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REMEMBER THIS: Newmarket schools regularly rose from the ashes (10 photos)

History Hound Richard MacLeod kicks off the first of a series on the history of some local schools

Over the next few months, I will be highlighting the history of various Newmarket schools, and as an introduction to this pending series, I am providing a brief overview of the growth of the educational system here in Newmarket.

Our story begins 1843, when the Grammar School, a small schoolhouse on the northeast corner of Millard and Raglan was established  — it still exists as a residence. In 1853, there were 64 grammar schools in our province under the authority of the Council of Public Instructions. In 1871, an Act of the Legislature changed grammar schools into high schools and decreed that only students who had completed public school were to be admitted to secondary education.

By 1876, the local attendance at the grammar/high school had increased so much that additional accommodation had to be found. In May 1876, the village council raised $6,000 to purchase two acres of land on the southeast corner of Pearson and Prospect streets. That summer, a one-storey, three-room brick school was built facing Prospect

On Jan. 1, 1881, Newmarket was proclaimed a town, with a population 2,100. A parish (Catholic) school was erected in 1882 on the east side of the grounds of the Roman Catholic Church on Ontario Street. It was to close in May 1968 and was converted into a parish hall, finally being demolished on March 15, 1994.

In 1891, a model (primary) school was built on the northeast corner of Prospect and Timothy streets, comprising six classrooms. It was to be named the Alexander Muir School. The school was closed in 1976 and demolished in 1979 but not before a valiant attempt was made to save it.

On the night of March 16, 1893, the high school on Prospect was destroyed by fire fanned by strong March winds. These students would use the new Alexander Muir school until a new high school was ready.

Immediately plans were made for a replacement and on July 15, 1893, the cornerstone was laid on the same site for a two-storey school with four classrooms. The central portion had two staircases, one for boys and one for girls. In 1912, an addition on the east side provided three more classrooms on the second floor and an auditorium on the main level. Blackboards were installed in 1923; previously painted plaster walls had been used.

Also, in 1912 a new school arose at the corner of Church Street and Park Avenue to replace a wooden model school and it was named the King George. Interestingly, the same architectural plans were used for both the Stuart Scott and Alexander Muir schools.

In my article on the history of Pickering College, I tell the story of how after a fire at the original Pickering College in Pickering, Ontario, the school had relocated to Newmarket in 1906.

On June 20, 1926, the cornerstone was laid by Sir William Mulock for another addition on the west front section of the high school for a new auditorium, a gymnasium and three classrooms. It was opened in December 1926. Again, fire destroyed the old portion on March 31, 1928 but fortunately part of the new addition was saved.

Plans were made at once for a new school and students were accommodated at the Stuart School, which had been built in 1923. The official opening of the new high school was held on Feb.4, 1929 containing 12 classrooms, two science rooms, a gymnasium, an auditorium, a cafeteria, and a lunchroom. Both commercial and academic courses were taught there. The student enrolment was approximately 300. During the war starting in January 1941, trainees from the military camp used four classrooms for night school classes.

"Our local schools have reached full capacity" was a frequent headline in the local newspapers. Both the elementary and high school boards were desperate for additional accommodation. Stuart Scott Public School, which had been built in 1923, and the re-built high school in 1929 were the latest educational additions at the time.

By 1948, it was clear overcrowding had created the need for a new public school. During the 1946, there were 506 births and 62 deaths, and the population had risen to 4,450 and was still rising. Plans were announced in 1949 for a new school named the Prince Charles School on the south side of Srigley Street, which was part of the former Stickwood farm. This was the first public school to be built since 1923. The new school was opened early in 1950 with Harold A. Jackson the first principal.

You may want to read my four-part history of Newmarket High on NewmarketToday to acquaint yourself with the nearly 30-year saga recalling the splitting of school districts, the need to expand, various updates and the eventual replacement of Newmarket High.

By September 1950, tenders for construction at Newmarket High had been received, a contract for $95,000 approved and the commencement of construction of a new addition Oct. 12, 1950. It was ready for school opening in September 1951 and after almost 14 years the effort to add the first addition to Newmarket High School was finally a reality.

Prior to the 1950s there were only four elementary schools in Newmarket: St. John’s Roman Catholic (1882), Alexander Muir (1891), King George (1912) and Stuart Scott (1923). Our population had increased from 3,990 in 1945 to 5,036 in 1950 primarily due to the return of our servicemen after the Second World War, creating an urgent need for additional housing and education facilities for their children.

The influx of developers and speculators resulted in subdivisions of various sizes, turning our farmland into holding tracts for pending commercial opportunities. The economy was changing from agricultural to commercial and industrial. The town council and school boards were inexperienced as to how to cope with the changing tide.

In 1955, Councillor Alex. Belugin strongly opposed issuing permits to additional subdivisions on the basis that the additional growth would add to the need for more educational utilities, schools, and teachers, and further burden the taxpayer and the town economically. History would prove him to have been correct when the local education tax doubled in the next decade and it would increase to approximately 67 per cent of our total taxes.

Nevertheless, the town did extend its borders and as more subdivisions appeared, new schools were built in adjacent areas on parcels of land set aside for that purpose. During this period, we see the construction of J.L.R. Bell (1955), Prince Charles (1957), Maple Leaf (1959), Rogers Public (1963), Meadowbrook (1967), and Fairmead (1961).

On Sept. 20, 1960, the Newmarket High School District was advised by the Department of Education to prepare a proposal for a new secondary school. By December 1960, a request for York County financing was made for $815,000 to construct a 20-room school in East Gwillimbury Township to serve an estimated 580 students by the year 1962. This was the Huron Heights project.

On receiving the go-ahead, negotiations began in January 1961 to purchase an 11-acre site north of Davis Drive (formerly Huron Street), part of the Roy Watson farm, and part of the farmland that at the time extended from east of Bolton Avenue to Leslie Street and in the Township of East Gwillimbury. The school was to be named Huron Heights Secondary School and was scheduled to open in September 1962.

Delays in planning ensued due to a change of policy regarding regulations for federal and provincial grants for technical education. Originally an academic school was planned but when the two governments offered to underwrite the cost of technical training, those plans were discarded, and new ones prepared.

It was decided to operate the two schools in shifts at Newmarket High until Huron Heights was ready. The morning shift was from 8 a.m. to 12.40 p.m., with 566 students and 31 teachers and the afternoon shift had 648 students and 33 teachers. J.R. Lockhart was supervising principal of both schools with L.G. Shepherd principal of HHSS and I. C. Harris principal of N.H.S.

By June 1963, the new HHSS was sufficiently complete for the students to write their final examinations. In September, the school was fully occupied and officially opened on Oct.30, 1963. The cost was $1.5 million, the province paid $1.1 million and York County $400,000. Before its final completion, plans were underway to add another 23 more rooms.

Tenders were opened Sept. 25, 1964, and final approvals were received by Nov, 20 for a 23-room addition to double the student accommodation from 610 to 1,190. It was completed in September 1965. A further extension of 29 rooms was planned in 1967 and completed in 1969 that added seven more rooms for business and commercial classes, 10 more for academic purposes, four rooms for labs, three geography and five standard classrooms.

Gymnasium and change rooms were expanded, as well as a larger library and new cafeteria. The previous library became a classroom and the old cafeteria was converted for audio-visual and seminar use. A health room and guidance office were added.

With Huron in operation as a fully equipped composite school with both academic and vocational facilities, Newmarket High remained functioning in a basic academic role with increased enrolment and the need for more teachers and accommodation. However, this problem had been mostly overcome in 1957 when a new wing was built at the north end providing another gymnasium, cafeteria, classrooms, science rooms and rooms for special activities such as music, art, economics, guidance, etc.

Additional acreage was purchased at that time from Pickering College for a football field and a 100-yard track to compensate for the area taken up with the building of the new north wing. The burden of combating the ever increasing demands for education facilities was alleviated to a large extent by the introduction of secondary education at Huron.

On Nov. 1,1966 a new library wing was opened at NHS. This was a single storey addition on the northwest side of the original building and included a stack reading room, seminar room and audio-visual aids room.

The province of Ontario introduced regional government effective Jan. 1, 1971, which significantly changed the administration of all elementary and secondary schools in the area. The district was divided into four sections encompassing all the schools in the former county under the heading "York County Board of Education" and financed by the York Regional Government.

The headquarters for the school board was built on Wellington Street in Aurora with representatives from the various municipalities elected through local elections. The new regional government changed the name Newmarket District High School back to its original designation, Newmarket High School.

In 1974, the future of Newmarket High was at risk again when the Regional Board of Education insisted that the whole school must be upgraded to conform to current building codes, or they would close the entire school.

They were given two weeks of notice that the school would be closed permanently, and its students bused to the new Aurora High School, which was not being fully utilized at the time. A public meeting of over 1,000 people unanimously rejected the idea, and the ministry approved an estimated expenditure of $200,000 to upgrade the school.

In 1979, the York Region Roman Catholic School Board erected Sacred Heart High School in Newmarket, which was the third school for secondary education within the community. The enrolment at that time at Newmarket High School was 880 students and the town population was sitting at 26,155 and increasing rapidly

In 1981, the board put forth an alternative scheme to build a new school to be a French immersion centre in compliance with new federal legislation for bi-lingual instruction. In 1988, Mazo de la Roche School was opened for French immersion. Also built in the 1980s were Glen Cedar (1980), Denne (1985) and Canadian Martyrs (1985).

On Nov. 24, 1981, a fire in the main building of Pickering College did over $2-million damage. This catastrophe put the college in jeopardy with the result that it was forced to sell its large acreage farm to help recover from the fire and pay for a major renovation program. The farm was sold in 1985 to a numbered company that planned to use it for a 641-unit residential development.

On June 19, 1989, a public meeting was held in the Newmarket recreation complex to view proposed plans for renovation and expansion of Newmarket High, estimated cost of $11.5 million, taking 18 months to accomplish. In retrospect this seemed a ploy to sample local public reaction and to push the folly of trying to preserve the old building.

When town council was approving the sale of the Pickering College farm site, the board requested that an area be reserved for school purposes. In September 1989, it purchased 17.3 acres on the north side of Mulock Sideroad, west of Leslie Street the subdivision called College Manor, formerly part of the Pickering College farm. Meanwhile, plans were underway for the Dr. John M. Denison Secondary School in the northwest area of the town on Bristol Road. It was ready for classes in February 1991.

With approval of the Ministry of Education and a provincial grant, the York Region Board of Education finalized its plans for a new secondary school and the construction commenced early in 1994 for a $15.7-million high school, retaining the name Newmarket High School. It opened its doors on Feb.5, 1996 to 875 students and 60 teachers and with the capacity for 1,200 students.

Sadly, the official closing of the Prospect Street School was held Oct.7, 1995, leaving behind only our memories. During the summer of 1996, the old school was renovated and converted to an elementary school opening in September. In March 1994, the elementary King George School on Park became a satellite campus of Newmarket High for adult education. It was recently converted to condos.

The huge boom in the construction of both public and separate schools during the 1990s produced Armitage Village (1991), Crossland (1992), Bogart (1994), and Crossland (1992). Armitage Village school was so named in tribute to the original Armitage school that had stood at Mulock and Yonge in the hamlet of Armitage.

With the continued rapid growth in our population, one has to wonder what the next, new educational facility will next be built.

In the coming weeks I will be writing histories of Stuart Scott, King George, J.L.R. Bell, and several other schools in the area. It may take all year, but I will attempt to cover them all. You may wish to check out the school articles that have already been posted to Newmarket Today (

Sources: The History of Newmarket by Mrs. Ethel Trewhella, The History of Newmarket High School by George Luesby, Newmarket Today articles - The History of Newmarket High Vols 1, 2, 3 and 4, The History of the Grammar School, The History of Pickering College, The History of Newmarket’s First Grammar School and The History of the Alexander Muir, Records from Oral History Interviews conducted by Richard MacLeod, 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 Newmarket Today, conducts heritage lectures and walking tours of local interest, and leads local oral history interviews.

Editor's Note: The original column included an incorrect date for the opening of J.L.R. Bell Public School.