As the year 1977 opens, the overriding theme seems to be growth, growth, growth. The population in Newmarket sat at 24,771 but the road to expansion seemed wide open this year. This growth was being spearheaded by mayor Robert Forhan and regional councillor Raymond Twinney.
The Ernie Sokol local curling team won the senior trophy in the Canada Life Bonspiel Jan. 22, 1977, over a field of 86 rinks. The team consisted of Frank Tummno, lead, Stan Evans, second, and Dwight Slessor, vice-skip, and Ernie Sokol skip.
Mayor Forhan announced that budget growth for 1977 would be held to 5 per cent and that property taxes were not likely to increase.
The sod-turning for the local Children’s Aid of York Region was held Jan. 9, 1977, on Eagle Street. The new office was a one-storey, 9,000-square-foot unit on two acres of land at an estimated cost of $360,000.
The Newmarket Era marked its 125th anniversary in 1977. It was announced in January that York Region’s population had risen to 202,252, an increase of 7,000 in just a year. Newmarket’s population had jumped just a little over 300 citizens, while Aurora jumped just over 700 to 14,426.
A massive project was completed in February when the library added every edition of the Newmarket Era between 1852 and 1930 to microfilm. Chief librarian Lisa Lo indicated that the library intended to complete the microfilm collection up to 1977 in the very near future.
In February it was announced that the hospital’s new Whipper Watson therapeutic pool was proving a real draw with the numbers using it increasing to over 300 since its inception in June 1976.
A group invented a more efficient toilet and unveiled it to the world in March. Bill Grant of Queensville, Stan Whitehouse of Aurora and Mile Hall and Ken Murray of Newmarket have christened their new product Aqua Aid and held a Canada-wide patent.
In March it was announced the town would purchase the former Alexander Muir Public School from the Regional School Board. There were no limits on the possible uses for the school according to the authorities of the day but as we saw, the land was eventually sold to the developers and the heritage building was demolished forthwith.
The town’s redesigned network of one-way streets went into effect in March 1977. Signs went up on Niagara Street in April changing the one-way traffic to two-way between Queen Street and Davis Drive. Cedar Street became restricted to one way. The town also instituted three-way stop intersections on Patterson and Towercrest Drive.
In April, the ladies softball team learned that their proposal for lighting on another ball diamond at the Fairgrounds was rejected and so they set out to raise the necessary $4,000 need to add the lights. The group headed by Marlene Best was determined to reach their goal. Ultimately, a second ball diamond did get lighting.
A new fire call system was proposed in April by councillor Henry Vanden Bergh that promised to speed up the process. Essentially, the new system would allow the operator at the station to notify the individual firemen by phone on the ‘hotline’, broadcast the location of the fire and sound the fire alarm all with one push of a button. This new system was estimated to cost $10,000.
A Newmarket boxer, Irish Tommy Burns, brought amateur boxing to Newmarket with a fight card at the Community Centre May 28, 1977. He would also establish an amateur flight club, hoping to attract local participation.
The town purchased the last 80 special edition Newmarket Centennial publication and about 100 copies of Ethel Trewhella’s book The History of Newmarket in an estate sale of the publisher Herb Miller in May 1977.
The sad news that the Newmarket farmers market would fold was delivered in May 1977. A new market, simply called The Market opened at the Optimist Club about the same time.
In June, the town announced the old Alexander Muir school would become a cultural centre. Costs were set at $800,000 and would also include a new library and the two buildings would be linked by a walkway. Also, a new 150-seat theatre would be part of the project. There was a great deal of excitement as you can expect, particularly as the Historical Society thought it would have a new home. Alas, like a lot of projects during the period, it never did get off the ground.
In June it was announced that the Fairy Lake swans were missing and an all points bulletin was out for them. They had been stolen once before.
It was decided in June that GO Buses travelling along Highway 400 would no longer come into Newmarket as they once did, travelling into town via Eagle Street to Prospect, north to Davis Drive and then back out to 400.
New parking spaces were added in the downtown core behind Roadhouse and Rose and Four Seasons Chinese Food in June.
There was a push in June to re-examine the future of the Old Town Hall. There was a serious discussion about removing the building for parking, given the extent to which the building badly needed an upgrade. This certainly was not the first or the last time in our history that this building seemed to be in peril.
The entrance to Fairy Lake was redesigned in June with the entrance road being repaved and the entrance gates moved further south.
A brand-new Main Street extension north of Franklin Street was in the works with the reality that 1,260 new homes in north Newmarket were slated to be ready for occupancy in the coming year. The road was straightened, widened, and resurfaced at a cost of $200,000. Mention was made of the swamp land through which this new road would pass. Interestingly still an issue today with the talk of building condos in the area.
Cliff Gunn was forced to retire as fire chief in July due to bad health and Sam Rippey was appointed acting fire chief.
A $1.1 million expansion was announced in July to the Burgess Wholesale plant, effectively tripling the size, according to Aub McMillan, the general manager.
Four new townhouses were built on the old Ben and Lucy’s Variety store property, southeast corner of Eagle and Lorne in July 1977. A decision was made to cut down the majestic maple trees across from Newmarket High that same year.
The sod-turning ceremony for the new courthouse was held Sept. 7, with all the expected authorities present. The new courthouse would be ahead of its time as it would feature solar panels, a novelty at the time in Canada.
Pickering College celebrated its 50th year as a private school for boys Sept. 13, 1977. A long line of former graduates, teachers and headmasters were in attendance for the event.
Plans for a new steakhouse and tavern along with a 66-unit apartment building were approved by council on Davis Drive at Bolton Avenue, the former home of Andrew Davis in September. The plan, by Donald Kellett, was for a 139-patron restaurant with bar on the two lower floors and 22 one-bedroom suites and 44 two-bedroom suites above along with 83 parking spots.
A new downtown business improvement organization was formed Sept. 19. The organization was granted $8,000 to get started.
The old town hall and market square were back in the news in October as several members of council remained adamant that the building should be torn down once the new courthouse on Yonge was completed.
Over 500 people attended the grand opening of the Kinsmen Participark Oct. 30 at Dennis Park along the Cane Parkway. It was to have a one-mile jogging trail, and 11 exercise stations.
In November, we learned the school board had vetoed the sale of Alexander Muir to the town. The building had not been designated historical by the province and so its future was up in the air. A designation would have assured the survival of the historic property.
Up until November 1977, Main Street had always maintained a no-fee parking policy for Christmas shopping but that would end in 1977. Merchants and residence who lived over the buildings were held responsible for the shift in policy due to misuse.
In November we welcomed a new Santa Claus to the annual parade when after 18 years Jack Groves retired from the role.
We experience a two-day snowstorm on Dec. 5 when 15 cm of snow blanketed the area, causing closures and tons of accidents.
With the failure of the Alexander location as our new library, council decided to expand the library on Park Avenue at a cost of $800,00 in December 1977. In their plans, they insisted that the new improved library would meet all our needs until the end of the 1990s
In December, Sam Rippey was named our new fire chief having the acting removed from his title.
The new $225,000 hydro sub-station on Twinney Drive was activated in December, adding an additional 16,000 kilowatts to the local grid.
An interesting solution to the town’s decision to eliminate free Christmas parking on Main appeared when elves were hired by the merchants to deposit ‘nickels’ into the Main Street parking meters, thus restoring the free parking at Christmas.
We have now reached the end of 1977 and given the number of events and people that I wish to highlight in 1978, we will leave it off there.
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.