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Wasn't that a party when Newmarket officially became a town

A grand celebration for the whole town was held on New Year's Eve 1880 when Newmarket cast aside its 'village' moniker to officially become a town Jan. 1, 1881

I have often referred to the incorporation of Newmarket as a town on Jan. 1, 1881 in my various articles on Newmarket Today, but let’s look at this momentous occasion in a little more depth as it was captured at the time. 

Newmarket incorporated as a village in 1857. In 1878, the village had been divided into three polling divisions and there began to be talk about the advisability of raising the official status of the community.  In October 1879, a public meeting was called at which two resolutions were considered.  

First, it was proposed to elevate the Village of Newmarket to the standing of a town; the second, that steps should be taken for the separation of the North Riding of York into a separate county. Both resolutions were adopted with Newmarket to be responsible for any expense.

Joseph Bogart had been allotted $10 to take a census of the population, which he reported to be 2,021.  This was deeded a satisfactory number. At the meeting of council on May 7, 1880, reeve Erastus Jackson and clerk David Lloyd were authorized to sign a petition to the Lieutenant Governor-in-Council, making application for issuing a proclamation incorporating Newmarket as a town. They were instructed to attach the seal of the corporation and forward it to the lieutenant governor. 

They recommended that there be three wards: east of the railway would be known as St. George’s Ward; west of the railway and south of Lot (Queen) Street and Millard’s Lane to be St. Andrew’s Ward; west of the railway and north of Lot (Queen) Street and Millards’s Lane to be St. Patrick’s Ward. Pending the proclamation by the lieutenant governor, the council of the corporation would be composed of the mayor, reeve, deputy-reeve and three aldermen for each ward.

On Aug. 7 1880, the Official Gazette published the formal Proclamation of the Incorporation of the Town of Newmarket:

‘Now Know Ye, that having taken the Premises into Our Royal Consideration, We do by this Our Royal Proclamation, and in the exercise of the power in Us invested in this behalf, as well as by the said recited Act, as by Our Royal Prerogative, or otherwise, howsoever, proclaim and appoint that the said Village of Newmarket be and the same is hereby erected, into a Town by the name of the Town of Newmarket, and the limits and boundaries of the said Town shall be present limits of the said Village as set out in the Schedule to twenty Victoria, Chapter one hundred and two, instituted An Act to Incorporate the Village of Newmarket.

“In Testimony Whereof, We have caused these Our Letters to be made Patent, and the Great Seal of Our said Province of Ontario to be hereunto affixed Witness, The Honorable John Beverly Robinson, Lieutenant Governor of Our Province of Ontario at Our Government House, in Our City of Toronto, in Our said Province, this Seventh Day of August, in the year of Our Lord one thousand and eight hundred and eighty, and in the Forty-fourth year of Our Reign.”

At a meeting of the village council in December 1880, it was suggested that in commemoration of the date of the proclamation, Aug. 7 would be designated a civic holiday. Also, a cheque for $50 was received from Joseph Cawthra to be spent for the relief of the poor.

By acclamation William Cane became mayor elect, Erastus Jackson was elected reeve and T.H. Lloyd was elected deputy-reeve. The councillors who were elected for St. George’s Ward were H.S. Cane, Charles Ganton and Nelson Johnson; for St. Andrew’s Ward they were John Eves, Thomas Gain and David L. Rogers; for St. Patrick’s Ward John Gascoigne, George B. Hutchcroft and Eli Spencer.  David Lloyd was the clerk and treasurer.

At a public meeting of ratepayers held Dec. 23, 1880, plans were set in motion to celebrate the birthday of the town on the first day of January 1881. Three resolutions were passed: first, there should be a celebration; second, there should be a dinner; third, council should provide a sum of money not exceeding $100 toward the expense of the dinner and other matters connected with the celebration.  

James Allan, who had been appointed chairman of a large dinner committee, was to receive the money immediately so that he could proceed with the arrangements.

The gathering was planned to take place at the Mechanics’ Hall on New Year’s Day, with the banquet being free to every ratepayer of the municipality, each to be admitted by ticket. Each ticket holder could bring a guest upon payment of 25 cents. Invitations were extended to the reeves and deputy-reeves of the neighboring municipalities and the band was engaged to enliven the proceedings  

Since there were no electric lights at this point, the misty glow of oil lamps cast a glow over the New Year’s Eve of 1880 celebration. The pealing of the town bells a few minutes before midnight, followed by the incessant ringing until nearly two o’clock, heralded the new status. It was New Year’s Day and the birthday of the Town of Newmarket.

Flags were flying everywhere, and private residences and shops were all colourfully decorated. At noon, the bells began to ring yet again. Sleigh loads of young people slipped in from the country along the snowy streets, while Main Street from Huron (Davis Drive) Street to Water Street was said to be a moving mass of pedestrians with stylishly turned out cutters, bob-sleighs furnished with straw. Everyone was there. In the background, you could hear the patriotic music played by Newmarket’s brass band.

They say 500 people sat down at the banquet, at which the Davison’s String Band and Newmarket Band provided the musical entertainment.  

Letters of congratulation were read from MP Dr. Strange; J. C. Stoke, Esq., Deputy-Reeve of the township of King; the Rev. Father Harris; Dr. Nash and Joseph Cawthra. Toasts were proposed to the Queen and Royal Family, the Governor General of Canada, the Lieutenant Governor of the Province, the Army, the Navy and the volunteers. Capt. Lloyd replied to these.

There were several businessmen on the platform who remembered Newmarket as a mere hamlet, including reeve Jackson. In his remarks, he recalled that he came to Newmarket in 1853 and proceeded to give a short resumé of the growth of the place.  

He recalled that he, John Davison and William Wallis had taken the first census in 1853. After making a liberal allowance and including large numbers of railway men boarding in hotels, the population was between 630 and 640. He recalled when there were not half a dozen houses north of Mill Street and from the Registry Office to the west, the whole area was farmland. He reminded his listeners that Main Street had been graveled in 1876, materially assisting the village to its new importance.

William Cane responded to the toast to the Corporation of Newmarket. He, too, reviewed history, speaking of how we had stood the storms of over 20 years, having passed through hard times and heavy fire losses. He spoke of how the population had increased from 700 in 1858 to 2,100 in 1880. Since 1874, 25 to 30 houses had been built annually and because of the introduction of the cash system and new manufacturers, there was a good representation of trades. The town, he felt, had been built upon a solid foundation.  

A series of speeches were delivered by local dignitaries such as Mr. Stokes, T. J. Robertson, W.H. Ashworth, James Allan and R J. Davison. They related stories of how early settlers came and took up land, cleared it, year after year reaping crops and extending the clearings. 

J.B. Caldwell spoke of the many hardships endured in bringing the town to its present prosperity. Fire was the most formidable danger they had faced, he himself had been burned out three times. He had laid the first plank sidewalk in the village.  

The program was brought to a close by the singing of God Save the Queen and three lusty cheers.

Returning to the second resolution sponsored by T.J. Robertson at that meeting of council in October 1879 in favour of separating the North Riding of York into an independent county, it had been felt that financially North York would be in a better position if it separated from Toronto and the southern part of the county. 

The contention was that we were being coerced into providing ways and means for Toronto to build a new courthouse and, at the same time, finance a county building at home. It was decided to form a committee to approach the premier of Ontario for resolution. The attorney-general lent encouragement to separation, conceding that sooner or later, separation must come.  

An editorial in the Newmarket Era of Dec. 19, 1879 spoke out clearly in favor of separation. Indications pointed to the Town of Newmarket becoming the county seat and a final separation took place from south of the townships of King and Whitchurch.  

A meeting had been held in Newmarket at the fall fair in 1883 with John Beverly Robinson, the lieutenant governor of Ontario, attending. A deputation presented the following petition signed by 567 ratepayers to Erastus Jackson, the warden:

“We the undersigned ratepayers of the County of York request that you call a public meeting of the ratepayers to discuss the question of the division of the county by the setting apart the North Riding into a new county and to take such action therein as may be deemed advisable.”

A notice appeared in the Era of Feb. 29, 1884 stating that: “It will be a source of satisfaction to the people of the county to learn that a solution to the difficulties connected with the erection of a new Court House for the judicial district of York has been reached.”

And just like that, we not only had a new status as a town, but we were now the centre of a brand new county called York North.

Sources: Minutes of Newmarket Council from the Newmarket Era; The History of Newmarket by Ethel Trewhella; Stories of Newmarket – An Old Ontario Town by Robert Terence Carter; The Newmarket Era editorials.


About the Author: Richard MacLeod

Newmarket resident Richard MacLeod — the History Hound — has been a local historian for more than 40 years
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