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REMEMBER THIS: Newmarket's coffers bulge, thanks to 1979 boom

In this week's Remember This, History Hound Richard MacLeod continues his timeline review of Newmarket's history with a year of much commercial growth, and music and sports accolades

Let's return to our Newmarket historical timeline, focusing on the year 1979.

You will remember as we left 1978, Mayor Robert Forhan had resigned to become the head of York Region and longtime councillor Bob Scott was serving as interim mayor from Dec. 14, 1978 to Feb. 19, 1979 until an election could take place. It was great, from my perspective, to see Scott rewarded for his loyal service on council over those many years.

The year brought an election in February and new council and mayor. Raymond Twinney took office as mayor, starting what would be a lengthy term in the office. Tom Taylor was elected regional councillor and council was made up of Doris Blair, Frank Patterson, Peter Hall, Bob Scott, Dave Kerwin, Aubrey Smith and Henry Vanden Bergh.

Grant Blight was town clerk, Stuart Parks town treasurer, William Errington town solicitor, Sam Rippey fire chief and Lisa Lo chief librarian. I remember a feeling of renewal was in the air even though mayor Twinney, a disciple of mayor Forhan, had served on council both in East Gwillimbury and then in Newmarket and the mix on council was little changed.

January 1979 found the Newmarket Plaza at Davis Drive, east of Yonge Street, proposing to expand by an additional 40,000 square feet of retail space, which would include an underground cinema and three free-standing buildings facing the southern end of the plaza. You will remember that in 1976 the owner received approval for a four-storey building containing offices and stores at the eastern end of the plaza, but never proceeded. This 1979 proposal, which would have seen the plaza become a low-cost shopping centre and basically an outdoor mall, was approved by the planning department in principle, awaiting a revised site study. Some of the recommendations were eventually enacted, but the plaza by that time had deteriorated and it was felt that it was perhaps too late to move forward.

York Region council decided in January to make the section of Niagara Street between Davis and Ontario Street open to two-way traffic, reversing its earlier decision to limit traffic to one-way. It was also decided left-hand turns westbound on Davis and Niagara Street, as well as northbound on Niagara, would be curtailed.

A new 50 to 80-unit hotel was proposed for a five-acre package of land on Davis, at the Highway 404 cloverleaf. It would feature a disco, lounge, restaurant and banquet facilities and was approved Jan. 16 by the planning department. The plan included completion by fall and was to employ 50 people locally.

Council also moved to fill two vacancies on administrative boards, appointing Bruce Andrews to the committee of adjustment and Barbara Ann Dixon to the library board.

The $457,000 extension to the library was opened to the public Jan. 2, even though construction continued on the interior. The expected grant from Wintario for $200,000 was delayed and the town had to pay the entire cost, taking a loan estimated to cost taxpayers $10,000. You will remember, however, that the extension looked great and served a real need within the community.

The three candidates for mayor were grilled at an all-candidates meeting Feb. 5 at the Legion. Candidates were asked to disclose any property they may own in Newmarket. Claire Salisbury indicated he owned a home on Carlson Drive and Gorham Street, a property on Davis, and eight acres on Yonge, just north of Upper Canada Mall. Twinney indicated he owned a house on Julia Court and that was it. Bud Eige also indicated his home was the only property he owned. A strange question perhaps, but at the time it was a concern that the mayor could find himself involved in local businesses and that a conflict may arise.

Another question concerned the commercial development of Yonge. Eige indicated Yonge was already 90 per cent developed and he felt that there was little need for more development. Salisbury, while stating that he was not anti-development, felt citizens should be consulted as to what they wanted Yonge to look like into the future. Twinney indicated the development door was already wide open, and that the town should at least listen to developers' proposals before making any decisions. In hindsight, it is interesting to revisit that exchange knowing what we know now.

In February, the town began to examine the idea of it running its own transit system. Councillor Kerwin maintained it was more cost effective for the town to buy buses and run them itself, as currently the town had purchased the bus and then paid Travelways $18.50 per hour to service the system. It was estimated through provincial grants, the town could purchase the buses, service the system and save about $25,000 per year. Kerwin presented a complete costing of the various options. The concept would be accepted, and the town went into the transit business

In March, the town decided to pursue the building of a new arts centre.The pros and cons of such a centre were debated, with a decision deferred indefinitely.

Council also looked at what the ideal term for a councillor looked like and decided a three-year term was best for Newmarket. Councillor Scott felt we already had too many elections and that a less frequent return to the polls would be more frugal. Also decided was the installation of a $150 fee for anyone seeking public office.

A small three-storey plaza was proposed for the southwest corner of Elgin Street and Sutton Road. The proposal had been presented earlier but it was not until March 1979 that it was discussed seriously. The plans for the 4,060 square foot unit would include a Becker’s store, along with two other tenants. The plaza would face Sutton, but the entrance would be off Elgin. Mayor Twinney indicated there was some opposition to the plaza, but it was finally set to proceed.

The official opening of St. Paul Separate School on William Roe Boulevard took place on April 22, after being blessed by Father William Scanlon. The new school consisted of seven classrooms, a library and office with an initial enrolment of 212 students from grades 1 to 6. Junior kindergarten would still take place at St. John School on Main Street until October 1979.

In April, a huge apartment fire on Huron Heights Drive gutted 36 of 110 units in an uncompleted apartment building causing $500,000 in damage. The fire drew 23 firefighters from Newmarket and Aurora and delayed the completion of the building for two months.

How many of you remember that in May 1979 Newmarket had both boats and fast food services at Fairy Lake? Tony Martin received a one-year concession from the town to rent paddle boats and canoes at Fairy Lake and to run a food trailer selling fast food and bird food. There were three paddle boats for rent at $2.25 per hour and six canoes at $3.75 per hour. In the winter, the trailer remained for skaters. It was announced a service club would build a permanent structure for skaters.

The year certainly brought real growth to Newmarket under Twinney. Nearly one million square feet of new commercial floor space was built. A new 160,000-square-foot plaza was given the green light for the corner of Davis and Yonge with a Loblaws, Kmart, and Mother’s Pizza. There were plans for three more malls and Upper Canada Mall would add another 20,000 square feet of space on the northeast side of Davis. A new 200,000-square-foot plaza was to go up on the northeast corner of the Sutton and Davis. Let us not forget the 40,000-square-foot expansion of the Newmarket Plaza that finally got under way in 1979.

In May, South Lake Simcoe Conservation Authority turned over Fairy Lake to the town on a 99-year lease. The town renamed the park the Wesley Brooks Memorial Park.

The Newmarket Arts and Crafts Council opened an office in the community centre. Jennifer Gilbert was hired to run the office and the president was Diane Humeniuk.

A new grocery store and cleaners, with six apartments above, was proposed in May for the corner of Gorham Street and Alexander Road to be developed by Sam Rabba of Sam’s Aft Cabin.

In June, an Ontario historic plaque was dedicated at the Pioneer Burying Ground on Eagle Street. 

Newmarket hired two bylaw enforcement officers, Gail Barber and Maureen Gutherie, in July to ticket illegally parked cars as part of their duties. Their story is quite amusing as it seems they received some interesting reactions from the community, some understanding of their job, others less so. They saw themselves as providing a service, keeping traffic moving smoothly and making sure that shoppers had a place to park.

The BIA and Downtown Merchants Association joined forces on July 31, to be known henceforth as the BIA under the leadership of Bruce Wilkinson.

The year 1979 saw the destruction of the Newmarket Lawn Bowling facility by fire in July. The fire was attributed to a break-in, causing over $200,000 in damage. Plans were immediately put into place to rebuild the clubhouse and replace the lost trophies and furnishings.

Sadness hovered over the town in August when the inevitable demolition of Alexander Muir School began. At that point, no decision had been made as to what would be built on the property. It eventually became a nursing home. The cornerstone and the contents were given to the town.

Fire chief Rippey, in an August report, indicated the Davis Drive fire station needed to expand to accommodate a growing town. He suggested the purchase of the Newmarket Gospel Hall for an estimated $200,000. The proposal was sent to the capital expenditures committee for review.

The newly formed BIA announced in August that Main Street would receive a face-lift in the fall with new planters, trees, benches and a flagpole installed at a cost of $15,000. The area to be improved was a four-block stretch from Water Street to Millard Avenue.

Council announced that the area along Main from Davis to Millard had never been officially zoned and that oversight needed to be resolved immediately. The issue was not recognized until lawyer John Rogers proposed building a new 4,400-square-foot office building near the old craft store and the planning department discovered that the area was not zoned and was open to anybody who wished to construct any structure there.

Complaints were directed to council in October from shoppers on Main who were being nabbed with a $20 fine for not feeding the parking machines with enough money. Council decided to offer a 20-minute period of grace to help relieve the issue. Interestingly, councillor Hall indicated only cars were ticketed, never trucks or delivery vans.

In October, we discovered the Christian Baptist Church had sponsored a group of eight ‘boat people,’ as they were called then. The location of these refugees was never revealed and plans to bring in more were being discussed. The report documented how well they had acclimatized to the area and how well the children were doing in school. All the new citizens spoke some English, with the children being quite efficient in their language skills.

Due to an increase in usage of the local transit, a third bus was added on the west side of town at a cost of $2,000. This would provide service every half-an-hour instead of every hour.

A York Region Real Estate Board office opened on Yonge in November and more than 750 members toured the offices.

A new used book emporium opened on Davis at Charles Street, run by Len and Barry Abbott. As someone who loves to read, I found the store a real goldmine.

The Big Sisters of York opened its doors Dec. 4 at the old St. John parish office on Main with Nancy Reugg as president.

December 1979 brought the death of former mayor Drew Doak. For those who have been reading my articles these past four years, Doak was a real force locally involved in nearly every aspect of Newmarket life. It is always a huge community loss when people like him pass.

I mentioned earlier that 1979 was a year of immense growth locally and as a result, the town coffers were bulging with tax gold. The town received a total of $4.2 million from developers alone and the revenue was still coming in, making the town’s financial future for 1980 very bright, indeed.

Bell Telephone predicted Christmas 1979 would be the busiest ever for its services. It was predicted more than 24,900 calls would originate locally, and 41 operators would be on duty during the Christmas period.

I will close this column with some social news that caught my eye. In January, the library held a fundraising gala wine and cheese party as part of the drive to raise the $200,000 needed for expansion. It would appear they were very successful as many of the service clubs made generous contributions and the proceeds from the private affair raised a substantial amount. Also, regarding the library, Ken Peevers was elected chairman of the Central Ontario Regional Library System, as well as serving on the Ontario Library and Canadian Library Boards.

Alfred Tout, a skilled craftsman in the medium of bamboo and wood, established a workshop over the old Victoria and Grey Office on Main. Tout was a First World War veteran who was legally blind and yet at the age of 84 established a new enterprise – amazing.

If you read my column on the Lions Music Festival, you will remember Gail Rettie, who at the tender age of 12 had amazed the crowd at St. John's auditorium as she performed on the piano. Well, at the 19th annual festival in April 1979, her son, Derek, was set to keep the Rettie name alive as he was scheduled to perform. She also pointed to six-year-old Jeff, who was waiting in the wings. Both Gail and Derek credit their piano teacher, May Patterson, for their continued interest in perfecting their piano skills.

A young Ken Losell was an up-and-coming musical talent in 1979 having just recorded an album. Also, in 1979, the Huron Heights Band placed first at the London Kiwanis Music Festival and was also enrolled in the Newmarket Music Festival.

The Newmarket Pipe Band had a banner year in 1979, winning numerous awards and travelling extensively to competitions both domestically and internationally, bringing honours back to Newmarket in the process.

Peter Gorman Ltd. accepted the national Association of Tobacco Distributors Award, the first non-U.S. company to do so.

The TV program The Littlest Hobo visited Upper Canada Mall in May, along with its stable of five German shepherds to dazzle the crowd.

The Ambassadors Drum and Bugle Corps appeared at their second Blue Jay game in June. The Newmarket Rays continued their winning ways, winning the title at the World International Fastball tournament with Bill Lunney named the top pitcher and Les Downing winning the home run title for the second consecutive year.

Diane Ingram continued to shine in the bowling world and Connie Boyd won a spot in the three-year National Ballet School program.

And with that, we close the books on the year 1979. I hope that you will join me next weekend when we pick the story up again with the year 1980.

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.