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REMEMBER THIS: Haskett Park named for sports-loving newsman

In this week's column, Newmarket's History Hound tells us about George Haskett, whose true forte centred on the organization and development of sport

As a child, my parents would often take me to Haskett Park for skating on the outdoor rink located on 24 acres of land, stretching along Millard Avenue west to Queen Street, with ball diamonds, soccer fields, tennis courts, a clubhouse, washrooms and playgrounds.

In 1951, the area west of the original town limits had been annexed to the town, including the farm on Lot 94 belonging to James Crossland (formerly owned by Robert Millard) and Haskett Park was to be part of the first expansion of the town in nearly 100 years.

Knowing the origins behind the naming of the town facilities was a preoccupation of mine even back then and my mom and grandma told me that George Haskett (1910 to 1974) was a fifth-generation member of the Haskett family, who were longtime residents of Newmarket. Mr. Haskett was a friend of my grandpa’s.

This column will examine the story of George Haskett,who appears to have been a bit of a renaissance man locally with a definite bent toward local sports.

I was surprised to learn that before George Haskett became the sports editor of the Era and father of Newmarket sports, he had been employed by Davis Leather Company as a secretary to E.J. Davis Jr.

It was part of the sports context that I first learned about Mr. Haskett. My research shows that beginning in his youth, Haskett was an accomplished local athlete, particularly in baseball and hockey. That is interesting as Mr. Henry, in an email, reminded me that a rift existed between Haskett and Frank Hollingsworth concerning the perceived lack of coverage by the Newmarket Era of baseball under the direction of Haskett.

Many of you will know George Haskett as the individual who was instrumental in organizing various sports leagues and associations, a sportsman for all seasons.

Back then, whenever a sporting event or an organization required a helping hand, you knew that this life-long Newmarket resident with his affinity for sports would be ever-present to chronicle our community’s athletic moments. This he did for over five decades.

Haskett was usually in the front row for most local sporting events, but his true forte centred on the organization and development of sport, a fact that made him a cinch to be chosen as part of the second class of inductees into the Newmarket Sports Hall of Fame.

Lacrosse, hockey and softball seemed to have been Haskett’s prime areas of interest, along with baseball, although as I mentioned above, many felt that he tended to ignore it in his columns. One thing was clear, Haskett was always prepared to cover any of a wide range of local athletic endeavours.

The Haskett family was firmly entrenched as part of the Era’s editorial community scene with George heavily into our local sports scene and his wife, Ruby, into the arts and goings-on around town with her columns.

What is truly amazing is the fact that Haskett spent all that time on our local sports while maintaining a regular job at the Tannery.

If you were a regular reader of the Newmarket Era, you will remember that Ruby wrote about theatre, arts, and social news, while George penned Haskett’s Hash, which documented Newmarket at the Newmarket Express-Herald beginning in 1933. He would then become the sports editor for The Era and Express in 1946 remaining a newspaperman until just prior to his death in 1974. The Hasketts were both fixtures at the paper.

Haskett entered the Newmarket Hall (in the builders’ category) in 2011, along with figure skater Melanie Cole Moffatt, karate’s Brad Jones and the late Bill Thoms, a 12-season veteran of the National Hockey League with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Chicago Black Hawks and Boston Bruins starting in 1932.

Many of you may remember the trademark ball cap he wore when on assignment. One of the things that I admired about Mr. Haskett was the fact that there likely wasn’t a single sport in town that he wasn’t involved in, and he did it all for love. I got involved in our local history for the same reasons because I loved it.

Although he was best known for his pen (recognized for the best sports coverage in Canada by the Canadian Weekly Newspapers Association in 1969), he was also known for being behind drives to initiate and develop sports programs in and around Newmarket.

One of the sports initiatives that Haskett was known for was the vital role he played in organizing the North York Minor Hockey Association, initially proposed by Haskett in 1952 and his service in several capacities for over 14 years.  

The organization started out with 10 teams in a small number of communities with it growing to 72 teams in 20 communities by 1965 under his presidency and was the base upon which today’s York Simcoe Minor Hockey Association rests.

Haskett was also instrumental in organizing and operating the Newmarket Minor Hockey Association in 1954. He served as president for the North York Basketball League for eight years and was a director for the North York Baseball League for 25 years. In 1961, he helped organize the North York Minor Softball League. He would also serve on provincial bodies in hockey and softball.

He would also serve as the president of the North York Basketball League for eight years and was also the secretary of the Metropolitan League here in Newmarket in 1949.

If that was not enough, he would also turn his efforts toward the building and maintenance of various playing fields in Newmarket, including the Fairgrounds and George Haskett Park.  

The Haskett name was immortalized through the naming of Haskett Park on Millard Avenue, a recreational area created in the 1950s as part of a housing development.

It is always interesting to discover tidbits about one’s subject that you never knew. It seems that the Haskett family had a baseball field as part of their property on Eagle Street that backed on to the Stuart Scott Public School property. This field was utilized for local games by the town.

In 1957, a group of local citizens decided to clean up Fairy Lake, painting the dam blue. George Haskett was declared the commodore of the fictitious ‘Newmarket Yacht Club’ just for a laugh.

Newmarket has been blessed to have numerous individuals such as Willian ‘George’ Haskett during its illustrious history, their efforts making life in the town that much sweeter. The Haskett family, and particularly George Haskett, have made significant contributions to the development of our sports organizations and facilities in Newmarket over these many decades.

He is remembered as a public-spirited individual who sponsored many sports, youth activities, and charitable organizations within the town. The Haskett family has a long history in Newmarket with the annals of the Newmarket Era and Express mentioning several Hasketts been involved in the history and development of Newmarket, such as serving as town councillors. My grandpa always told me that the Haskett family had been prominent members of the Newmarket community for generations.

Before closing, I would urge you to check out my articles on Newmarket parks. There you will find out more on the amazing people from Newmarket’s past who have been immortalized in the names of our parks. I also penned a series of articles on the street names in the town’s wards and their origins.

As you know, I just love the practice of naming streets, parks, and public spaces after historically relevant individuals from our past. Hopefully, next time you pass by Haskett Park, the story of this great sportsman and local citizen will come to mind.

I love to document the great individuals who have contributed so much to the fabric of our community. Should you know of any deserving individual or family that may make a good article, then send me an email.

Additional Sources: Hall Induction Fair Score from York Region News Online; the Newmarket Era.

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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