In this article, we are going examine the history of one of the main streets in Newmarket, now know as Prospect Street but once called Garbutt Hill.
During my research for articles in this series on subjects ranging from York County Hospital, the Srigley Brick Works, the Cane family and first Methodist Church to the provenance of Newmarket’s street names, I became interested in the history of the street and thought it deserved a closer look. This article details the development of this road and the heritage that grew up along its length.
In 1886, a bylaw was passed changing Garbutt Hill, including Robinson Street to Prospect Street, linking the two short streets. At the same time, New Street and Louisa were to combine into a continuous roadway to be known as Park Avenue and Mill Street become Queen Street.
In the early years, Newmarket had grown up around the mill pond, spreading out along Water, Eagle, and Main streets. Across the Holland River, another community was developing along Prospect and Gorham. It is important to remember there was no bridge at the time, so the river acted as a natural barrier, splitting the community in half.
Garbutt Hill was named after an early carpenter, Thomas Garbutt, and the street formed a little community that included about 20 houses, many wagon and carriage makers, and three cabinetmaking shops. Businessmen George Bache and Elwood Hughes opened their stores in 1854, Shipman & Stokes, furniture makers and a shop making pumps, rakes, grain cradles and churns were also established.
Then in 1875 the inevitable fire swept through the east side of the business and residential area. By then a bridge had been constructed over the Holland River and commerce began to move over to the Main Street side.
For those who have not read much about the history of the area, I will give you a short historical synopsis. Joseph Hill became interested in Lot No. 33, which included the area around what is now Fairy Lake but at that time was the Mill Pond that had been recently dammed. A memorandum dated July 13, 1802 announces the “Lease to Joseph Hill of the township of Whitchurch, Yeoman of Lot No. 33, in the second concession, part of a Crown Reserve.”
This lease contained a valuable mill site and there Hill erected a small tannery, the first in Newmarket, on a branch of the Holland River that was operated by his son, George Hill. The mill sat on the east side of the dam. just west of the present railway tracks.
This was to set in motion the growth of the fledgling ‘Newmarket’ and the area began to grow. You had two primary streets running north-south along either side of the Holland River, both competing for prominence.
In 1828, the lot became part of the endowment of King’s College; the college decided to sell the east half to Eli Gorham and the west side to Eli Beman, son of Elisha. Prospect Street now runs along the west end of this lot and of Lots 34 and 35 to the intersection with the Davis Drive. Eagle Street, Water Street and Gorham Street form a continuous irregular road across the land acquired by Elisha Beman.
We speak a lot about Hill’s mill but what of Gorham and the east side of the river? The Bogarts had a Dutch heritage and their selection of land was crossed by a good stream that they soon dammed and built a sawmill in 1805 and a grist mill the next year. Until 2005, when it was moved to the Elman W. Campbell Museum on Main Street, a grindstone from this mill was a prized pioneer relic at the home of Edgar Bogart, embedded into the lawn on the northwest corner of Prospect and Pearson streets.
The earthworks of the dam on Water Street formed part of the road that served as the only way between Garbutt Hill (later Prospect Street) and Main Street. Garbutt Hill was the road formed in lieu of the Second Concession that had been submerged by the water of the pond.
I have written in the past about several of the historic sites that once resided on Garbutt Hill/Prospect Street.
The earliest recorded undertaking of Methodism in Newmarket was in 1821, with the erection of a wooden church, a house for public worship of All-Mighty God, for the use of the Methodist Episcopal Church, by Robert Srigley, William Tyler, John Hartman, James McCuslem, William Kennedy, Bethuel Huntley, John McKay and John Fletcher.
The property consisted of about one-half acre, part of that later known as Lot 12, on the east side of Garbutt Hill, at the corner of Timothy Street, the south side of the site was later to become the Alexander Muir school. The Methodist Church was completed in 1824 and served the Society for 55 years until the church on Main Street was built. You can read more about the church here.
In 1866, the farm from Charles Street to beyond the hospital grounds was owned by Charles Sibbald, who had it surveyed into lots. Later this was purchased by William Cane, owner of the Cane Wooden Works and our first mayor. From here, south along Garbutt Hill, with the exception of the first tier of lots, was all farmland down to the farm occupied by Samuel Pearson on Lot No. 90, at the east end of Concession 1, and known as Pearson’s Crossing now Mulock Drive and Bayview Avenue.
The scattered buildings then in existence along Garbutt Hill included a school and the Methodist Church, the Methodist parsonage, at that time the home of Reuben Robinson, which would later become 279 Prospect St. At the northeast corner of Gorham and Prospect streets stood the house and carpenter shop of Thomas Garbutt, which was torn down when Gorham Street was curved to the north to meet Water Street.
Garbutt appears to have been quite an enterprising gentleman who promoted prosperity for that part of the village, which, for some time, rivalled Main Street. Opposite, Garbutt on the southeast corner, stood the brick cottage of Charlie Gorham, who, in 1854, sold it to John Bogart. Further along stood the house and store of George Bache that he opened in 1854. Two lots beyond that was the store and house of Elwood Hughes.
A gentleman named Joseph Raper set up a tailoring shop on Garbutt Hill while Newmarket was still surrounded by bush.
In 1861 it became necessary to open the street from the river to Garbutt Hill because the Town Line (Huron Street, now Davis Drive) and Mill Street were in a dangerous condition. By the end of that year no action had been taken, though they had spent $90 on cedar for a bridge on Timothy Street.
A petition was presented in 1862 with the intent of opening Timothy Street to Garbutt Hill but nothing happened. It sees by accounts in the newspaper that plans to open the street and to bridge the stream by a 20-foot bridge were repeatedly delayed. During the election nomination meetings of 1863, the opening of the street came up again, and in addition it was considered of equal importance that money should be allocated for making Main Street passable by gravelling and cleaning the ditches along the sides.
Samuel Roadhouse was chairman of the road and bridge committee in 1863 and he strongly recommended that four-foot sidewalks be built on the south side of Ontario Street as far as the brewery, from Main to the bridge on Mill Street (Queen) and along Cedar Street. By the end of 1865, a considerable number of sidewalks of new and old lumber had been laid on Timothy, Lot, Water, Srigley, Church, Eagle, Prospect and Gorham streets, with small bridges and culverts over the various streams. Timothy Street was opened and graded at a total cost of $797.56.
It seems that Garbutt Hill/Prospect Street was a thoroughfare for some of the many parades that graced our streets. When the Royal Party visited, cheering crowds are reported to have been part of a procession that reformed and headed by the band and the fire brigade, marched to the Railway Hotel and then preceded to march along Main and Water streets to the north end of Garbutt Hill, returning by the same route to a new water tank recently installed by private citizens on Water Street according to the newspaper.
In July 1859, plans were made to enlarge the school on Garbutt Hill for a cost of $1,109. The building was to be quite impressive, with wings added to the north and south sides of the existing building, an addition at the east end, and topped by a metal dome. In 1862, a belfry was constructed and, in 1863, a 200-pound bell was purchased.
Cane erected a grand house at the north end of Garbutt Hill at the intersection of Huron (Davis) and Robinson (Prospect), on the southeast corner, where it is said the family ate its first Christmas dinner in the village of Newmarket, 1874. Additional homes for members of the family were built on this farm as they were needed.
Garbutt Hill became the home of Newmarket’s town water supply with new wells being built. According to a report published by the North York Reformer of Sept. 8, 1876, “five new tanks, each with a capacity of 4,800 gallons, have just been put down at a cost of about $60. Along with the creeks to the east and west of Garbutt Hill, and the mill pond, it was concluded that Newmarket was not far behind any other village of the same size for water supply”.
A union was ratified between the Wesleyan Methodist church and New Connexion Methodists, forming a new church called the Methodist Church of Canada. In June 1879, the trustees of the Newmarket church sold their property on Garbutt Hill and used the proceeds for the construction of a new building on Main Street. The old building was sold for $500 to the trustees of the Public School Board and was demolished in July 1883.
The plot of ground adjoining the church on the east side, known as God’s Acre, contained the remains of many of Newmarket’s pioneers. These were said to have been removed to the Newmarket public cemetery at the north end of the village but there were some exceptions. You can read my story on God’s Acres Burial Ground here. In 1952, while repairing water mains on the Alexander Muir School grounds, workers accidentally discovered human bones and an ancient memorial stone.
By August 1890, there was deemed a need for extra school accommodation and council was asked to provide $10,000 to erect and furnish a new building on the same site. In September, it was decided to construct a six-room, two-storey brick building with the most modern heating and ventilating apparatus available.
An institution prominent in Newmarket until the installation of domestic water was the pump factory. Each household had a well for potable water and usually a cistern. George Penrose made pumps on Garbutt Hill near the large house occupied by Mrs. Sutherland. He also operated in the old Millard house beside the river until it was washed away in the flood of 1878. John Dennis, in 1868, was also making pumps opposite the Allan foundry on Timothy Street and B. Srigley made them at his residence on Garbutt Hill.
A small establishment for the manufacture of melodeons and organs operated by John B. Phillips moved to Garbutt Hill in the late 1870s. There is a reference to musical instruments being made and sold by Phillips & Dales, who also sold pianos, organs, and Harman’s sewing machines. Many of you may remember the dairy on the west side of Prospect near Grace Street.
For more than a quarter of a century, Thomas Gardiner operated a foundry at the east end of the Cane factory. About 1900, he built his own foundry beside Charlie Thompson’s machine shop on Prospect, across from the end of Grace Street. When he moved to the new building, he would obtain steam power from the adjacent machine shop. Gardiner made the coats of arms for Her Majesty’s Post Office. The Gardiner firm sold the foundry to a man named Stark, who afterwards sold it to the Hoffman company, which occupied it until they built their large factory behind it on Charles Street.
The building was then occupied by Newmarket Dairy, and next to it to the south on Prospect Street a clothing factory was built. Eventually, it would be acquired by a Mr. Shapiro, who began to manufacture toys there.
In recent memory, Office Specialty called the street home, and the Stickwood Brick yard was technically located on Prospect Street and, of course, we frequented the fish and chip place in my youth.
York County Hospital was built on the site of Cane’s mansion on the southwest corner of Davis and Main, quickly becoming the focus of Prospect Street. You can learn more about the hospital here.
Today Prospect is primarily a residential area with several heritage homes. Once a rival to Main Street, it is still a major transportation artery in Newmarket. As quite often happens in history, one is left wondering what could have been had the bridge not been built when it was and the business focus shifted to Main Street.
Sources: Newmarket Era, Stories of Newmarket – An old Ontario Town by Robert Terence Carter, The History of Newmarket by Ethel Trewhella
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.