A Brief History of Newmarket

The first European in the region was Etienne Brûlé who arrived in 1615 as part of Samuel de Champlain’s campaign against the Iroquois. Most European activity during this period was centered on the fur trade, and various trading posts were established to deal with the natives coming from the north with their goods to exchange for flour, blankets, brandy, guns and ammunition. In 1792, John Graves Simcoe, first Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada established York County. It was at this time that the wilderness was surveyed into concessions, road allowances and lots. Crown grants of land were being issued to the settlers and discharged military officers and soldiers.

As part of this early settlement, it was determined that a road connecting Lake Ontario to Lake Huron would be required to replace the existing “Indian” trails. This new “Military Street” which would eventually become Yonge Street, named after Sir George Yonge, the Secretary of War in the British Cabinet at the time. On February 20, 1796, the road was completed from “Muddy York” to Holland Landing, itself named after Major Samuel Holland, the Surveyor General of Upper Canada. While the roadway was very rough, it provided an efficient route for the settlers and their produce connecting York, via Holland Landing and Cook’s Bay, to Lake Simcoe, Lake Couchiching, Lake Huron and the upper Great Lakes, in the case of threatened aggression and disruption from the Americans at Niagara.

With the completion of Yonge Street came the development of several small communities along its length. Newmarket was growing fast due to its proximity to Holland Landing. With the construction of grain and saw mills to supply the growing number of settlers, Newmarket became the major trading centre north of York, because farmers from the surrounding area were now able to trade their produce to the merchants and various wholesalers in the community instead of having to deliver it into York.

In 1800 Timothy Rogers, a Vermont Quaker, explored the area to find a suitable location for a contemplated Quaker settlement of farmers who had been shunned by their communities in the United States for their refusal to take a partisan side during the American Revolution. In the spring of 1801, Rogers and several Quaker families left their homes in Vermont and Pennsylvania and secured land grants to 40 farms of 200 acres each in the Townships of Whitchurch and King, where they immediately set about clearing the land and planting their first crops between the tree stumps. One of the requirements imposed on the settlers was that they must erect a house on their allotment within one year and clear and fence ten acres within two years or the land would be forfeited back to the Government.

In December 1801 Joseph Hill built the first grist mill in the settlement along the Holland River which was eventually dammed to create a mill pond, which is now known as Fairy Lake. This was followed by the construction of more mills, a tannery, a store and a dwelling house. In 1804 Hill sold a piece of his property to Elisha Beman. Unfortunately for Hill, he failed to determine that the legal description of the land he sold contained the site of his mill. This caused Hill so much distress that he returned to the United States in 1812.

Hill Trading Post

Elisha Beman, through his marriage to Esther Robinson, the widow of Christopher Robinson, a distinguished United Empire Loyalist and member of the Legislative Assembly, gained an entreé to the establishment and preferential treatment through the Family Compact. With his stepsons, Peter Robinson, John Beverly Robinson and William Beverly Robinson, Beman gained control of Hill’s mill, he quickly added distilling and trading businesses, thus increasing his holdings and making a significant contribution to the economic growth of the community.

The first post office in Newmarket was run by William Roe out of his general store on the north-east corner of Main and Water Street. In 1805, John Bogart built a saw-mill where the former community of Bogarttown is today (at the intersection of Leslie Street and Mulock Drive). He followed this with the construction of a grist mill in 1806. Eli Gorham built a woolen mill in 1808 on the stream (Bogart Creek) that runs south of Gorham Street through the present College Manor Park. This was believed to be the first woolen mill to be established in Upper Canada. Timothy Millard, who arrived in 1812 and was allotted large sections of the future town, constructed a grist mill on Queen Street where soon the flats (area between Main Street and Prospect Street) were filled with water backed by his mill dam. A few years later the farmers west of Bradford were bringing their wheat to this mill because they were receiving better prices than those at the Red Mill in Holland Landing.

In its first fifty years, the community grew and prospered. Farmers’ markets were held regularly on Saturdays and were well attended by both enterprising merchants and householders. To some extent this relieved both farmers and buyers from having to undertake the long journey to York. It is believed that the name “Newmarket” was derived from the amount of trading that took place in this central location, first with the natives for their furs and then with the farmers for their produce. The older market was still thirty miles down Yonge Street in York.

During the Rebellion of 1837, William Lyon Mackenzie gathered many of his supporters from the Newmarket area. The British Parliament had rejected the demands of the Reform Party for more self-government for Upper Canada and maintained the status quo which was letting the “Family Compact” govern the colony’s affairs. Mackenzie and his Reform Party were defeated in the elections being held. Mackenzie, angry and bitter, decided to revolt. But despite his oratory at meetings held in Newmarket and the surrounding area, his march on York with about 800 followers was badly planned, and the Loyalist militia quickly dispersed them. Mackenzie fled to the United States, and only returned to Canada in 1849. Two of his followers were captured and hanged for treason. One of them was Samuel Lount from Newmarket. His death warrant was signed by Sir John Beverly Robinson.

By the mid 1800’s the fur trade had come to an end and the Indians were no longer trading along the Holland River. In 1852 the Newmarket Era, with Erastus Jackson as owner-publisher, started the publication of market and political news in the community, with excerpts from the New York and British magazines and newspapers. In 1853 the Ontario, Huron & Simcoe Railroad (later the Northern Railway) was constructed to Newmarket, and the first steam trains began to take passengers and agricultural goods to York. The railroad made it cheaper and more efficient for farmers, local wholesalers and small manufacturers to export their agricultural goods and other wares to the city and beyond to markets in New York and Europe.

Early Water Street showing Mill

On January 1, 1858, Newmarket was finally incorporated as a village, separated from Whitchurch Township. One of the requirements for incorporated status was that it must have a population of more than 700 persons. The census that was taken included boarders in the hotels and the many railroad construction workers in the area. It could now elect its own mayor, councilors and reeve to sit on the Whitchurch Township and York County Councils. Local politics was often partisan and quite heated. On March 19, 1858, a Masonic Lodge was warranted in Newmarket, and its members were the leading, and often said, elite citizens of the village and surrounding area.

One of the first schools in the community was constructed at the corner of Prospect and Timothy Streets. This was eventually reincarnated after several fires as the “Alexander Muir Public School”, named after one of its former well-loved teachers. A Secondary, or Grammar School, was constructed in 1842 at the corner of Millard Avenue and Raglan Street. This school was closed in 1877 when the new high school was built on Prospect Street. The Mechanic’s Hall, also on Millard Avenue, and the forerunner of the Newmarket Public Library, was opened in 1856, providing the public with educational lectures, meeting space, council chambers and book lending facilities.

With a population of 1,760, the village was reincorporated as a town in 1881. Newmarket has suffered many catastrophes over the years including several major fires which destroyed most of the original frame buildings on Main Street. Businesses were usually quick to recover and to rebuild, often with brick and usually without the safety net of adequate fire insurance. In April 1929, and again in October 1954, flooding caused by hurricane force wind and rains cause grave damage to the town and the surrounding farm lands. Both times the dam at Water Street, holding back Fairy Lake was breached and the roadway bridges damaged. Diseases such as smallpox, diphtheria and typhoid took their toll. The ultimate result of these natural disasters was improvements being made in construction, street lighting, fire fighting services, water supply, and health and sanitation measures.

In 1899 the Metropolitan Street Railway Company came through Newmarket, first running up the narrow Main Street, and later being diverted behind the stores on the west side of Main. This enabled quicker and more frequent commutes to York (now “Toronto”) for both passengers and freight. A side benefit for the town was the ability to purchase surplus electricity from the Metropolitan, which it did until 1930 when the electric railway stopped running. The turn of the century also saw larger industries moving into Newmarket, including the Cane Woodenware Factory (which later became the Dixon Pencil Company), the Davis Leather Company and the Office Specialty Manufacturing Company. Accompanying this industrial expansion there was much building of residences and tenements to accommodate the growing work force and their families. There was also the Temperance movement across the country, which finally resulted in a legislated ban on the sale of alcoholic beverages. (It was to be 1957 before Newmarket reversed its position in a referendum and permitted the sale of liquor and beer.)