Skip to content

Retracing the steps of Yonge Street's original settlers (14 photos)

In this week's Remember This, History Hound Richard MacLeod follows the path of Newmarket's pioneer Quaker families, many of whom achieved remarkable success

I want to take you on a little walking tour of Yonge Street, albeit only in your mind, stretching from St. John’s Sideroad, north to Green Lane, to retrace the steps of Yonge Street’s original settlers.

Reading through the names of the settlers who came from the United States, post American Revolution, along with Timothy Rogers beginning in 1801, is like reading through a list of the who’s who of Newmarket history.  

These names remain on our lips today, memorialized on local streets and parks all around us. There are some descendants of these early settlers still around town to this very day.

If I could ask you, for a moment, to imagine walking on the west side of Yonge, heading north from St. John’s Sideroad, you would see the following farms, all 200 acres in size and hewed out of a massive primeval forest. 

Please remember Yonge was a virtual dirt path at the time, just beginning to be passable for wagon and horse. To give you an idea of the size of the grants, the 200 acres stretched west from Yonge to Bathurst streets, while those properties on the east stretched from Yonge to Bayview Avenue.  That was essentially all of Newmarket at the time. Those lots were, in time, partitioned off and the portions sold to men like John Millard.

We would first pass the farms of Benjamin Pearson, Jas. Gilbert, Isaac Hollingshead, Nathaniel Gamble, Rufus Rogers, Asa Rogers, Isaac Rogers, Wing Rogers, Obadiah Rogers, Nathaniel Gager, Bethel Huntly, William Phillips and Ephraim Talbut, whose farm was located at the corner of Green Lane and Yonge.

If  you have the energy, let us now walk back down Yonge to St. John’s, along the east side. We would begin our return trip at the Henry Procter farm at Yonge and Green Lane and head south. On our way, we would pass the farms of Theodore Winn, Obadiah Griffin, Thomas Young, Nehemiah Hide, Timothy Rogers, Henry Crone, Jas McMurty, Simon McMurty, Stephen Barbarce, Nathaniel Hastings, Nathaniel Gamble Sr., Andrew Clubine, Jas Miles, and Robert Ward.  These were the original settlers who received those initial land grants from the government, through their coordination with Timothy Rogers and his shrewd efforts in 1801.

The conditions imposed on the settlers by the government, as part of accepting this grant of 200 acres of land, were: within 12 months of taking possession of the land, they must have cleared a spot and erected a dwelling of at least 16 feet by 20 feet; and have cleared at least five acres of land and fenced it for agriculture.  

An ingenious idea by the government was to also stipulate that each settler must clear and maintain their section of Yonge from the front of their lot to the middle of the road, which amounted to about one-acre, within the first year, according to the council declaration of 1798. The government was, in fact, having the settlers clear, build and maintain their section of Yonge as a condition of settlement, thus building the highway for the government.

Perhaps the most famous of those early settlers was Timothy Rogers, who was quite the early entrepreneur, arriving in York on horseback, discovering Newmarket and all its available land in 1799.  He quickly petitioned the government for the land outlined above, foreseeing the future value and inherent opportunities.  

He also knew just who his customers would be, as well. Knowing that the Quaker families from Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont and New Jersey wanted to leave American rule in the Upper United States and find freedom under British rule, a place where they could build a Quaker community, he began spreading the word of land available. My Lundy ancestors were attracted to the area by Rogers in 1802.  

We are told that he and his extended family arrived in seven sleighs from Pennsylvania in the winter of 1801. Timothy Rogers was the patriarch of the Rogers family that would include Edward (Ted) Rogers, owner of Rogers Communications. 

Timothy Rogers, himself, received title to the lands at what is now Davis Drive and Yonge in 1804. He sold a great deal of his holdings and repeated the process of acquiring land in other areas of the province, bringing in settlers, essentially utilizing the same blueprint over and over again. Timothy Rogers was an overseer, ensuring that the settlers cleared enough land to be able to retain title to their farms.

The Rogers name became synonymous with our local history over the centuries. Samuel Rogers, born in Newmarket in 1824, established an oil company in Toronto that would eventually become Imperial Oil.  He was one of the party of Quakers behind the establishment of Pickering College. His younger brother, Elias Rogers, born in 1850, became vice-president of the Imperial Bank of Canada.

Edward Samuel Rogers, born in 1900, was a pioneer in the early days of radio. As a teacher at Pickering College, he invented the battery-less radio and founded the Standard Radio Manufacturing Company, which eventually grew into Standard Broadcasting, the basis of the Rogers Communication Company of today.

Now let us give you some context as to the original pioneer properties and what we can see today. The only two land grants still in existence are the Mulock estate (Mulock and Yonge), which once belonged to Rufus Rogers, and the old Crossland Estate at Millard and Yonge, which was once the property of Jas Rogers. Yes, they have been subdivided over the years, but they remain more or less intact until the late 1990s.

The Upper Canada Mall is on the land grant of Obediah Rogers and what I remember as the Doan and Ballard estates were on the old Nathaniel Gager farm. For those who remember Poplar Bank school, it was on the land grant of Ephraim Talbut.  

The Quaker Meeting House and burial ground is on the property initially granted to Asa Rogers and given to the Society by Elias Rogers and his son (two acres) in 1807.

The Hicksite Meeting House and Burial Grounds were on the Nathaniel Gamble property — the burial ground is still there behind Belinda Place’s emergency and transitional housing facility.

The multiplex cinema in East Gwillimbury is built on the original land held by Henry Procter.

The old winding trail in from Yonge to Main Street was there at the time (now Eagle Street) and the Lewis Farm, when I was a child, was part of the Jas McMurty property.

Some of these settlers eventually sold their properties and moved on, some like the Phillips and the Rogers stayed for generations on their land. As I said above, the Rogers estate at Mulock and Yonge Streets was purchased by Sir William Mulock and thrived. Now a chunk of it is slated to become a public space, which is pretty cool actually!

Over the years, I have posted pictures and sketches of the original settler homes on my Facebook page, the History Hound, but I felt that an article on the early land grants along Yonge was in keeping with the theme of this series of heritage articles. 

Sources: History of Newmarket by Ethel Trewhella, The Yonge Street Story by F. R. Berchem, The Memoirs of Timothy Rogers, The Newmarket Era – Our Pioneer Roots, sketches and Maps from the George Luesby Collection

****** 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 [email protected].