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REMEMBER THIS: New century brings cars, Davis tannery, great canal project to Newmarket

In this week's column, History Hound Richard MacLeod continues his series highlighting Newmarket's history with a look at the years 1900 to 1910

We continue our journey through highlights of Newmarket's history from 1800 up to the dawning of a new century, 1900. During this time, our Main Street has evolved from an Indigenous trail to a thriving business throughfare. Our town administrators and politicians were drawn from the principal businesses and entrepreneurs that blessed this verging community. We showed foresight and fortitude during our first century and we find ourselves standing on the precipice of the 20th century filled with confidence.

As the year 1900 opens, our population has grown to 2,393 persons. We boast six churches, two public schools, a separate school system, a high school, and a library. We have two chartered banks and a full complement of industries and smaller businesses, including three cabinetmakers, a cheese factory, famous pickle factory, flour mill, marble works, foundry and several breweries.

The area along Main between Timothy Street and Park Avenue was the primary mercantile area with some businesses extending south to Water Street (although still primarily residential at the time). The principal merchants are Danford Roche & Company, The Sutherland Brothers, Brunton Brothers, R.J. Davidson and Company, R.A. Smith, G.A. Binns and J.A.W. Allan.

Black beaver coats were all the rage, and one could purchase a custom-made carriage or cutter equipped with a horse for $250.

The town was still predominantly agricultural with the census indicating the presence of 186 horses, 104 head of cattle, 47 hogs, 20 sheep and 90 dogs located within the town’s boundaries, which were at that point Mulock Drive, Davis Drive, Yonge Street and Bayview Avenue.

There were 43 births and 20 deaths recorded in 1900. We had a water system but no sewers, and electricity for both commercial and domestic use. We had two means of transportation to Toronto, via the Grand Trunk railroad and the new Metropolitan Electrical Railroad.

Newmarket was swept up in the ‘new order’ with cars beginning to appear and businesses adjusting to a new economy and an increase consumer demand for goods and services.

Fires and floods continued to plague our town but like the high school that burned to the ground, we rose from the ashes stronger and more efficient. This was the ‘phoenix’ generation without any doubt.

The Boer War ends in 1901, and a huge celebration was held on Water Street with bands, speeches and fireworks that damaged the Water Street bridge. Private Walsley Haines was the only casualty from Newmarket and in his honour a fund was established to purchase a monument and place it on the front lawn of the waterworks (later the hydro building). The monument was produced locally at Cassidy, Allan, and Luesby Memorials on Main Street for $350 and was to be designed by the famous Canadian sculptor who also designed the Vimy Ridge memorial. It sat there until 1982 when it was moved to D’Arcy Street.

Eckbird S. Cane took delivery of his single cylinder Winton this year, the first automobile in Newmarket. It is said that it used one gallon of gas to travel to Lake Simcoe in less than one hour. One year later he purchased a larger car, holding up to four passengers. This car did not scare the horses it was said.

The Express Advertiser from Newmarket purchased the Herald from Sutton and became the Express Herald, stepping up local newspaper competition.

In 1902, the merchants and local farmers petitioned council to remove the Metropolitan Railway tracks running up the centre of Main Street. My grandfather was one of those merchants who argued that the street was too narrow for both the railway and horses and buggies, and the train shared the horses. He much preferred the horses. The tracks were moved to the west, running through market square north. One can still see remnants of the tracks peeking through by the library.

The famous North American Hotel, known as the location of W.L. Mackenzie’s famous rebel speech, was demolished this year and plans were made to construct a three-story brick complex known as the Sovereign Bank building.

The Hunter Brothers purchased a store on the east side of Main to sell dry goods this year. They, along with Danford Roche, their neighbour, installed a brand-new store front with plate glass windows, a luxury at the time.

Main merchants petitioned council to rescind a bylaw that prohibited the sale of fresh meats on Main between Millard Avenue and Water Street to combat what was perceived as a monopoly held by the butchers in market square.

It is always useful to have a federal cabinet member as your local MP. The Office Specialty was able to secure the exclusive contract for the manufacture of post office boxes countrywide through the influence of Sir William Mulock, then Postmaster General. This was to become a long-standing, lucrative contract for the company.

In 1903, the Davis tannery in Kinghorn was destroyed by fire. Council immediately set to the task of attracting the Davis family to re-locate to Newmarket beside the canal. They were successful and a huge financial element in Newmarket’s future growth was added to the stable.

The water fountain on the northwest corner of Park Avenue in front of the Methodist Church was added this year by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in honour of Mrs. Benjamin Cody to recognize her efforts in the Prohibition movement. This fountain served both horse / dogs and people. It would be removed in 1953.

A huge explosion rocked Cane Wooden Works, in the boiler room, on Nov. 18, 1903, resulting in the death of two men and dire injuries to five others. This was a major setback as Cane employed more than 250 men and the explosion and subsequent fire was a blow to the business and the town. Only parts of the original building were replaced.

The Davis Tannery was established at the rail centre on Huron (Davis Drive) in 1904. Council passed a bylaw granting a sum of $10,000 as start-up funds for the new venture. E.J. Davis purchased the Vincent Denne property on Bayview for his new residence. Of importance was the fact most of the previous employees of the tannery in Kinghorn relocated to Newmarket.

The Office Specialty was motivated to enlarge its factory, building a four-story building on the old Marsden Flats on the north side of Timothy Street.

It was in 1904 that the Newmarket Development Company proposed laying a gas pipe up the length of Main, connecting it to the natural gas wells proposed on the Prospect Street location. This proposal faded very quickly as the gas source on Prospect was deemed uncertain and the cost was prohibitive.

The Lieutenant-Governor established a police magistrate for the Town of Newmarket and Colonel T.H. Lloyd was appointed to this new position.

A bylaw was passed limiting the speed limit for the streetcar (Metropolitan Railway) to eight miles per hour and they were forbidden to stop and unload freight anywhere but at designated stops.

Discussions of the Great Canal Project connecting Newmarket and area to the Great Lakes via Lake Simcoe began this year. The cost of shipping on the Grand Truck railway had become prohibitive. The Trent canal was nearly complete, and the locals saw their canal linking with this new one.

I include this tidbit from an article dated Dec. 20, 1904 that reports that 539 turkeys, 530 geese, 110 pairs of chickens, 44 pair of ducks had been purchased at the Town Hall farmers market. Prices for the essentials were deemed fair. Butter was selling for 17 cents a pound, eggs for 20 cents a dozen, beef for 5.5 cents a pound, and dressed chickens were 75 cents a pair. The cost of a cord of wood was $4.

The year 1905 brought the retirement of H.S. Cane, considered one of our greatest mayors, and the election of N.J. Roadhouse to the position.

The big story of 1905 focused on the push for the federal government to start the Great Canal Project.

Concrete sidewalks from Water to Huron (Davis) were nearly complete but there were a few plank sidewalks remaining.

There remained an ancient watercourse at Botsford Street and Main, under the buildings and the town was looking into solving that issue. Two new wells were drilled on the west side of the pond behind the waterworks this year.

Office Specialty increased its workforce to about 200 employees and a new 110-foot-high smokestack was erected.

In 1905, Sir William Mulock retired from federal politics and took on a second, or is it third, career as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in Ottawa. Mulock was also to serve as chancellor of the University of Toronto.

The year 1906 marked the year that Pickering College, which had been in the village of Pickering since its establishment by the Quakers in 1892, was destroyed by fire. A delegation was struck to encourage the relocation of the school to Newmarket, with an offer of free light and water up to $600 annually on the table. A local subscription amongst the public and merchants raised another $10,000. Albert S. Rogers purchased a farm from John Bogart on Prospect Street and plans were prepared for the emergence of the new Pickering College.

The proposal of 1905 to build a canal linking Newmarket to Lake Simcoe via the Holland River was finally approved by Ottawa and in March 1906 plans and specifications were published and tenders were being called for. Of note, on April 6, the Trent Valley Canal System was completed. In May a contract was let to deepen the Holland River from Cook’s Bay on Lake Simcoe south to Holland Landing.

It was also in 1906 that the Metropolitan Railway finally reached Jackson’s Point. Telephone lines were extended to Pine Orchard and Queensville this year.

Two large mercantile establishments underwent extensive expansion this year. The R.A. Smith grocery store at the corner of Main and Timothy was extended east to Cedar Street and the J.A.W. Allam hardware store on the east side underwent similar expansion. Things were booming locally.

The Bank of Toronto opened a branch on Main, first in the Central Hotel on the east side of near Park and then moved to the Sovereign Bank building when it closed.

It is this year that the railway trestles appeared over the Queen Street floodplain, one of which remains there today.

Due to the increase in visitors to Newmarket, we hired two new night constables this year. The County Council Act was revised, calling for a reeve, deputy reeve, mayor and six councillors to serve in each town.

The year 1907 brought an acute housing shortage given the large growth in our population. The big three industries were thriving, and this created a shortage of available housing. It is recorded that houses that previously rented for $2.50 to $3 per month jumped in price threefold.

The town was abuzz with engineers and surveyors with work beginning on the canal. Work began on the dredging and straightening of the Holland River between Newmarket and Holland Landing and contracts began to be awarded for the concrete work and lock systems for the canal.

A new iron bridge was constructed at Queen Street measuring nearly 80 feet long and eight feet tall. It suffered some setbacks in it opening as it had to be delayed from May 17 to Aug. 9 due to issues hoisting it into place.

The Gorham woollen mill was demolished and the materials used to construct houses. Newmarket’s cannons arrived as mementos of the Boer War. They were to sit in front of the waterworks building and on the east side of the post office. Speaking of the post office, it was 1908 when the push began for the construction of a new one.

The Allen Foundry Buildings on Timothy were demolished to make way for new residences.

Preliminary plans and illustrations for the new Pickering College called for a building 215 feet long with a dome 85 feet high and lit by electricity. Construction soon began at a cost of $80,000 and the cornerstone was dedicated Oct. 9 by Sir William Mulock.

Three construction camps for the workers on the canal appeared in town this year. Estimates were that 400 men and 300 teams of horses were set to work building the locks and ship basin at Green Lane.

It was reported that there were no vacant houses throughout town and 20 new houses were currently being constructed.

Of note, there were 140 telephones in service in 1908. P.W. Pearson had been elected mayor this year.

In 1909, there was a push to privatize the waterworks and electrical plant, but the idea was defeated.

The criticism of the Canal Project began this year with a scathing editorial in the Toronto Mail and Express calling the project unfeasible and a bad expenditure of funds. This was the point in history when the project ceased to be a financial venture and became a political ‘hot potato’. In late fall, it was announced that the concrete turning basin beside the tannery was practically complete.

The year 1909 brought more and more public meetings by the local Temperance Movement, the precursor to actual local Prohibition. A group of 14 merchants purchased the King George Hotel to serve as accommodation for locals and visitors, assuring the public Newmarket could run a financially viable establishment without the sale of liquor. A referendum was held on Dec. 30 with the result that Prohibition was adopted by a vote of 491 to 253. Theis was to stay in place until 1954.

Pickering College opened for students in September of that year with the official opening scheduled for Nov. 26.

The period from 1900 to 1910 was an eventful period in our local history indeed. Next weekend we will pick up the story where we left off and look at Newmarket during the first world war.

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 Newmarket Today, conducts heritage lectures and walking tours of local interest, and leads local oral history interviews.