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The first photograph of Newmarket, and other fun historical tidbits (12 photos)

In this week's Remember This, History Hound Richard MacLeod shares an array of interesting stories and facts about Newmarket's people and places

Let’s look at some of the individuals, places and events that highlight Newmarket’s rich and sometimes strange history.

Newmarket’s second brewery (distillery) was located on D’Arcy Street at Church Street and was run by Thomas Jebb. (The first was located on Davis Drive, where the Co-Op was once located.) The building is interesting as it was also used as a quarantine hospital during the time of the emigrant ship fever of 1848-49.   Newcomers to the area often found this their first abode in Newmarket.   

The first carding and frilling mill (part of the creation of cloth from its native wool) in Newmarket and considered the first in western Ontario was built by Eli Gorham in 1808 as part of Joseph Hill’s gristmill at Fairy Lake before it moved north of the Phoenix woollen mills. 

Eventually it moved just east of Prospect Street on Gorham Street around 1813. It was consumed by fire a few times and rebuilt several times before 1900. You can read about the mill in an earlier article of mine on Newmarket Today.

Newmarket’s first blacksmith shop was built by a man with the surname Gilbert.   When his son, Ira, took over the business, he moved it to Eagle Street.

In earlier articles, I have referenced the fact that Newmarket was prone to damaging floods. During the great flood of 1875, 16 bridges were washed away. The photograph shows the wreckage of the Water Street bridge. 

Rowe’s house, which we can see in the background, was the first post office in Newmarket and sat where Cousin’s Dairy was located on the southeast corner of Water and Main streets.

Another photograph above records the laying of the cornerstone of the Methodist Church (now the United Church) on May 24, 1879.  

We think that we get snow now, but see the  photograph taken in the 1940s showing  Main Street buried under more than three feet of snow and ice.

The photo shows the east side of Main, where the Chainway, Loblaws, Dominion and Smith’s hardware were once located. Note that the buildings all had verandahs stretching over the street.

The first school in the Newmarket district was established on Yonge Street in 1806 by the Quakers, a school that it is said presented a curriculum well above the average educational institutions to the south, all retained under the jurisdiction of the local Quaker Monthly Meeting.  

The school was the district school, open to all children. The pupils would be “furnished with such books as they stand in need of at a reasonable price.”

The first school opened in the Township of Whitchurch, of which Newmarket was once a part, was in a log building on Lot No.90, on the southwest corner of the second concession and the Bogarttown Road, and the children of Newmarket walked there. It was known as the District School. William Stephens was the first teacher.  

Records are a bit vague about the early schools of Newmarket. The first school within Newmarket proper was in the basement of William Roe’s house, at the corner of Main and Water streets. William Barber was the teacher, who also kept a hotel on Eagle Street, and the school, taught by a Mr. Snowdon, was to continue in a building adjoining the hotel.

Also mentioned as one of the first public schools in Newmarket, regulated by local trustees, was conducted by George Evans in part of an old distillery on D’Arcy Street (mentioned above). The minutes of an early school meeting state that the Common School was established in Newmarket in 1823.

The first grammar school north of Toronto was established in 1842 on Millard Avenue at the corner of Raglan with H.J. Brothwick as its first teacher. The building is apartments today.

The first ‘meeting house’ located within the hamlet of Newmarket dedicated to public worship was the Methodist meeting house on Prospect at Timothy built in 1825 and removed in 1882. Remember, Yonge Street at the time was not considered part of Newmarket, hence the Quaker Meeting House was not technically within Newmarket proper.

The first ‘native clergy’ in Newmarket were Rev. Robert Taylor of the Church of England and Rev. Henry Gordon of the Church of Scotland.

The first lawyer located in Newmarket is said to have been Mr. Blackstone. Peter Robinson, J.P. was the first resident of Newmarket elected to the Canadian Parliament, John Cawthra the second and William B. Robinson the third.

The first physician in the Newmarket area was Dr. Christopher Beswick, who arrived in Newmarket in 1809, along with Mr. George Lount, father of Samuel Lount of 1837 Rebellion fame. Dr. Beswick is probably best known for having lived 118 years.  

Robert Srigley was the first agricultural implement maker in the area, a monopoly in the making. Our first postmaster was Peter Robinson.

For those who care about these things, the first family-owned covered carriage was owned Thomas Millard. At one time, Millard owned huge swaths of land between Yonge and Main streets, hence Timothy Street and Millard Avenue bear his name and Botsford Street bears his son-in-law’s name.

Newmarket was known to have probably the best three-day fairs north of Toronto, held primarily at the old Fairgrounds. For those who have read my articles about the social life of Newmarket in the past, you will remember that Newmarket was known for the fair, circuses, really any opportunity that presented itself for a celebration.  

The photograph above is of the Newmarket Citizens’ Band parading down Main with Const. George Trivett leading the way.  Notice that Main is unpaved and still has wooden sidewalks. 

We all know about the Davis Tannery, located on the west side of the Holland River on Huron Street (Davis Drive) but there was once another large tannery across the river on the east side. Richard Parks owned this tannery beside the turning basin for the canal and it would appear to have been a real going concern from the articles in the Era and the mention of it in the financial papers of the time.  Unfortunately, it was destroyed by fire (surprise, surprise) around 1900.

The picture taken from the steeple on the Christian Church on Main Street is looking south and gives us a great look at the west side of Main as it was before the Post Office and the Methodist /United Church were built.  You do see the Royal Hotel, which is still there. 

I have included what is generally considered to be the earliest photograph of Newmarket from around 1861 and a diagram to aid in the identification of the structures in the photo.

We see the original buildings on the east side of Main that were destroyed in the great fire of 1861. We see three of the early homes in Newmarket, Col. Cotters’ home beside Fairy Lake, Dye’s Inn on Eagle Street and The Cedars, an impressive home on Victoria Street. Dye’s Inn and the Cedars are still there today. We also see the Grammar school on Millard Avenue and two early churches, the original St. Paul’s, and the original Presbyterian church. 

Old photographs are often the only evidence available to us to document our older structures along with any sketches that were done at the time. Have a close look at the photo and see if you can identify any other structures you can recognize.

It is said that the first settlers west of the Holland River were Mr. Wallace, Mr. Armstrong, Mr. McBeth, Mr. Stoddart, Mr. Ferris, Mr. Sutherland, Mr. Parker, Mr. West, and Mr. Penfield between the years 1819 and 1824. Amazingly, there was no bridge over the Holland River and so it was only in the winter, when the ice froze, that people, animals and goods could pass over to the west side.  

In the summer, the only means of communication between these first families who settled there and the settlements along Yonge Street at Holland Landing and Newmarket was through the marshland and the crossing of the river in dug-out canoes. Eventually a floating bridge was built, and the marshes causewayed.   

This leads us to a story that I found amusing as well as incredibly enlightening while doing my research.  It seems that if one were not part of the clergy of the Church of England or the Catholic Church, you could not legally perform marriages.  

It was in the earliest days of the settlement of West Gwillimbury before the existence of bridges over the Holland River that our story takes place. A couple on the west side of the Holland river wished to marry and they petitioned Peter Robinson, the justice of the peace, to issue their banns of marriage and solemnize their marriage. 

It would have meant a walk of about 12 miles for the parties to meet for any ceremony and Robinson came up with a novel idea. The wedding party would make their way to the east shore of the Holland River, at a designated spot and Robinson would travel to the same spot, on the west side.  As chances had it, the weather was stormy, the marshes filled to the brim. Robinson mounted his horse and urged it out into the river up to his waist and proceeded to marry the couple.

Our ancestors made do, finding ingenious ways to cope with the circumstance in which they found themselves; life went on, it seems.  

This ends this weekend’s history tales, but I will return with more short stories from our past in future editions. I find that these stories give me better insight into the people, places and events of our past as well as being quite entertaining. I hope that it has been the same for you.

Sources: The Newmarket Era; The History of Newmarket by Ethel Trewhella; A Brief History of Newmarket by Moses W. Bogart ; Oral History Interviews by Richard MacLeod.


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 Newmarket Today, conducts heritage lectures and walking tours of local interest, and leads local oral history interviews.