As a young child growing up in Newmarket, I loved that the Salvation Army had its church just down the street from our home on Queen Street. Many a night our family would gather on our porch to listen to their band play at the corner of Queen and Niagara Street and I was intrigued by this public style of worship. We would slip down to the church as children and quietly listen at the windows as the voices raised in praise and the music rang out. My church was nothing like this.
For this week’s article, I will trace the Salvation Army’s history in Newmarket and the role it has played in creating the fabric of our community.
The Salvation Army in Canada started in London, Ontario in May 1882. Two years later, Canada was recognized as a Territory and declared as such by its founder, Gen. William Booth.
During the first year, the Army opened just more than a dozen corps in Ontario and in December 1883,Capt. Thomas Mitchell, wearing what looked like a railway hat with a wide red band with the words ‘Salvation Army’ in yellow lettering on it, arrived in Newmarket by sled to open the Army’s work here.
In the first 100 years of its presence here, more than 109 officers have held a command. By June 1884, with 82 members, Newmarket was a growing hot spot for the Army.
They used a variety of locations initially for as their meeting place, but they settled eventually on the old Mechanics Hall on Millard Avenue as their barracks (church), with meetings on the main floor and dinners in the basement.
The next location was on the site of the Post Office on Main Street and then, in 1896, the old Episcopal Methodist Church on Queen, at the time owned by the Society of Friends, which became their longtime premises. According to records in the Registry Office, the Society of Friends, through trustee Allan Cody, did not actually sell the property on to the Salvation Army until Dec. 30, 1903.
When I was a child, the Salvation Army was still located on Queen, on the north side just west of Main. They eventually moved to the College Manor community, off Mulock Drive, in 1991 and then built a new citadel on Leslie Street, on the west side, just north of Aurora Road in 2006. These moves were necessitated by an ever-growing membership, which in these times is extraordinary.
The Army’s innovative methods were extremely effective in rousing people from the apathy that prevailed, and it was not long after their arrival in Newmarket that a change in the morality of the community was duly noticed.
The Salvation Army quickly become an important part of life in our community and the social work it performed was appreciated by its citizens. Because of the courageous stand of those first pioneers, the Army continues its good work today.
Paying tribute to the Salvation Army, Mayor Herbert Gladman (1954 - 1957) expressed appreciation for the good work of the Salvation Army , hoping that “ it would long continue”. He added that most of the then members of Newmarket’s council had served in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces and were, therefore, better able to appreciate the value of the work of the Salvation Army than others.
However, the boisterous presence of the Salvationist was not initially welcomed by some of Newmarket’s fairly staid population. One June weekend in 1884, a detachment of 18 “soldiers” arrived in Newmarket with their drums, cymbals and hallelujah songs and marched from their base to the Mechanics Hall on Millard. To say that the Army and its demonstrations were not too well accepted would be an understatement.
On this occasion, a prayer meeting was held at the Mechanics Hall until well past 5 a.m. They then proceeded to set out at 6 a.m. for a loud march with drums and shouting voices, reported the Newmarket Era of the time.
People from outlying areas came to town by the wagon full, more than 300 strong, and proceeded to parade with their drums, triangles, tambourines and the such. It is said that they marched from the northern end of town to the south end of Main. The Era reported this group marched to a musical strain often drowned out by a general din of disorder and confusion, people shouting, singing with little regard for the time or any general harmony. The town had seldom seen such religious fervor.
One evening in 1900, the Army held one of its traditional banquets attended by more than 500 people and after the meal, they proceeded to march to the Old Town Hall, where they were joined by 800 officers from as far away as Philadelphia, all led by Major Coombs, Commissioner for North America. This new religious order was taking its message to the populous and everyone certainly knew they were there.
An interesting incident occurred one evening in 1900 on Main Street that is well worth relating. The Army was holding one of its traditional street-corner meetings and it drew such a huge crowd that the Main merchants complained to the authorities.
Const. Bogart and his son marched off a large group to the local lockup. Someone had the forethought to call Mayor Cane, who was known to be a friend of the Army. He arranged for the release of those who were imprisoned on the grounds that one cannot hold males and females in the same cells. Good thing they were released promptly as a large and rowdy group had gathered outside the jail, threatening to tear it down if the people were not released. Upon their release, they proceeded to march up Main, their flag flying proudly and the crowds applauding.
The Salvation Army has always considered itself not only a church, but also a social agency like the Red Cross. It was proud of its ability to provide for both the physical and spiritual bread desperately needed by the population. They take their ministry to the people, on the streets or to their homes.
Today, the Army provides family services, counselling, and welfare, music, the thrift store for inexpensive clothing and furniture and, of course, it feeds those who need help in a crisis. You will find Army members involved in every type of social work, from summer camps and rehabilitation centres to aiding those who find themselves in the corrections or family court system. One of their passions has been the problems of substance abuse and its outlying issues.
During the Second World War, Newmarket was the site of one of the Basic Training Military Camps and the Salvation Army maintained a depot there to administer to both the physical and spiritual needs of the thousands of soldiers who passed through. You could receive counselling, spiritual guidance and cigarettes — quite the range of services.
The Salvation Army was instrumental in the push toward Prohibition that gripped Newmarket in 1885 and lasted until 1957. When the Salvation Army arrived in 1883, these were the conditions they found: public drunkenness; children, shoeless, ragged, and hungry running about the streets; and mothers and wives faded and jaded, broken-hearted, and facing empty cupboards but bravely striving to keep their home together. They at once set to work to alleviate these cases of suffering and it was not long before a change became evident.
Growing up, I came to know so many members of the church, people who lived their faith. Randy Davy was an excellent musician I met at high school who learned his trade playing in the Army band. As a child, my parents had friends who were involved in the Salvation Army and I was able to develop a warm respect for their community efforts and their expansive sharing of the faith. They truly walked the walk. One of my friends and mentors was a member of the Army, Jim Nuttall, whose devotion to the community was second to none and his faith was a key factor in the strength of his character.
During the Christmas season, you see them throughout the community, manning their kettles and collecting money for their many community efforts. They are a constant within the community and have been for well over 100 years. Hats off to these “soldiers of the Lord” who have played a huge part in our social fabric since 1883.
Sources: The Newmarket Era, March 17, 1933, The Newmarket Era, Jan. 4, 1884, The Newmarket Era, June 18,1884, The Newmarket Era, September 1888, The History of Newmarket by Ethel Trewhella, Newmarket Centennial 1857 – 1957 by John Luck, Stories of Newmarket by Robert Terence Carter
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.