Scenes From Newmarket

In 2021, Newmarket celebrates its 220th year of existence. Like many 19th century Ontario villages, its origin story lays in the establishment of a grist mill and a general store.

Illustrated historical atlas of the county of York, 1878. Source: The Canadian County Atlas Digital Project.

The Mill Pond

Fairy Lake stands south of Water Street, and is as old as the town. Despite its name, it is actually more like a pond. It is not naturally-formed either; it was created by damming the East Holland River to support early industry. This is why it was appropriately called Mill Pond. (It is unclear how or why Fairy Lake got its modern name.)

Newmarket Ont. Fairy Lake, 1910. Source: Toronto Public Library.
View Across Fairy Lake, Newmarket Ont, 1910. Source: Toronto Public Library

A recreation path entitled the Tom Taylor Trail follows Fairy Lake and the East Holland River down around to the Newmarket Municipal Offices (and beyond if one elects), through bridges, playgrounds, art installations, and gazebos. The Tom Taylor Trail is part of the larger Nokiidaa Trail which stretches from Aurora to East Gwillimbury. The area around Fairy Lake is also the Wesley Brooks Conservation Area.

A particularly interesting walk is the Tom Taylor Trail boardwalk. It has been adapted in 2021 to the pandemic with a single-direction going northbound.

Along the East Holland River

Across Water Street, the Riverwalk Commons provide for another interesting landmark. A plaque and a mural note the Roe & Borland Trading Post which stood at Main and Water Streets beginning in 1813.

A blue recreational path references the adjacent river. An installation likens the way to Newmarket’s living room. With a splash pad and a farmer’s market space nearby, it makes sense.

The East Holland River itself has gone through the impacts of urbanization and development. From Water Street, it is channelized and briefly disappears underground before emerging and following the Tom Taylor Trail north. The river was also straightened in sections, notably north of Queen Street.

Newmarket, 1878-2020. Source: Source: Historic Map Works & Google Maps 2021

A Quaint Main Street

Newmarket’s built heritage is scattered over several streets, across both sides the the Holland River. The History Hound, a prominent Newmarket historian, interestingly writes that before there were bridges across the waterway, the area actually developed as two competing communities: Newmarket, which was focused along Main Street, Water Street, and Eagle Street, and Garbutt Hill along Prospect Street and Gorham Street. Oddly, early maps seem to show a “street” running north-south between Main and Prospect Streets, which was “pencilled in” but never built or was erased from the street grid.

Illustrated Historical Atlas of the County of York, 1878. Source: Historic Map Works.

Main Street South is the obvious focal point in Old Newmarket. The quaint lower part of the road as well a few properties on adjoining street form a heritage conservation district, which aims to conserve and highlights the strip’s importance in the town’s commercial, institutional, political, and social development (taking over from Prospect Street).

A number of plaques in the sidewalk highlight some notable structures and explain their importance. Two markers write about Robert Simpson, who before opening his iconic department store on Queen Street in Toronto started off in Newmarket.

The Wesley Block at Main Street is a heritage structure built in 1902 as the Sovereign Bank, but its plaque references even earlier heritage, also connected to Toronto. William Lyon Mackenzie gave a rebellion speech in August 1837 from the balcony of the North American Hotel, which stood there since 1826. Newmarket was the “heart” of the rebellion as Mackenzie drew up a great amount of support for political reform and in opposition of the Family Compact.

The Old Town Hall, now an event space, stands on Botsford Street. It was built in 1882 with modern additions. As the town’s focal point, it is the backdrop of a number of themed plaques. Surrounding it is the appropriately named Market Square, a historical meeting place in Newmarket.

Facing the Old Town Hall, a parking lot interestingly hosts markers which seem to note the names of early Newmarket pioneers. The names are all over Newmarket’s street grid.

Tremaine Historical County Map of York County, 1860. Source: Ontario Historical County Maps.

By Railway

Nearby, a set of rail tracks are imbedded in the pavement of the lot of the Newmarket Public Library. The tracks and plaque references the The Toronto & York Radial Railway, which ran through this very spot and in Newmarket as a whole.

Radial Railway installation, Newmarket. Source: Google Maps, 2020.

The Toronto & York Radial Railway was an extension of the Metropolitan Street Railway, localized streetcar line which ran up Yonge Street from mid-town Toronto in the late 19th century and early to mid-20th century. It travelled north to communities like Lansing and Willowdale, Thornhill, Richmond Hill, and more. Unlike other notable towns in York County and later York Region, Newmarket’s commercial centre was not situated on Yonge Street, so the line had to move northeast — which it did at Moluck Drive. A Google Map shows its former route over modern landmarks.

Toronto & York Radial Railway. Source: Google Maps (as created by Scenes From A City)

The radial railway originally ran up Main Street, but in 1904 the tracks were moved west near the town hall where a station and shed stood (a local landmark references the station). It travelled diagonally to Queen Street, then east, before cutting north over the railway and the river.

Although the line was closed in 1930 and the tracks removed, an interesting leftover remains in a stone radical arch built in 1909 which stands just north of Queen Street at the East Holland River.

At the top of Main Street South at Davis Drive (which once served as the town line known as Huron Street) is the Newmarket Station. The station was built by the Grand Trunk Railroad in 1900, serving a passenger line which started as the Ontario, Simcoe & Huron Railroad in 1853, which runs throught the centre of the city alongside the Holland River. The Canadian National Railway now owns the right of way. This station building is not actually in operation as a rail structure today, with the GO station located directly across on the north side of Davis Drive.

Indigenous Links

Lastly, but certainly not least, although the modern look of Newmarket paints it as a very colonial town with obvious colonial links, the community produces surprising visible representations of the Aboriginal legacy of the area. On the Nokiidaa Trail at Fairy Lake, there is an artistic piece in the very distinct and beautiful Woodland style by Native artist, Donald Chretien. He also created a set of totem poles for the park. Their situation in the park is fitting: “Nokiidaa” is an Ojibwa term meaning “walking together.” (An Inukshuk also stands near the municipal offices.)

Next, the image of the trading post located over the East Holland River at Water Street depicts Chippewa families, and its plaque acknowledges the local indigenous community.

Finally, a carrying place trail used by Huron and Iroquois peoples once ran through Newmarket in its overall route from Lake Simcoe to Lake Ontario. There seems to be several accounts of where this ‘Main Trail’ ran, but one account states that it was the predecessor to today’s Main Street.

Further reading

“ABOUT Main St.” Main Street Newmarket BIA,

In Search of Your Canadian Past: The Canadian County Atlas Digital Project,

“Metropolitan Street Railway (Toronto).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 17 Aug. 2021,

Old Time Trains,

“Richard Macleod.”,

“The Ontario Historical County Maps Project”, ArcGIS Web Application,

“Toronto and York Radial Railway.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 22 June 2021,

When Taddle Creek stank: Why the river was lost

Note: This article first appeared in Spacing Magazine, Issue 56. It has been reproduced here with permission.

In the late nineteenth century, Taddle Creek between Bloor and College Streets was a risk to public health. The waterway was then known as University Creek, since it passed through the grounds of the recently formed University of Toronto. It was considered a nuisance by everyone who commented on the unpleasant situation.

Once part of a picturesque natural landscape, by 1873 the state of University Creek had begun to decline, and it worsened over the next decade. Although arguably not the filthiest waterway in Toronto at the time (the Don River or Garrison Creek may have taken that title), the stream was essentially an open sewer.

Watercolour by Lucius O’Brien entitled University College, showing McCaul’s Pond on Taddle Creek, 1876. Credit: University of Toronto Archives.

The cause of the filth was sewage flowing from the nearby Village of Yorkville. The Toronto suburb was its own independent political entity at the time and, in the 1870s, its water supply and drainage were proving inadequate. Consequently, residents on Prince Arthur, Elgin, and Lowther Avenues, as well as on the north side of Bloor Street West, discharged their waste directly into the creek. There were also reports that McMaster College (now the Royal Conservatory) draining “refuse water from the sinks and water closets”  into the stream as well. 

Citizens called on the University of Toronto and City of Toronto to close the creek and hold Yorkville accountable, but little was accomplished.

And so, University Creek stank. McCaul’s Pond – the connected man-made pond named for the school’s first president – was a cesspool. Winds carried the stench as far north as Bloor Street, south to College Street, west to St. George Street, and east to North Street (now part of Bay Street). Above all, the University Creek nuisance posed a danger to the well-being of the approximately six hundred students and faculty at the University, the residents living around Queen’s Park, and visitors to the park.

University of Toronto Campus Map of area bounded by College, St. George, Bloor and Surrey Place, 1859. Credit: University of Toronto Archives.

The mismanagement of University Creek had consequences for the health of Torontonians. According to The Globe, dwellers close to the waterway had become “accustomed” to the odour, but their sense of smell had been “deadened” as if they were working in a “soap boiling factory.” A former alderman of the city was said to have been “laid up” by an unspecified illness caused by the creek. 

Ultimately, however, an even greater fear grew out of the University Creek debacle. The impacts of wide-spreading diseases like cholera were well-known in Toronto by this time.  The Town of York had experienced a bout of cholera in 1832, which took the lives of several hundred  residents from a total population of 5,000. Two years later, another epidemic of the same kind hit what was by then the City of Toronto. These events led to greater awareness of sanitation and the creation of a municipal public health board. When Dr. John Snow uncovered the disease’s water-born roots in England in the 1850s, Toronto was, in theory, better placed to understand and respond to the disease.

McCaul’s Pond, present site of Hart House, circa 1880. Credit: University of Toronto Archives.

But a cholera outbreak swept through Europe and Egypt beginning in 1881. By 1883, the outcry over the state of Toronto’s waterways and the tangible possibility of an epidemic heightened concerns even more. At least two news articles unceremoniously likened University Creek to the ”River Styx” of Greek mythology. Another commentator argued in The Globe that cholera resulting from the stream would have been a ”blessing in disguise” as it would have spurred officials into action after a decade of inertia. 

In 1883, public health reports on University Creek finally spurred action. Toronto’s medical health officer in commenting on the state of the polluted stream and its ”effluvia,” suggested the only effectual remedy was the construction of a sewer and, in the short term, the use of ”disinfectants.” In an interview with The Globe, Dr. John Oldright of the Provincial Board of Health echoed those recommendations. With that, the matter was turned over to the Board of Works, which solicited tenders for a University Creek sewer. The City Treasurer quoted a total cost of $11,200. 

In 1884, the City Engineer received orders to proceed with the project, and the stream was encased underground. By May, the southern section of the University Creek sewer was completed first, connecting it to the existing Murray Street sewer. This portion ran through the grounds of “Sleepy Hollow”, the estate of Lieutenant-Governor John Beverley Robinson, on the south side of College Street between University Avenue and McCaul Street, “so that surplus water that may collect at the approach will be carried away”. The northern section was completed later that year. 

Hering & Gray: Plan of the City of Toronto, Proposed Intercepting Sewers and Outfall, 1889. Credit: Fort York and Garrison Common Maps

Just as University Creek disappeared underground, references to the waterway’s name faded in the decades following the construction of the new sewer. Today, Taddle Creek – the common name for the stream since about the 1920s — lives on in the legends of lost Toronto. The ravine-like landscape of Philosopher’s Walk hides the north end of University Creek while Hart House and Hart House Circle sit over the former McCaul’s Pond. With some recent calls to daylight this portion of Taddle Creek, perhaps one day this long-buried creek may live again, only now, its fresh, clean water will be a public health benefit rather than a curse.