Skip to content

Sale of farmland paved way for Newmarket's first 'shopping plaza'

In this week's Remember This, History Hound Richard MacLeod, highlights the booming 1950s that saw the town transition from a peaceful, rural community to bustling suburbia

Let’s pick up on my series on the growth of Newmarket from a quaint little town to a bustling urban centre. In earlier articles, I highlighted the period from our incorporation in 1857 to the post-war period, and now I’ll focus on the decades from 1950 to 1990.

Mid-century ushered in a wide spectrum of changes here in Newmarket, which would certainly accelerate in the decades leading up to the millennium. Post-war reconstruction locally and the rehabilitation of servicemen and immigration created a surge of developers, speculators and predators who swooped down on the farmlands surround ing the town like birds of prey.

By 1950, all the farms on the town’s boundaries on all four sides were sold or on option to purchase and plans were being made for new subdivisions. New families wanted to establish themselves in a peaceful country-style environment within relatively easy access to Toronto.

Highrise buildings changed the horizon, rural roads were paved, and superhighways laced the country, which tended to accelerate the speed and density of traffic.

New subdivisions required the town council to provide new roads and utilities, schools and teachers. As a result, the tax burden became a critical issue with a lack of new industries coming to Newmarket to balance the budget and meet residential demands.

A comprehensive official plan, zoning bylaws, building codes all had to be formulated to cope with an ever-increasing number of emergencies.  

In May 1955, Mayor Alex Belugin resigned from council, vehemently opposed to any further subdivisions due to lack of sewage provisions and increased tax burden.

A new type of merchandising with remote shopping centres began in the late 1950s, casting a dark shadow on the traditional Main Street merchant. 

The Newmarket Chamber of Commerce in May 1957 appealed to council to stop further shopping plazas, but the planning committees were unable to do anything to prevent them.

Prior to 1950, Davis Drive was sparsely settled out to Yonge Street. The north side of Yonge was open farmland to the town limit and, on the south side, a parcel of land of about 10 acres belonged to Amelia Rogers with a lovely red brick 19th-century dwelling and lane on the east side entering the farm of Robert Millard.

Ernest Crossland bought the estate in 1947 but lived there only a short time before it was sold to developers. The Millard farm became a huge subdivision and the lane became Parkside Drive.

The acreage became the first “shopping plaza” and, in 1953, construction was completed for eight stores including an I.G.A., hardware, restaurant, and other convenience outlets. 

On the east side of Parkside, the five-acre property of Stanley Janes was sold to Chas. Boyd, a local realtor. The rough-cast house and nearby barn and stable were demolished and replaced by a Shell service station and a garage showroom facing onto Davis, while Deerfield Plastics on Deerfield Road occupied the remainder of the lot.

The local newspaper stated that Boyd has fulfilled his commitment to the town, quid pro quo, by providing property for commercial use as part of an agreement for approval of other residential projects. 

The Newmarket Plaza was enlarged in 1957 to contain 47 stores and a permit was issued to Dominion Stores for a new supermarket that was completed in 1959 and was further extended in 1961. 

Major developments quickly followed along Davis with the building of Upper Canada Mall in 1973 with Simpson Sears and Zellers among the retail offerings, and Yorktown Plaza in 1980 with a Loblaws and K-Mart among the stores.

For many years, the principal industries and mainstays of the economy were the Cane’s Woodenware Co. (1874 to 1927), Davis Leather Co. (1904 to 1962), Office Specialty Co. (1898 to 1971) and Dixon Pencil Co. (1931 to 1991). 

These enterprises would all disappear due to time and circumstance. The nature of industrial centres changed after 1950 to smaller and more diverse forms of manufacturing and production.

In January 1945, the Davis brothers sold their controlling interests in the Davis Leather to James A. Gairdner, a Toronto stockbroker. You can read my article on the Davis Tannery for more information on its demise.

The Office Specialty Mfg. Co. was established in Newmarket in 1898 and became the largest maker of office furniture in Canada with branch offices in all major cities from Halifax to Vancouver. 

In 1961, the shareholders sold their interests to Anthes Imperial of St. Catharines, which later sold to Molson of Montreal. The huge factory between Water and Timothy streets was demolished in 1971.

The factory north of Timothy was vacated, which signalled a complete withdrawal and the end of the OSM Co. in Newmarket.

The pursuit for new industry was a constant endeavour by council and every inducement was made to encourage enterprises that could offer local employment. Land was made available west of Charles Street, which included the original survey for road allowance from Queen Street to Huron Street (Davis).

In March 1944, Concession Street was closed and the north part 85’x 300’ facing Huron was sold to George Bender to build a casket factory. After changes of owners and uses, the building was redesigned for the Taylor Funeral Home. 

The property to the west was sold to Ross Howlett and Aubrey Scythes, where they built a factory 80’x 100’ named Industrial Wood Products to manufacture doors, sashes and kitchen cupboards. This was later purchased by the Cash & Carry Lumber Co.

Beaver Lumber Co. opened beside the railway in 1957 and, in 1994, was taken over for the Newmarket Seniors’ Meeting Place.

The west side of Charles Street, including part of Concession Street, was sold by the town to the Canadian Hoffman Co. for $200 under the terms of a bylaw to construct a factory to employ at least 50 people. The firm was a subsidiary of Hoffman Machinery Co. of New York and manufactured laundry machinery and institutional equipment. 

The incentive was to supply the new hospital addition under construction with their products. Negotiations were completed at the end of May 1945 and a new factory was built at approximately 50,000 square feet for $150,000. 

It started manufacturing in February 1947 and employed an average of 55 workers until May 1955 when it ceased operation and machinery was sold by auction and the residual business was transferred to Beatty Bros. in Fergus, Ont.

In 1957, the premises were occupied by A.P.V. (Canada), dairy, brewery and chemical equipment, later by LACAL (hydro line and cable supplies) until they ceased operations and finally, in 1980, the building no longer served as a factory. 

The Newmarket Era newspaper office moved to a new building next to the factory on Charles in 1956 after its Main Street office was destroyed by fire. The building had just been built as an industrial unit for the town in a swap with Shady Acres developers for water and sewer provisions for 42 houses in their subdivision north of Davis between Bayview Avenue and Lundy Lane.

You will remember from my article on Prohibition in Newmarket that a plebiscite for the sale of liquor and beer was held on May 2, 1957 with a “yes” vote seeing victory. A site on Charles next to the Era was chosen and the Brewers Retail Store opened on Jan.16, 1958. A new liquor store opened on Eagle Street on April 10, 1958.

In 1950, Thomas Birrell purchased 25 acres from Mabel Davis located between Bayview and Lundy Lane. The frontage of 230 feet on Davis was a swamp and after reclaiming the land, he built a showroom and service garage under the Ford franchise and opened in November 1952. 

The remainder of the property was sold to Shady Acres developers. In 1955, Brad Walker of Bradford purchased the dealership. He retired in November 1980 and sold to Paddy Shanahan of Toronto. Now, it’s a digital marketing and technology company.

Tenatronics Ltd. established its factory at Davis and Alexander Road in 1958. Originally, it intended to locate in Aurora with factory plans by George W. Luesby and contractor John W. Bowser of Aurora Building Co. for owner and president Robert Cull of Cleveland, Ohio. 

In the meantime, developer H.R. Lenhardt had an obligation to Newmarket council under Mayor Herb Gladman to provide an industry in return for permits for his subdivisions on the west side of town. 

He persuaded Tenatronics to come to Newmarket with his subsidy for supplying the land and Newmarket the water and sewer facilities. Thus, it turned out to be a three-way deal with Tenatronics, Lenhardt and the town.

The Dixon Pencil Co. had been established for 60 years when it closed on Sept. 30, 1990. It occupied the ancient factory built by William Cane in 1874 for the manufacture of a variety of wood products.

In 1990, the company had a new owner who immediately transferred the operations to Florida, releasing 60 employees and leaving only a sales and distributing office on Pony Drive. The antiquated factory was demolished and replaced by a new medical building in 1991.

For those of you who have lived here a while, many of these events are well known to you. For those who are new to the area, I hope that this look at the growth of the Davis Drive corridor has proven interesting to you.

We will look at more pockets of growth in future articles. Be sure to check out some of my earlier articles for some valuable background on Newmarket’s growth. 

Sources: The Newmarket Era; The Memorable Merchants and Trades 1950 – 1980 By Eugene McCaffrey; Stories of Newmarket – An Old Ontario Town by Robert Terence Carter; Oral History Interview with George Luesby 1997, ad History of Newmarket by Ethel Trewhella.