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REMEMBER THIS: Fur trade, Quaker settlers, rebellion part of Newmarket's early history

In this week's column, History Hound Richard MacLeod highlights key events beginning with the arrival of English settlers to Newmarket's incorporation as a village in 1858

I am often asked for the date that a certain event took place or building was built. It had long been my intention to produce a brief timeline for people to use as a reference point, so I'm beginning what I anticipate will be a series of articles listing important dates in Newmarket history. Let's start with the years from the initial arrival of the English settlers to our incorporation as a village in 1858.

Clearly our history did not begin with the arrival of the white man to this area, a highly developed Indigenous population had inhabited this land for centuries. To pay proper tribute to these Indigenous forefathers, I intend to write an article exclusively focusing on their dates and history as part of this series. I would also remind you that I have written three previous articles on our Indigenous past as part of my NewmarketToday series.

Over the course of this series, I will likely miss some important events while including others that you may deem unimportant, but it is my hope that you will add your milestone years and events within the comments section. So let us get started.

The Hudson’s Bay Company was founded in 1670, the Northwest Trading Company shortly afterwards. This event is of importance as Newmarket and area were initially established on the back of this fur trade. Along the north shore of Lake Ontario were several streams and rivers that flowed north, connecting to a network of Indigenous trails that eventually merged at the Holland River and Lake Simcoe and our hometowns.

The year 1783 marked the end of the American Revolution. With the end of hostilities, those loyal to the British Crown and those of the Quaker faith started to look north to Upper Canada for a new home with Newmarket and area welcoming many of those seeking land.

The next event with consequences for our area was the Constitutional Act of 1791 This act, passed by the British Parliament, set forth the framework under which government, land acquisition and power distribution would be based until the mid-1800s. The colony was subdivided into two provinces, Upper and Lower Canada, the division line being the Ottawa River. Each province was to be governed by a Legislative Council and by a Lieutenant-Governor appointed by the Crown.

On Sept. 12, 1791, John Graves Simcoe received a commission to become the first Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada. In 1792, he issued the Proclamation of the Division of Upper Canada into 19 counties of which York County was the fourteenth.

On Feb. 26, 1794, Augustus Jones was instructed to begin a survey of the Don Trail and by March 1794 it was completed to Holland Landing, a key factor in our local history.

In May 1794, Simcoe ordered a survey of the lands in our area, setting Yonge Street as its centre, designated as Concession 1. Road allowances were set at one chain (66 feet), distance between concessions being 100 chains (1.25 miles) running north and south on each side of Yonge Street. North Main would become Concession 2 and Leslie Street Concession 3 following the British system. Each section of land was set at 200 acres or 20 chains.

A key factor in our development was a letter dated June 30, 1791, between Simcoe and the Hon. Henry Dundas. In Simcoe’s correspondence various references to Timothy Roger’s Quakers are made, and in 1793 he wrote: “From some intimation I have received relative to the wishes of a large body of Quakers to emigrate from Pennsylvania, I propose sending a proper person to hold intercourse with them which they are too wary to commit to writing.” Those were our Yonge Street Quakers.

In April 1800, Timothy Rogers is said to have visited Newmarket for the first time, camping near the location of the Baptist Church and the Registry Office during his exploration of York on foot and on horseback. Historians speak of how he “discovered” Newmarket, a surprise no doubt to our Indigenous peoples who had known this area for millennia.

Timothy Rogers must have been quite impressed with what he saw for in 1801, he and his family arrived in seven sleighs, emigrating from Vermont and Pennsylvania to the area on Yonge Street near present day Newmarket. Also, in the summer of 1801, Joseph Hill, a Quaker and perhaps Newmarket’s first white citizen dammed the river (East Holland) near Water and Main streets, creating the Millpond (known today as Fairy Lake).

By the week before Christmas 1801, Hill had ground the first bushel of wheat produced locally. This clearing would offer an alternate trading post, a new market for the furs of the indigenous peoples of the Lake Simcoe Region. There is no doubt that our area was once the home to an established Indigenous community.

The years 1802 and 1803 found more Quakers coming to the northern section of Yonge (including my Lundy ancestors) and more tradesmen and entrepreneurs would filter into the small settlement forming around Joseph Hill’s mill on Water Street.

On Dec. 29, 1804, Timothy Rogers was given certification of his title to the Yonge lands, a total of 40 farms of 200 acres each. An enterprising and well-connected New Yorker named Elisha Beman acquired Joseph Hill’s mill, store and house.

In 1805, Timothy Millard arrives from Pennsylvania and seven years later he purchases 200 acres of land from Timothy Rogers that would encompass present day downtown Newmarket.

Then in 1807, the first Quaker meeting house was built on its present Yonge site.

In 1810, they started to build the second Quaker meeting house on the same site, and it was completed in 1812. It is the oldest religious building erected north of Toronto.

The War of 1812 contributed to an urgent demand for both men and produce for the war effort, causing rampent inflation. Then in 1816, the famous ‘year without sunshine’ occurred. It consisted of three cold waves beginning on June 6 that would kill all the crops and cause the livestock and many people to starve. It was attributed to a volcanic eruption in Indonesia in 1815 that would blanket the Earth with ash, blocking out the sun.

The Family Compact, an exclusive group of politicians and landowners who controlled everything in Ontario until 1849, was formed in 1817. They would be the root of the local action in 1837.

In 1820, the hamlet of Newmarket had 14 houses, and a thriving merchant class.

The first Methodist church, the tiny Episcopal Methodist church was built on a corner of the Srigley farm (Prospect and Timothy) in 1821.

Newmarket’s first post office was opened in 1822 with William Beverly Robinson as its first Postmaster.

In 1824, a Wesleyan Methodist Church replaced the Episcopalian Church at Timothy and Prospect streets.

The fur trading business was at its peak in 1825 with more than 400 loads of furs arriving at the depot in Newmarket during the season, said to have been valued at $40,000.

The first mention of a stagecoach line between York (Toronto) and Lake Simcoe with a stop in Newmarket was in 1825 owned by George Playter and Sons. In 1826, the North American Hotel was built, and it served as Newmarket’s stagecoach stop. That same year a small Christian church was constructed at the top of Main.

As you will remember from my article on disease in our town’s history, we were plagued with epidemics through the 1830s and 1840s. In 1828, an intermittent fever ran rapid, in 1832 Asiatic cholera spread rapidly locally. In 1833, diphtheria raged, and in 1834 cholera returned. History records what they would call the Irish Fever appearing in 1847 and they were to be segregated in the Jeb Brewery on D’Arcy Street.

A raging fire in 1840 destroyed the Main Street businesses between Timothy and Water streets on the west side. On Jan. 25, 1856, the flour mill was destroyed by fire.

In 1835, the first Church of England (St. Paul’s Anglican) a small wooden structure that ran north and south with a tower was built on the corner of Church and D’Arcy streets.

A Presbyterian ‘Kirk’ was built in 1836 on the north side of Timothy, which would serve as a prison during the 1837 rebellion as it was a stone structure and considered secure.

Eli Gorham’s home just south of Prospect Street was the first brick house in Newmarket built in 1836.

During the years 1834 to 1837, Newmarket and area were deeply involved in the Mackenzie Rebellion. The famous speech by William Lyon Mackenzie from the balcony of the North American Hotel on Main Street on Aug. 3, 1837, attracting a huge crowd. This was to set the stage for the actual march on Dec. 6, 1837.

In 1840, the local Catholic parish would build St. Mary’s, a 40’ by 24’ rough-cast church with an adjoining burial ground on 1.25 acres of land on the north side of Ontario Street. Then in 1847, with the influx of Irish immigrants, a community was established on the north side of Davis Drive at Main and was called Paddytown.

The grammar school, at that time the first public high school was built on Millard at Raglan Street in 1842.

In 1843, Lord Durham, sent to Canada to solve the issues that has arisen from the 1837 rebellion. As part of his fact-finding tour, he would visit Newmarket and in January 1839 he enacted what is called the Canadian Magna Carta. In 1843, all 1837 rebels were officially pardoned and responsible government was officially established in 1849.

Also in 1843, the Congregational Church was erected on the northeast corner of Church and Botsford streets.

The 1840s brought a severe economic depression to the area; money was practically non-existent, and barter was the economic system of the day.

In 1846, the local paper published a community ‘status report’ indicating that there were six churches (Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Catholic, Congregational, Methodist, and a Baptist), three doctors, two grist mills, two breweries, one distillery, one woolen factory, five stores, three taverns, one druggist, two cabinet makers, 3 tailors, three blacksmiths and four carpenters.

By 1850, Newmarket’s population had grown to more than 500 people and by 1860 it was over 1,400. The New Era, the first Newmarket weekly newspaper was established on the east side of Main in 1852 by Erastus Jackson and, in 1853, it moved to a larger facility on the southwest corner of Main and Queen. In 1853 the first railway in Ontario arrived linking Newmarket to Toronto.

That same year Donald Sutherland built a grist mill on the banks of the Holland River, on the south side of Timothy just west of Prospect operated by waterpower with a 12-foot diameter flume from the pond.

In January 1857, Ryan and Hallen, map makers, debuted the first village map to highlight the availability of property in Newmarket.

We have arrived at 1858 and this is where we leave off until next weekend when we look at the years 1858 when we became a village to 1881 when we were incorporated as a town.

I urge you to check out my past articles on for more in-depth information on many of the events and people mentioned in this article. You may wish to set aside this series of articles as a reference to dates and events in our history.

Sources: The Newmarket Era and The Newmarket Courier; 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 NewmarketToday, 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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