The amount of research associated with my column is often considerable and does take time and effort, so while I prepare for several upcoming articles, I am going to tell you the story — my story — of how I came to write this weekly heritage column for NewmarketToday and pay tribute to the many people who have played such a huge part in its success.
Let us travel back to July 2018. I was absorbed in a variety of projects, from the recording of oral history interviews, to conducting local heritage walks and presentations. Over the years, I had written articles for history publications and newsletters, but nothing serious. I had also worked on a few publications with my uncle, George Luesby, as his research assistant as a student.
Debora Kelly, the editor of NewmarketToday, asked if I would be interested in contributing local history content to the new Village Media community online news site that was launching in the fall. I decided I would give it a try, primarily because I would have a seasoned editor to sort my historical ramblings and put them into some order for public presentation. I had endeavoured in the past to get a small space for occasional features in another community newspaper without success.
I confess there was some trepidation in my heart as to how well I would do, but I realized Debora was providing me with an incredible opportunity.
My first article for NewmarketToday appeared on Sept. 15, 2018, and covered Newmarket’s involvement in the 1837 Rebellion, a topic I had written about previously for historical newsletters. This first article was rather stiff, but Debora told me it was one of the most well-read articles that weekend. It seems Newmarket was hungry for stories about our heritage, and I was more determined than ever to learn, improve and hopefully have some fun.
I had developed a hobby centred on learning everything I could about our local history. I had structured the experience as a sort of trek, seeking topics that interested me, wandering in directions of my choosing. I wanted the NewmarketToday column to be like a "report back home", a record of the fascinating things I had seen and learned, shared with you, the readers.
We all assume our grammar and spelling acumen is first rate, but alas, I fear that was not the case, as I would soon learn. Debora’s keen professional eye was to be vital if I was to succeed with this venture. I tend to write with a flurry of passion, and often go over my allotted word count, including far too much detail. Thankfully, Debora is there to put it all in order.
Over these four years plus, I have struggled at times to complete the required research in addition to my other pursuits, but I am determined to produce a new, exciting article every week, and to this point, we have been successful. I have written while on vacation, a few times when I was under the weather, but just like the post office, we delivered.
In the summer of 2019, my colleague, Wes Playter, was kind enough to step in and provide two articles from his collection, granting me a reprieve for a couple of weekends while I was on vacation and out of touch. Thank you, Wes.
I have been blessed to receive photos, personal remembrances and anecdotes over the past four years from you, the readers, which has allowed me to enrich my articles and add to my understanding of the subject. My column on Newmarket’s Teen Town is an excellent example of a series that grew out of the personal memories of so many of you. You sent me your treasured reminisces to share them with our community.
There are so many authors, historians, friends and colleagues to to whom I am indebted, and I include you in the sources section of each column.
My library of oral history interviews has proven a valuable resource. As well, my uncle left me a huge archive of documents and photos, which I have had the opportunity to share as part of my series of articles. I was set up for success, given all the assistance I have received from so many sources.
People often ask me, "What has been your favourite article so far?" While I have enjoyed each and every one, I particularly enjoyed my look at the life of Sir William Mulock, my look back at Teen Town, and my accounts of events like the Spanish flu and polio and their local impact. For me, our local history is all about the people, and so my articles about the incredible people who have called the area home are my favourite topics.
My series on our Indigenous have proven to be both inspirational and very sad. To pay homage to our First Nation people and their part in our history has been a labour of love. The series on residential schools affected me deeply, reinforcing the reality that history is quite often unkind, brutal, cruel, and discouraging, but its examination, while sometimes painful, is a pursuit that is not only our duty but vital to our evolution.
My selection as the author of this column was not always a popular one, but thanks to Debora and her continued belief in me, I think I may have won a few of those people over — at least I hope so.
I am excited about my upcoming series on the "changing face of Newmarket," following the arrival of people from all over the world to our area, bringing a wealth of history with them. I hope to see you all back here next weekend.
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 NewmarketToday, conducts heritage lectures and walking tours of local interest, and leads local oral history interviews.You can reach him at [email protected]