NewmarketToday.ca brings you this weekly feature about our town's history in partnership with Richard MacLeod, the History Hound, a local historian for more than 40 years. He conducts heritage lectures and walking tours of local interest, as well as leads local oral history interviews. You can contact the History Hound at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The old adage “location, location, location” is most certainly true when we consider the growth and prosperity of any urban centre in history. This is most certainly true of the village, soon to be the Town of Newmarket.
Newmarket has been blessed with a perfect location within the developing transportation structure of the province and it has benefited the town’s growth over the years, including being a part of the first all-electrical street railway in Canada.
In 1884, the Metropolitan Street Railway Co. came to an agreement with the communities along Yonge Street from just north of St. Clair Avenue to Toronto’s city limits, York County’s southern border. E. J. Davis, in his capacity as warden of York County, signed the agreement. Subsequently, in 1894, a further agreement was made to extend the service north through Newmarket to the Sutton/Jackson’s Point area.
The agreement with the Town of Newmarket gave the company exemption from property tax for a period of 10 years and the rights to manufacture and sell electrical power in the town and surrounding area.
Through its alliance with the established Canadian Pacific Railway system, the Metropolitan Street Railway company connected to all the principal railway lines in Canada and the United States.
From 1899 right through until 1905, the radial tracks extended right up the centre of Main Street, the King George Hotel (then the Forsyth Hotel) being the main passenger depot.
Imagine Main Street being cluttered with horse and buggies, the newly produced automobile and a radial railway. Main Street was obviously not wide enough to accommodate the tracks, so in 1905, the tracks were moved further west, passing to the rear stables of the King George Hotel, along the west side of the Town Hall and market square. north over lands now part of the Trinity United Church to Millard Avenue. The tracks then continued along Raglan Street up to Queen Street and then east along Queen to the C.C. tracks where a trestle, still there, was constructed to facilitate its route to Huron Street (Davis Drive).
The tracks then headed north toward Jackson’s Point, built between 1906 and 1909, and finally reaching Sutton in 1910. A huge construction camp housing more than 100 men was located on the north side of Queen Street.
All the materials, from the gravel to the electrical poles were moved from the city to the area by steam engine. Each section of the tracks was electrified once that section was completed.
In 1909, a special service with specially designed cars was added for weekend service to accommodate the movement of area farmers and their produce heading to market to the south. Most of the area produce was being purchased by wholesalers in Toronto, packed and shipped to the Toronto market and the larger population centre.
Until 1919, it was not uncommon to see huge box cars travelling south along the line bearing the names of New York Central, Chesapeake and Ohio express, CP Rail, CN Rail and Canadian Northern Railways. It was an ongoing pastime to identify the names on the cars and guess where the produce was headed.
An interesting fact is that the tracks on the southern end of the line, from St. Clair to York Mills, were built on the west side, whereas the tracks north to Sutton were built on the east side.
When, in 1917, the section from Farnham Avenue to Hogg’s Hollow was added to the system that stretched north to Sutton, the whole system was renamed the Toronto and York Radial Company. In 1927, the railway gauge was changed to correspond with the established gauge of the streetcar system in Toronto, which was actually 2.5 inches wider than standard gauge. Interestingly, with this change, it was no longer possible to haul freight to northern municipalities in box cars or any other type of rail car.
However, after the most profitable part of the line was absorbed by the City of Toronto, the freight services to the north were eliminated and with the growing popularity of the automobile and improvement in the road system, the line was no longer profitable and ceased to operate in this area on March 15, 1930.
Once the decision was made to discontinue the line north of Richmond Hill, the tracks and bridges were dismantled, and lowered by crane to a series of flat bed cars and transported away by CNR steam trains. The preferred location in this area for this process was on Queen Street, near the bridge, east of Main Street.
There are only a few reminders of the old radial line left behind today along the former right away. The right of way itself, between the corner of Yonge Street and Mulock along to Eagle Street, was graded and paved, becoming the Cane Parkway today. The right of way between Keswick and Sutton was also graded and paved, becoming Metro Road, named after the Metropolitan Street Railway.
While the original old radial station was demolished, there is a building there with its namesake across from the Old Town Hall on Botsford Street’s north side. The old radial arch is still there under Queen Street bridge and the old power station for the railway, in which Arrow Autobody was located, was recently demolished to make way for a new apartment building.
All of the railway cars were powered by direct current dynamos, so it was necessary to have power stations in Richmond Hill, Bond Lake, Newmarket and Keswick.
Perhaps some of you remember that the coaches on this line were painted a dark green and looked like a standard railway coach, same width but a bit shorter? The passenger could enter from either side and from the front or rear of the car.
Each car had two men, a motorman and a conductor in dark charcoal uniforms. The car could be driven from either end by just adjusting the trolley pole. Each car had an air compressor to operate the air brakes and, of course, its distinctive whistle that was blown at every crossing.
The car was divided in two sections, one was about two-thirds of the car for non-smoking passengers, and the remainder for smokers. A large, communal cup hung in the car above a basin in case you wanted a drink. It also had a primitive toilet system, just a seat with a hole through which you could see the tracks below you.
There was a row of seats on either side of the car, sofa style with a tightly-woven cane material that proved very durable. The car was heated by an electric heater that seemed to keep everyone warm. There was lots of storage space for your goods, which I would imagine was essential to the clientele.
There were a number of cars that were baggage cars, carrying the mail, as well as groceries and perishables that were loaded along the line. They also carried raw milk, headed to dairies for processing.
The railways carried repair crews with all the necessary equipment to maintain the system. During winter time, a large snow plough was attached to the front.
The Toronto and York Radial System was abandoned in several stages. The first to go was the section from Schomberg Junction (Oak Ridges to Schomberg). Next to go was the section between Sutton and Newmarket and the section between Newmarket and Richmond Hill. Finally, the section between Richmond Hill and Hogg’s Hollow was dismantled.
This line was replaced by the Grey Coach Line, which took over passenger service and various trucking lines were formed to handle the movement of freight.
If you are interested in the story of the old Metropolitan Railway Line, I urge you to watch for one of my presentations in your area, where you can get a more in-depth description of the wonders of our old electrical railway system.
Sources: The Metropolitan Railway System – a Presentation by the History Hound; Camera on King – Barry Wallace; Charles Cooper’s Railway Pages; Toronto Archives Collection; Newmarket Archives; Publications by George Luesby and Terry Carter; The History of Newmarket by Ethel Willson Trehella