration of the occasion. The bands were made of some of the finest musicians in the area, including Robert Moore, Art West, Leslie Rowland, Jack Arlitt, Joe Cribar, Austin Brammer, the Burling brothers, Gene McCaffrey and Bill Fraser. Ang West and Stan Smith served as the chaperones, if you can believe it. I wonder whether any of the families still have their gold brick.

Finally, it was in 1939 that the Bender Casket Factory leased the bottom floor of the Odd Fellows Hall on Millard Avenue to produce metal caskets. This was interesting as we had the casket factory on the first floor of the building and Max Boag’s night club on the second floor over the casket factory.

We have now reached the end of the year 1939 and we will pick up the story from there next weekend. 

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. previous articles of Mine from NewmarketToday

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.