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REMEMBER THIS: Late '60s marked by big fire, big plans for Main Street

In this week's column, History Hound Richard MacLeod continues his timeline series with highlights of the people and events of 1968 to 1970

We continue our series on Newmarket's historical timeline with the year 1968. We have come a long way from the 1780s when we started this journey. We did in fact start much earlier in our history as I wrote a series of histories of the local Indigenous Peoples as a prequel to this series that you can read on Newmarket Today under the heading ‘remember-this’. Thanks go out to all who have accompanied me on this journey and offered me encouragement along the way.

As the curtain opens on the year 1968, Andrew D. Doak is still our mayor, and the council remains the same. The recreation department is rapidly expanding with several new committees. Roy Smalley is the chairman of the recreation, parks and community committee and Don Popple the recreation director. We now have an arena commission with Herbert Elines, J. Handley, and Robert Eves. The parks commission is made up of Robert Gapp, councillor Seneca Cook and Robert Eves. The pool commission boasts Art Westlake, J. Handley and Herb Elines. These new commissions reflect the upturn in sports and recreation within our town during the 1960s.

In January 1968, John Kudelka is being feted for his management of Glenville farms and for managing a thriving stock brokerage firm at the corner of Timothy and Main called J. H. Crang & Co.

Garfield Wright, East Gwillimbury reeve, was named York County’s new warden Jan. 16, 1968. You will recall Wright would go on to head York Region in the 1970s.

The Newmarket Memorial Arena underwent an update in February when the west end walkway was extended to the south and closed in with glass.

The year 1968 also brought four new traffic lights on Davis Drive. You will remember that in an earlier article I indicated that the population felt the Davis Drive had become a ‘speedway’. The locations chosen were Wilstead Drive, Parkside Drive, Niagara Street and Prospect Street. The lights at Main and Yonge streets would be synchronized as part of the upgrade.

February 1968 brought with it a huge fire on Main Street. The fire that was believed to have started behind Insley’s Men’s Wear would eventually engulf five businesses and attract the assistance of seven fire departments. While no definitive cause was ever determined, it did result in over $400,000 in damage, sent fire chief John Gibson to hospital and lasted seven hours before it was finally declared out. All the residents living above the stores were evacuated from Insley’s store north to Dawson’s Ladies Wear. Thankfully there was a gap north of Dawson’s that likely saved even more fire damage.

On March 19, 1968, my grandmother, Mary Amy (Lundy) Luesby passed away, ending what I always term the ‘golden years’ of my life. My grandmother was the person whom I most closely identified and I remember what a shock it was as that side of the family generally lived a long life and she died relatively early in life.

In April 1968, the 50 years-plus tradition of a fine jewelry store located at 220 Main was to continue as Frank Hempen took over the Robert Yates store. His son, Thomas, continues the tradition today.

The board made the decision to close one of the oldest schools in the area, St. John’s Separate School, at the end of term, June 1968. The reason given was a declining enrolment and financial issues. St. John’s had been opened in the late 1800s.

The ‘mail lady of the marsh’, Jean Chappelle, retired in April 1968 after 30 years of delivering the mail and providing various services to her community. Even Hurricane Hazel could not deter her as she set up shop in Bradford and facilitated the delivery of the mail by boat, raft, horse and on foot. These people were the backbone of our community and were sorely missed.

April brought a Canadian bowling championship to Newmarket when 14-year-old Dianne Ingram won both the Junior Women’s Championship and the Canadian Championship. A town banquet was held on May 22 to honour her achievement.

Direct long-distance dialling was introduced to a dozen area telephone exchanges in June 1968. Records indicated that on June 16 the communities of Aurora, Beeton, Bradford, King City, Mount Albert, Newmarket, Queensville, Schomberg and Tottenham were now able to access direct, self service long distance. The communities of Keswick, Sutton and Oakridges would start service on June 30. The process that was implemented had us dial ‘1’ then the area code and finally the seven-digit phone number to place a long distance call.

A five-stage, $4.25 million plan for the rejuvenation of Main Street was unveiled in June 1968. Payment was to come from the federal and provincial governments for 75 per cent of the cost, with Newmarket paying $1.4 million. A 75-page urban renewal report highlighted the plan: the removal of the ‘blighted’ commercial buildings and building of new structures as replacements; the creation of a ring-road to relieve traffic volume; the creation of a pedestrian mall; the removal of the railway level crossings; the creation of a parking plan to service both short and long-term shoppers; the re-development of existing stores; the development of lands along the Holland River; and the development of public housing in the area. Traffic would be diverted along Eagle Street, Church Street, Millard Avenue and Prospect Street.

Any of these ideas seem familiar? This plan has been resurrected countless times throughout our history, with few of the ideas ever becoming a reality.

A youth centre was established in the old Art Close car dealership property on Botsford Street, a joint project by Newmarket council and the Newmarket Ministerial Association. Named The Spot, it was scheduled to open on July 22, 1968.

In September 1968, Skyway Luggage announced plans to move into the former Tip Top building on Yonge Street and Tip Top would move to Davis Drive. Skyway had announced that 75 men and women were expected to be employed at their new facility.

Oct. 2, 1968 would see another production of Our Town at Newmarket High staged by William Elliott. Marlene O’Brien was set to play Emily and as I recall she was incredible.

Harvey Bell’s Billiard Hall played host to a billiard tournament with 16 participants in October 1968, with Murray Wilson defeating Jim Sheridan for the title. Bell’s Billiards was famous for the quality of the pool played there with local pool wizards like Kerry Peters, Len Russell, Bill Pearce, Harold Farr and Henry VanZant to name but a few plying their trade there.

November 1968 brought a substantial rise in local employment with 189 men and women finding employment. This was an increase of 23 per cent year over year.

J.W. Lockhart announced his retirement in November after over 40 years of service in the education profession,

In November, we elected a new mayor, Tom Surgeoner, with the new council of Seneca Cook, Aubrey Smith, Bob Forhan, Doris Blair, Ron Killick, and Hugh Grant.

Some of you may remember the huge blizzard that struck Newmarket and area Dec. 26, 1968, when it took 18 hours for the snow removal crews to re-open the town.

On the entertainment front, Janice Sheridan and Cathy Ann Zweep won three awards at the Peel Music Festival in May. Janice appeared on Tiny Talent Time on channel 11 afterwards.

As we entered the year 1969, our new council was in place. We would get a new recreation director, Dan Shannon.

In January 1969, Glenville Dairies introduced its new milk pouches replacing the bulky glass jugs. Gone was the 40-cent deposit. The price was 75 cents per pouch and only homogenized and two per cent milk was available in the pitcher pack.

In March, E.J. Davis Jr., the last of the Davis Leather group, passed away at 80. His obituary indicated that he was survived by four children, Virginia from Timmins, Barbara Chilcott Davis of Toronto, Donald of Toronto, and Murray of Toronto. I wrote articles on his children and their entertainment careers on NewmarketToday if you are interested. Mabel Davis, his sister, owned the land to the east of the Tannery and was to donate it to the conservation authority for a nature reserve named after her.

A huge raid was conducted on March 23, 1969 by 10 police forces at the Bluebird Inn on the southeast corner of Mulock and Yonge where the Satan’s Choice motorcycle gang 150 members strong were staging a party.

A.R.C. Industries opened on Penrose Street on May 13, 1969. You may recall that the Newmarket Association had made their debut locally back in 1964 at 96 Main.

The Pickering College Quaker Relays have been a fixture for years and 1969 was to be a great year. Held on May 3, 1969, there were a record number of entries, more than 60 schools entered teams including Newmarket, Aurora, Barrie, Huron Heights, Pickering College, St. Andrew’s College, Richmond Hill, Stouffville and Markham relay teams.

In May, 14 merchants in the Newmarket Plaza were charged with remaining open for business on a Monday. It seems the merchants wished to eliminate the town bylaw prohibiting merchants from being open on Mondays and this was their effort to protest the bylaw.

In June, the paper was discussing why many local barbers had increased their prices by 25 cents to $2 while others did not. Apparently five local barbers had held the line on price increases on a wait-and-see basis.

There were three more business changes on Main Street in July — which were few and far between, so when there are changes, it is big news. The first change concerned the purchase of the Simpson-Sears building by the Credit Union and the re-location of the office. Secondly, the Frank Bowser Grocery Store, a fixture for over 48 years was put up for sale and finally Perrin’s Flowers was changing hands after nearly 64 years of family ownership having been purchased by Gerry Cassidy. Roadhouse and Rose closed its furniture store while keeping the funeral business, Scanlon’s Bakery closed, and Tom Surgeoner’s closed for a month while undergoing renovations.

It was in August that Jim Leeder was honoured for having served 25 years on the local police force.

August 1969 was a banner year for the Marsh with roadside stalls brimming with fresh produce. Government figures indicated farmers generate $6.4 million from their crops on the over 7,500 acres of black muck. Over the years, the small family plots have been replaced by larger, corporate plots that make use of the latest technology.

The governance and ownership of the Lions Club Park came into question in August when Bob Forhan questioned how and when the Lions Club donated the land to the town, calling it a real mystery. He maintained that the Lions never owned the land so how could they donate it? It was determined after a search back to the year 1907 that the land was always publicly owned and never owned by the Lions.

An interesting item arose in September when a local lawyer, John Medof, convinced that a dedicated GO train running between Barrie and Toronto was a sure bet, offered to guarantee $1,600 to fund a one-day test run to prove his point. The train ran Oct. 16, 1969 and did indeed prove a success. In November, Ontario introduced just such a GO service.

The Dixon Pencil Plant was given a facelift in November, with the external walls being painted green with a white trim.

There was renewed talk in November 1969 of a new town hall on the now vacant grounds of the former Newmarket Motors building on Botsford. Calls were being made for a three-block long civic centre and mall using private capital. I remember the whole scheme seemed quite incredible, a real boost for our downtown core but alas, like most plans hatched for downtown, it failed to materialize.

The Adult Training Centre on Penrose became a reality on May 21, 1969. Barbara Chilcott Davis began her reign at Stratford in 1969 along with brother Donald Davis.

Cliff Gunn was appointed chief of our fire department in September, only to discover that the town never terminated John Gibson as the chief even though he had been on medical leave for a considerable period.

The year 1970 opened with the same cast at the town. The population of the town was reported as being 11,324. The chief of police was William Hill along with Clare Penrose, Glenn Phillips, and Harry Diamond as his sergeants. The force included James F. O’Halloran, Robert E. Wilson, Thomas D. Young, Carmen R. Stevensen, John B. Gwilliams, Bruce F. Scott, George T. Kydd, David Smalley, and Alvin Thompson.

Council moved in January 1970 to fill 10 vacant seats on municipal boards and committees but there was only one new face among them. The new face was Harry Davis who was named to the recreation parks and community committee. Nine of the spots were filled by re-appointments.

A cute story appeared in the Era in February when a mother, seeing her 10-year-old son given a penalty for high-sticking another player, pulled him out of the penalty box and took him home, telling him that when he learned to play as a gentleman, he could return to playing hockey. Imagine!

On May 4, 1970, the 10th annual Lions Music Festival opened with over 507 entries and several new categories and awards to be won.

June 14, 1970, over 500 ex-students gathered at Start Scott school to celebrate the retirement of Evelyn Denne who had served as a teacher locally for over 40 years. She was named citizen of the year.

Cash and Carry celebrated its 10th anniversary in April. The business started as a shack on Davis with gross sales of $256,000 that first year in 1960 and had grown to a two-acre complex with gross sales of $3 million.

The Newmarket Redmen won the Provincial Junior ‘C’ title in April 1970 with a crowd of 1,900 spectators cheering them on.

In July 1970, Terry Carter was named editor-in-chief of the Newmarket Era, one of the best decisions ever made by a local firm.

On July 5, 1970, former police chief Byron Burbidge who has served for over 20 years passed.

News of a second arena for Newmarket was announced in August 1970 with the predictions that Newmarket’s population would increase 5.5 times from 10,000 to 17,000.

Council announced in August that plans had changed for the old Newmarket Motors building on Botsford and they now were pushing for the construction of a nine-story building containing 48 suites, stores and 65 parking spaces. That idea never materialized either.

The Newmarket Police received a 15 peer cent pay raise and several other perks in a new agreement proposed by council.

In August 1970, the first of 15 45-seat passenger buses were delivered, intended for the new northern service from Toronto to Newmarket and beyond. It was announced that Gray Coach would run the service and that several entry / exit locations would be maintained in the town proper.

In September, the provincial government reiterated Davis Drive must remain the ‘dry line’ in the county until a new plebiscite could be conducted in December 1971. You will remember in 1969 Newmarket voters approved alcohol dining licences but not liquor lounges. The Compass Restaurant had a dining lounge licence but not a liquor licence.

The area is waiting in anticipation for the province’s new education TV station to go live on Sept. 27, 1970. Local cable companies had been instructed that the TV channel must be carried as part of their services.

I remember the huge drug raid conducted on Vale Avenue in September 1970 when $100,000 worth of marijuana was seized by Newmarket police.

The newly renovated arena downtown opened on Oct. 3, 1970, the price tag half a million dollars.

While the new Regional Municipality of York became a reality on Jan. 1, 1971, elections took place on Oct. 5, 1970. As mentioned previously, Garfield Wright was named our first chairman.

The fact that York Region became a reality removed the position of reeve from our government system. Thus Claire Salisbury (reeve) and Bruce Eves (deputy reeve) were the last to hold the position in the history of this town.

Newmarket took delivery of its new $34,000 fire truck, pumper #1 in November 1970 and it was soon put into service.

With that we now close the books on the year 1970, with visions of the new York Region dancing in our heads and trepidation of an uncertain future. Join me next weekend when we pick the story up with the year 1971.

Sources: Clippings from The Newmarket Era and The Newmarket Courier; The Memorable Merchants and Trades 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.