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Remember This, Newmarket: When soldiers came from across Canada for training

In this week's column, History Hound Richard MacLeod continues his review of the pivotal years of 1939 and 1940

Let's continue our look back to the years 1939 and 1940 in Newmarket’s history. When we left off last time, they were commencing the building of the Army Camp and the first soldiers were about to arrive in Newmarket. You can read part one here.

Local businesses are starting to reap the benefits of having 3,500 new soldiers in town. The town’s business register indicates there were about 200  active businesses in Newmarket, 99 businesses and trades that are located on the east side of Main Street and another 91 on the west side of Main Street.  

There have been a few changes in our council as Dr. Boyd has left and Dr. L. Dales has replaced him as our mayor and A. Armstrong had replaced Dennis Mungoven on council.  James Sloss was still our police chief with Kenneth Mount and W. Curtis identified as officers of record. 

Max Boag is the local customs officer and L. P. Cane is the postmaster. The local public-school board is made up of  W.H. Eves, chairman, R.L. Pritchard, secretary-treasurer, R.E. Manning, Dr. Charles Edwards, Frank Bothwell, and L.B. Rose. 

The town records identify 13 municipal properties on the roster:

  • Fire Hall – West Main Street
  • Clerk’s Office – West Main Street
  • The Town Hall and Market Place – Botsford Street
  • Police Office – Botsford Street
  • Water and Light Plant – Prospect Street East.
  • The Reservoir, Prospect Street
  • Pumping Station – Srigley Street
  • Agricultural Park – Pine Street East
  • Memorial Park – D’Arcy Street
  • Widdifield Park – Water Street
  • Lions Club Park – Church to Lorne Avenue
  • York County Hospital – Huron Street (Davis Drive)
  • York County Nurses Residence – Next to York County Hospital on Davis Drive

There were also four government properties listed:

  • The Post Office – Main Street
  • The York County Registry Office – Main Street 
  • The York County Industrial Home – Yonge and Eagle Street
  • The Dominion of Canada Army Training Camp – Fairgrounds

The wartime entertainment scene began to heat up. In March 1940, Newmarket’s own Max Boag Band played to a capacity crowd at the ‘Y’ Theatre at Camp Borden with Polly Dobson and  Gene McCaffrey the featured vocal soloists.

The hot news in June 1940 was the expected rise in tax revenues as reported by Mr. Mathews, our town clerk.

Not all was rosy economically, however.  The markets abroad for fine leather products forced the Davis Leather Company to lay off men in the local plant.  The Office Specialty though had been asked to ramp up production on its government contracts and so the Specialty would increase their staff, absorbing some of those men who were laid off at the Tannery.  

Campaigns to raise funds through the sale of War Savings Bonds and to ration essential items began in earnest locally.  In July 1940 it was reported in the local newspaper that $235 worth of savings bonds were sold at the local Strand Theatre on Main Street.  

In addition, local musicians put on shows throughout the area. Local musicians like  Jack Arlitt and Mr. Donnie Cribber on the cornet,  James Bradford, and his father on the drums and Harold Gadsby, a local vocal soloist and the Art West Band presented shows to benefit the war drive.

In October 1940 the first class of trainees arrive for the opening of Newmarket’s Military Camp.  There were already over 100 officers and staff already here, including Lieut. Col. R.B. Harkness who was the commanding officer of the camp and Major B. Hanley who was second in command.    

I mentioned in instalment one of this series that the grounds of the Connaught Gardens development were handed over to the Army Camp for its use. For the record, there were, at the time, 81  building lots on the books when the property was transferred for the military camp.

An item from the local newspaper tells us Ross Caradonna, a local businessman and a proud new Canadian, donated $100 to the local Red Cross and $25 to the Veterans Comfort Fund.  The generosity of the local business community is noted in most publications.

The primary news item of 1940 was, of course, the initial deployment of our local boys, to basic training and then overseas. The newspaper published their photos each week, proudly listing where they had been deployed and quite often giving a little background history about them.

According to those who I have been honoured to interview, including my own Mom, there was a great sense of pride that our own were off to save the world but there was also an underlying feeling of trepidation and fear on everyone’s lips concerning these young men, the fear that they may not return safe and sound. 

For some of our boys, this was in fact the case. I think that is why we opened our hearts to those who passed through our army camp, we hoped that someone would look after our boys wherever they were and we in turn were determined to take good care of those young men who arrived here, albeit for a short time.

Under the headline ‘Newmarket Boys Help Whallop Hitler’, published Dec. 31, 1940, in the Newmarket Era, we are introduced to just a few of the local men who had already been called up for service. The article lists their name, rank, and where they are currently serving.  I have included this page from the Era with the other photos for your information.  I recognize several of the names listed. 

Our boys were deployed to a variety of destinations. Here is a listing of the young men who were now serving their country in December 1941.  You may recognize many of them. Some of the young men had already crossed the ocean and were now serving in England.  They included: Pte. Don Lyall, Pte. Albert Skelton, Pte. Reg. Bell, Pte. Fred Evans, Cpl. Tom Smith, Pte. Chuck Harrison, Gunners J and G. Harmon, Pte. Allan McDonald, Ptes. Earl and Walter Wrightman, Pte. Percy Myers, Pte. Wilfred Pipher, Driver Percy Lloyd, Pte. Art Brymer, Pte. R. Chappel, Cpl. Gordon Thompson, and Cpl. Ted Robinson. 

Still posted here in Canada we have Pte. Vic Bridges, Airman A, Rowland, Lieutenant  Dr. Bartholomew, Seaman Joe Gladman, Gnr. Howard Brown, Gnr. Art Dobbie, Pte. Elias Fairey, Pte. Roy Chant, Pte. Bob Fountain, Airman Walter Gilroy, Airman J. R. Eakins, Sgt. Albert Lindenbaum, Pte. Ross Greenwood, Pte. David Tait, Pte. Percy Pemberton, and Pte. Bill Dowling.   And serving at our Army Camp we had Capt. Dr. Edwards.

These men’s names listed above are but a brief example of the parade of local lads who were signing up in Newmarket starting in the fall of 1940, and it would continue until the war’s conclusion.  

As you can imagine, the fall of 1940 was a pivotal point in our history for so many of our local families, in fact for the whole community. The war had taken on a fierce reality for the town, and I believe it changed the very soul of Newmarket profoundly. The streets of Newmarket were now populated by young men from all over Canada, of every religion, race, and ethnic background. It brought the world to our doorstep.

This would continue for the next five or six years. Every six weeks, a new group of 3,500 young men would arrive and be absorbed into our community. Some would return after the war and make Newmarket home. Sadly, some would never return. The harsh reality of war was now upon the town of Newmarket. That tends to change a community, becoming embedded into the very fibre of the town.

I hope that you have enjoyed this brief look back at the years 1939 and 1940, two years that I argue were pivotal in the history of our Newmarket.

Sources: The Memorable Merchants and Trades 1930 to 1950 by Eugene McCaffrey and George Luesby; 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. 


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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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