NewmarketToday.ca brings you this weekly feature about our town's history in partnership with Richard MacLeod, the History Hound, a local historian for more than 40 years. He conducts heritage lectures and walking tours of local interest, as well as leads local oral history interviews. You can contact the History Hound on Facebook or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The pursuit of local history is an endeavour requiring a passion that is quite often lit by a personal mentor, who stokes the fire that they see within you. This week’s article is dedicated to two men who, for me, encouraged me to become involved in the documentation of our past and the sharing of memories gathered from all around me.
These gentlemen are, without a doubt, two of the primary pillars of Newmarket’s local history community and I am honored to say they were my mentors in everything I currently do for the celebration of our local history.
Today, I want to tell you briefly about Robert Terence (Terry) Carter and George Luesby and their considerable contributions both in the area of local history and to the larger well-being of our community. The problem is always how to adequately capture the essence of their contributions in a short article. I will endeavour to do so today.
I would like to begin with Mr. Carter, who is a mentor to nearly everyone who pursues their interest in local history and who remains the official historian of Newmarket, in my mind. It is difficult to know just where to start as his presence seems interwoven into the fabric of Newmarket’s historic conscience.
Mr. Carter grew up in Newmarket and attended both elementary and high school here. As many residents may recall, he was editor of The Newmarket Era from 1968 to 1985 and, for many years, he wrote a weekly local history column for the newspaper. Never afraid to state his opinion when he saw a wrong in our town, he contributed to a dialogue that ultimately kept the politicians honest and the soul of my town refreshed.
Mr. Carter has remained a friend and mentor from the first time I met him when he and my uncle, George Luesby, were heavily involved in the preservation of our local history. My uncle always told me that no one played a bigger role in bringing Newmarket’s rich history to the community. Mr. Carter continues to regale us with stories of Newmarket’s past through his books and occasional articles.
As a young, budding history hound, I found Mr. Carter more than willing to share both his knowledge and passion for our town and its history. To this day, when I or any of my colleagues are asked a question about Newmarket’s rich history and we are not certain of the answer, you will likely hear us reply, “Well, we will have to ask Terry and see what he says.” If there is such a thing as an official town historian, then Mr. Carter fits the bill, in my opinion.
In 1974, Mr. Carter founded the Newmarket Historical Committee, which later became the Newmarket Historical Society. He also founded the Society's extensive archives and remains active in its affairs.
In 1991, he became a director of the Sharon Temple Museum Society and the following year was elected its president.
In addition, he was a director of the Persechini Easter Seal Run/Walkathon for more than a decade, a director of the Newmarket Chamber of Commerce and Region of York Red Cross and, for many years, was a member of the Newmarket Civic Awards Committee and Mayor's Advisory Committee.
In February 1993, Mr. Carter was awarded the Commemorative Medal for the 125th Anniversary of Canadian Confederation by Governor General Ray Hnatyshyn. The citation said Carter was decorated in recognition of significant contribution to compatriots, community and Canada.
Mr. Carter has a street named after him, appropriately, close to the original Newmarket High School site and has been Newmarket’s Citizen of the Year.
While he has been awarded many honours in recognition of his significant contribution to the history of his community and to Canada, I think the true mark of this gentleman is the fact he inspires all those who know him to care about community involvement and to want to work with him to make a difference.
Mr. Carter was a beacon to many in a time when our local history was in real peril of being lost, a time when there was a real sense of apathy within the community to the past and the wonderful stories that were part of our community mosaic.
Through his books, articles and speeches and, of course, his commitment to the establishment of the archives and historical society, Mr. Carter kept the flame of our local history alive for so many years.
When you are, I hope, enjoying one of my articles or heritage presentations, remember that Robert Terrence Carter started it all, and all of us involved in preserving our local history are continuing a tradition he started.
The second gentleman I would like to honour in this article is George Luesby. A disclaimer before I begin, George Luesby was my uncle and so I have close ties to the man and his accomplishments.
Mr. Luesby was a past president of the Newmarket Historical Society and wrote several Occasional Papers for the Historical Society on such varied topics as the town clerks, town councils, our municipal buildings, Yonge Street, Fairy Lake, the Fire Brigade and our major industries.
He did not follow his father and brother into the family business, Luesby Memorials, an old and well-known Main Street landmark. Instead, he became a draftsman for De Havilland, a decision that took him to England during the Second World War where he worked on the designs of many famous fighter planes.
Sadly, it was only after his passing that I discovered all his awards and citations that he received from around the world in gratitude for his contributions to the war effort. This was typical of my Uncle George, never stepping into the limelight, preferring to go about his passions quietly and efficiently.
He worked on the design team for the Empire State building as part of Mr. John Bowser’s firm. In his lifetime, he won a multitude of awards, including: a bicentennial medal in 1984 awarded by the Ministry of Interprovincial Affairs; the volunteer service award in 1985 from the Ministry of Citizenship & Culture; Citizen of the Year in 1987; the Hall of Distinction Award in 1990 for heritage contribution by the Newmarket Chamber of Commerce; the Newmarket Civic Award – Visual Arts and Culture by Newmarket Town Council; and the William Mercer Williams Metal, which is the highest award in Ontario for contribution in the Masonic Lodge.
The Town of Newmarket also named Luesby Lane in the Leslie Valley subdivision after him and my grandfather for their contributions to our history. After his passing, a park just west of Yonge Street was named in his honour. Through all of this, he always remained just my Uncle George and my research partner.
He began his interest in our local history early in life, as a boy sketching all our old buildings and historical sites for posterity. I was fortunate to accompany him later in life on many of his sketching excursions and he would often say how important it was to have a record of these buildings as one day they would be all gone. Boy, was he right about that.
Uncle George was an accomplished artist, both in pencil and watercolour. Although he did many pictures of his travels in Europe and the U. K., his most frequent subject was historic Newmarket buildings. He designed logos for Newmarket High School, the Newmarket Historical Society, and the Corporation of the Town of Newmarket. He designed many people’s home extensions and renovations and the bell tower at the Old Town Hall.
His sketches and watercolors, many of which I now own, are such a community treasure. You will see many of them if you visit my Facebook page as I frequently post them as illustrations of a point being made.
He was always involving me in some project, whether it was researching a Newmarket family so he could construct a family tree for them or researching a building, event or personality so he could deliver a presentation at the Society meetings or perhaps write a pamphlet. He was a stern taskmaster but, boy, did I learn the ability to research, a skill I find invaluable today.
The documents he accumulated over the years were incredible. I have most of his research in my office and I would venture to say few possess a more complete archive of our history.
I remember him as a private, humble man with an amazing recall of dates and names. He has been called a walking encyclopedia of Newmarket’s history. It was a tremendous loss to the heritage community when Uncle George passed away in early 2003.
The Historical Society honoured my uncle by naming the archives, located in the Elman W. Campbell Museum, after this artist and historian who had contributed to so much of its works.
I could, of course, regale you with so much more about these two men but how does one adequately represent the contributions they made to our town?
It was my intention, in writing this article, to pay tribute to these men and to state publicly just how much I, and many others in the historical community, owe them. If the measure of a man is the extent to which they make a difference, if the reflection of one’s contributions are to be found in the effect they have had on those around them, then these two men are, indeed, mentors in every sense of the word, not only to this humbled History Hound but to the community in general.
Sources: The Newmarket Era, Oral Histories of Robert Terrance Carter and George Luesby