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,

Scenes From The Toronto Necropolis

I sometimes avoid telling people that I’m interested in cemeteries, particularly the famed, old ones like the Toronto Necropolis. To history buffs and genealogists, they get it. To other people, not so much. Why would you go to a cemetery when you’re not visiting a loved one?

Well, for starters, the Necropolis is Toronto’s second non-denominational cemetery. It opened in 1850 after the closing of Potter’s Field in Yorkville and (some of) its inhabitants were moved to this one.

Toronto Necropolis Chapel
The two buildings that front the cemetery, found at the end of Winchester Street, are the 1872 Gothic Revival Chapel and the Victorian Gingerbread-style former gravekeeper’s residence (now offices).

Toronto Necropolis Chapel plaque

Toronto Necropolis office
A peek inside the cozy chapel produces a stunning stain glass window and vaulted ceiling.

Toronto Necropolis chapel inside (1)              Toronto Necropolis chapel inside (2)

It doesn’t take much wandering to realize that there’s nothing too orderly about the Necropolis. Graves with varying lifetimes are placed next to each other in a fashion that isn’t the row-on-row fashion that dominates our mental image of what a cemetery looks like.

Toronto Necropolis (2)
That’s because the Necropolis exists in a quasi-parkland sort of setup that was part of a broader 19th century movement to make cemeteries more inviting. It certainly achieves that. It’s also an inviting place for the information it tells us about our society.

The Necropolis is rich in its story-telling potential: from macro political tales of the 1837 Upper Canada rebellion & the founding of Canada to the individual profiles of the first black mayor of Toronto or the first black doctor in Canada. It also gives us a chance to talk about everyday existence as it pertains to life and death of people throughout time.

Beginning just ahead of the chapel and roughly circling clockwise around the cemetery, amongst the notables I see are:

George Brown, founder of the Globe &  father of Confederation.

Toronto Necropolis George Brown (2)
A monument to the only two men hanged for the 1837 Rebellion. It purposely looks broken to signify a life cut short. The original gravestone stands in front.

Toronto Necropolis 1837 Rebellion (3)

Toronto Necropolis 1837 Rebellion (2)             Toronto Necropolis 1837 Rebellion (1)

The Lamb family, of which Daniel Lamb, who founded the Riverdale Zoo, was a member (although he is curiously buried elsewhere).

Toronto Necropolis Lamb Family (1)
The Ward sisters, of which Ward’s Island is named, who drowned tragically in the harbour. Their stone, like many in the cemetery, is very weathered and illegible.

Toronto Necropolis Ward sisters
Anderson Ruffin Abbott
, the first black doctor in Canada. He tended to Abraham Lincoln on the night of his death.

Toronto Necropolis Anderson Ruffin Abbott
William Lyon Mackenzie, the leader of the previously mentioned rebellion, Toronto’s first mayor, and newspaper publisher. (I hope he’s not writing too critically about us down there.)

Toronto Necropolis William Lyon Mackenzie
A couple of familiar Toronto street names in Yorkville’s Joseph Bloor(e) and Willowdale’s John Cummer Sr. of the Cummer family. The former possesses the creepiest portrait of any Toronto historical figure, while the latter were industrious North York pioneers with the giddiest name.

Toronto Necropolis Joseph Bloore        Toronto Necropolis John Cummer Sr

And most recently, former NDP leader Jack Layton with his smiling bust as sculpted by his widow, Olivia Chow.

Toronto Necropolis Jack Layton
But beyond the notables, it’s interesting to walk around and take in the kinds of stones, the tributes families have laid out for their loved ones, and the contours of the land.

There are garden-like walkups, ‘fenced’ off monuments, and beautiful sculptures. And lots of obelisks.

Toronto Necropolis (3)

Toronto Necropolis (4)              Toronto Necropolis (5)

The Necropolis has some public art, one of which is entitled ‘Onwards’ – a reminder to move one with one’s life while also honouring those who have left us.

Toronto Necropolis Onwards (1)
As I make my exit out of the Necropolis and get a final look at the chapel and cottage, I’m pretty convinced about the intrigue, beauty, and cultural significance of the Necropolis and places like it. Next time I’m asked Why?, I’ll be more inclined to say back Why not?.

Toronto Necropolis (6)

Toronto Necropolis (7)

Toronto Necropolis Chapel Back
For the final find of the afternoon – another buried tribute of sorts – there’s also a time capsule buried in front of cottage, one of quite a few in the city. Sadly, I don’t know if any of them will be opened in my lifetime.

Toronto Necropolis time capsule