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'We’re glad ye cam to the toon': When the royal prince visited Newmarket

In this week's Remember This?, History Hound Richard MacLeod recounts the pride and excitement that filled citizens and local dignitaries when Queen Victoria's eldest son came to town in 1860

Newmarket hosted a royal visitor in September 1860 when the Prince of Wales,  Albert Edward, the son of Queen Victoria, came to town.

The village was all abuzz that fall. It was a very big deal. Countless boys born locally that year would be named in honour of the visiting Prince. Our elected reeve, the head of village council, was Donald Sutherland, a Scottish monarchist, who had been elected reeve for a second time in 1860.  

At a meeting in June, Newmarket council decided to work with the council of Barrie to solicit the Governor General “to indulge His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales, to visit the country lying north of Toronto, and that the Reeve be instructed to address His Excellency, the Governor General, through his private secretary.” 

A committee composed of members of council and citizens was appointed to make the appropriate arrangements. Council decided to prepare a civic reception and present an address to the Prince.

The reeve was directed to prepare an address, ready to be submitted to the citizens for their approval at a public meeting in the future. The citizens wholeheartedly approved of the address when the meeting was held.  

Sutherland was asked to have the address embossed, sign it and present it. Joseph Cawthra, a local merchant and leading citizen, appeared and presented a flag bearing the Royal Ensign to the Corporation, the flag to remain in possession of the reeve. 

The records show local pride was high as a result of the new railway, which was only boosted further by the honour that a visit of the heir apparent to the British throne would bring.

Plans were begun on a scale unknown to that point in Newmarket. A large amphitheatre was built with a seating capacity for 3,000 people, in the centre of which was a raised stand from which the address would be presented.  

As preparations proceeded, arches were erected at either end of the station grounds and the buildings themselves were decorated with evergreens and flags.  The decorations at both the Aurora and Newmarket stations were especially grand according to accounts in the Era. 

Additional arches were erected throughout the village and flags waved from the many poles. A grand arch of Roman architecture extended over Water Street and was elaborately trimmed.  The bridges from there to the station were also massed with evergreens.  

Most of the arches displayed patriotic mottoes such as: “England’s Pride, Canada’s Hope”, “The Queen, God Bless Her”, and “Our Queen and Country”.  The station building itself was also covered with decorations. 

The anticipated day at last arrived, an occasion long remembered by citizens of Newmarket and district, the day they viewed the future King of Great Britain. The weather shone on the colourful scene and the crowds were tremendous, with many visitors surprised by the display.

Opposite the Royal Hotel, on the southwest corner of Main and Millard, the Fire Brigade took up their places early in the day, with their new engine, lavishly decorated. The firemen and the band, resplendent in their new uniforms, occupied a special dais opposite the Royal Carriage, from which the band played soft music. 

The event drew citizens en masse, from the youngest to the oldest. Main Street overflowed with horses, buggies and wagons, the crowds pressing toward the station where the tier upon tier of seats were filling with a mass of humanity. 

Shortly after 10 o’clock on Monday, Sept. 10, 1860, the cannon at Sykes’s Foundry boomed forth and the shrill whistle of the approaching locomotive broke the tension. This proved to be a false start with only the pilot engine and tender arriving.  

The cannon boomed yet again, and the train was finally announced, seen moving slowly from beneath the high bridge on Mill (Queen) Street. As it rumbled to a stop, the band swelled forth in the glorious strains of the national anthem amid cheers and the waving of thousands of flags. 

I was able to find a description of the train from the booklet, Four Whistles to Wood Up, by Dr. F.N. Walker. A special observation car, constructed in Toronto, was attached to the Royal Train. The engines, Morrison and Cumberland, respectively numbers 16 and 17, were painted and their brass shone.

Walker further quotes from an account left by an official of the company that this “car was richly carpeted and fitted with ottomans and decorated by the Northern Railway for the occasion, and the Poppenberg”s band was aboard the train”.

Preceded by many distinguished government and company officials, the Prince finally appeared, hearty and fresh, to be greeted by a shower of flowers from the ladies. He “wore white hat, blue coat and grey trousers, and had remained during most of the trip in the open car at the tail of the train”. 

Beaver hats and broadcloth coats had been exhumed from mothballs for the occasion, the reeve with members of the council and prominent men of the village making an impressive appearance as they assembled to greet His Royal Highness.

The reeve first addressed the gathering and then Thomas Nixon, the village clerk, read the formal welcome stating: “With a unanimous voice of rejoicing our land greets the illustrious Heir of the best loved Sovereign, and expresses to your Royal Highness the ardent loyalty and devotion with which we regard Her Majesty’s Throne and Person.”

“Fifty years ago the spot, now honoured by your Royal Presence, was a trackless forest where the red man and the trapper disputed possession with the wolf and the bear; today beholds it a smiling and fruitful domain, peopled and tilled by loyal subjects of the British Crown, who have assembled to recognize, in your Royal Highness, the nearest and dearest representative of that Gracious Name, under whose sceptre it is our pride and happiness to live.” 

“Among us are a few old men who entered the wilderness, axe in hand, to hew out by arduous and painful labour, a pathway for civilization, and to find a home where they might enjoy civil and religious liberties which Britain guarantees wherever she extends the sponsorship of her protection.”

“Happy under Her Majesty’s powerful and beneficial rule, and possessing institutions unshared by any other country on the American continent, which allow all creeds and colours without distinction, and full exercise of the highest privileges of free men, we crave your Royal Highness to convey to our revered Sovereign, the assurance we rejoice in the visit of the Heir Apparent, as an act of Royal Courtesy, which cannot fail greatly to strengthen the ties that bind the Canadian Province to the Throne, etc., etc.” Tradition has it that the credit for composing these remarks belongs to Erastus Jackson, owner and editor of the local newspaper.

His Royal Highness courteously acknowledged the address and made a suitable reply.

A story passed down through time is reeve Donald Sutherland welcomed the future King, but he was so excited that he forgot his speech, and instead he actually said: “We’re glad ye cam to the toon, and  hoo was your mither when ye left?” Perhaps not strictly conventional or politically correct, but a beautiful and sincere tribute from this loyal Scottish Canadian in a Scottish brogue. 

A special timetable, printed in gold and crimson, had been prepared and became a rare souvenir. 

The Royal Party paused only for a short time and after the train disappeared beyond the curve north of Huron Street (Davis Drive), while echoes of the cheering still lingered, the procession reformed and headed by the band and the fire brigade, marched to the Railway Hotel where refreshments awaited them.

Again, preceded by the band, the procession marched along Main and Water streets to the north end of Garbutt Hill (Prospect Street), returning by the same route to a new water tank recently installed by private citizens on Water Street.

In the evening, the band, fire brigade and numerous citizens accepted an invitation from R.H. Smith to partake in various refreshments at his home, The Cedars, an English-style manor house, from which the spacious grounds with winding drives, extended east to Church Street.

And so ends my account of the visit to Newmarket of Albert Edward, eldest son of Queen Victoria, who was Edward VII, King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and Emperor of India from January 1901 until his death in 1910. 

For those who read my article on Sir William Mulock, you know that this was not the last time that a royal personage would visit our humble hometown.

Sources: Minutes of Newmarket Council, Newmarket Era 1860, Four Whistles to Wood Up by Doctor F. N. Walker, Citizens Meet Future King by Andrew Hind – May 20, 2003


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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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