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, newmarketmainstreet.ca/about-main-st/.

In Search of Your Canadian Past: The Canadian County Atlas Digital Project, digital.library.mcgill.ca/countyatlas/.

“Metropolitan Street Railway (Toronto).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 17 Aug. 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metropolitan_Street_Railway_(Toronto).

Old Time Trains, http://www.trainweb.org/oldtimetrains/radial/Metro/history.htm.

“Richard Macleod.” NewmarketToday.ca, http://www.newmarkettoday.ca/writers/richard%20macleod.

“The Ontario Historical County Maps Project”, ArcGIS Web Application, utoronto.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=8cc6be34f6b54992b27da17467492d2f.

“Toronto and York Radial Railway.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 22 June 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toronto_and_York_Radial_Railway.

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