Local Focus – Newmarket
by Gale Beeby
Newmarket’s location on the Holland River made the area a natural route of travel between Lake Ontario and Lake Simcoe. A major portage route, The Toronto Carrying-Place Trail rain one of its two routes down the Holland River, through the Newmarket area, and over the Oak Ridges Moraine to the Rouge River and into Lake Ontario.
A more used route ran down the western branch of the Holland River, over the moraine and down the Humber River.
Selecting the eastern route as the better of the two, John Graves Simcoe started construction of Yonge Street along the former trail in late 1795, starting in York and ending at St. Albans (now Holland Landing), north of Newmarket.
By 1801, Joseph Hill had constructed a mill on the Holland River, damming it to produce a mill pond that is now known as Fairy Lake. The town of Upper Yonge Street sprouted up around the mill, which explains why its primary downtown area was centred on the Holland River, and not on the nearby Yonge Street. Hill also built a tannery just to the north of the mill, and the first store and house, as well as additional mills.
By 1802, Elisha Beman started to establish businesses and buy land in Newmarket. A mill was first and other businesses (including a distillery) soon followed. The town continued to grow through the early 19th century, along with the formation of Aurora and Holland Landing. A market held in the current downtown location gave the town its name, Newmarket.
Newmarket played a central role in the Rebellion of 1837. The town was a focal point of discontent against the manipulations of the governing Family Compact. Rebel leader William Lyon Mackenzie organized a series of meetings leading to the rebellion. During the first of these meetings, in 1837, Mackenzie delivered his first campaign speech from the veranda of the North American Hotel at the corner of Botsford and Main Streets. This speech is largely credited for being the initial spark to the rebellion as it was heard by about 600 farmers and others sympathetic to Mackenzie’s cause, who later that year armed themselves and marched down Yonge Street to take the capital. A number of leaders from this area were later attainted for high treason, convicted and hanged.
Newmarket was incorporated as a village in 1857 with a population of 700. In 1880, with a population of 2,000, Newmarket became a town and William Cane was elected as its first mayor.
In 1858, Robert Simpson co-opened Simpson & Trent Groceries, Boots, Shoes and Dry Goods store in downtown Newmarket, the first store in what would become the Simpsons department store chain.
In 1853, the first train pulled into Newmarket on the Toronto, Simcoe & Lake Huron Union Railroad, the first railway in Upper Canada. It eventually linked Toronto to Collingwood, a major shipbuilding centre. Today, this line is the Newmarket Subdivision of the CNR system.
At the turn of the 20th century, the East Holland River was straightened to prepare it for use as a commercial waterway to bypass the railway, whose prices were skyrocketing. Sir William Mulock, the local MP, proposed a canal system running down the Holland River through Holland Landing and into Lake Simcoe. This would allow boats to connect from there to the Trent-Severn Waterway. The canal was almost complete by the summer of 1912, when it was cancelled by the incoming government of Robert Borden. Today, the locks are still visible and are known as the Ghost Canal. The turning basin in downtown Newmarket was filled in and now forms the parking lot of The Old Davis Tannery Mall, on the site of the former Hill tannery.
By the 1950s, Newmarket was experiencing a suburban building boom due to its proximity to Toronto. The population increased from 5,000 to 11,000 between 1950 and 1970. The construction of Upper Canada Mall at the corner of Yonge Street and Davis Drive in 1974 started pulling the focal point of the town westward from the historic downtown area.
By the early 1980s, the original historic downtown area suffered as most businesses had moved to the area around Upper Canada Mall. A concerted effort to revitalize the historic downtown area during the late 1980s was successful. A $2.3 million investment was made by the town in 2004 in streetscaping and infrastructure improvements to roads and sidewalks in the historic downtown and it is once again a major focal point of the town.
Often considered a bedroom community of Toronto, Newmarket has a wide selection of homes for any taste or budget, from historic century homes to custom estate homes. Newmarket has also seen the influx of the condo boom, but single-family homes are still the norm. A number of developers are currently building in Newmarket and Aurora.
To see a list of homes for sale, go here.
Newmarket’s growing economy is largely based in the business services and knowledge industries, as well as the manufacturing and retail sectors. Its largest employer is Southlake Regional Health Centre, and private sector employers include Allied International Credit, Flextronics Renewable Energy and TS Tech Canada Inc.
Newmarket is overseen by York Region’s two schools boards, the York Region District School Board and the York Catholic District School Board. There are also a number of private schools, including the prestigious Pickering College and St. Andrew’s College. Seneca College also has a campus in Newmarket.
The Newmarket Theatre is the largest in town, with a capacity of 400, and boats a selection of world-class artists each year. The Resurgence Theatre Company is a small professional company that is focused on resurrecting the classics and has an annual Shakespearean production in the Fairly Lake Conservation Area.
The Old Town Hall also hosts theatre and performing arts and is undergoing a revitalization.
The Elman W. Campbell Museum collects, preserves, researches, studies, exhibits and interprets artefacts relating to the social political and economic history of Newmarket.
Newmarket is home to the Newmarket Hurricanes, who compete in the Ontario Junior A Hockey League. Their main rivals are the Aurora Tigers. There are several golf courses in the area, including Silver Lake Golf Course, St. Andrew’s Valley, Highland Gate Golf Club, Westview Golf Club, Magna Golf Club and Beacon Hill Golf Club.
Parks & Rec
Newmarket has over 45 parks with over 800 acres of parkland, including picnic areas, walking trails, playgrounds, soccer pitches, tennis courts, basketball courts and baseball diamonds.
Fairy Lake was created when a dam was built on the East Holland River in 1801. Originally a millpond, it is now used for recreation, including playgrounds, picnic areas and walking trails. The park has a pavilion offering shelter and washrooms, chess/checker tables and a barbecue site.
The Mabel Davis Conservation Area consists of seven hectares of parkland with 1,400 metres of trails along the east and west sides of the East Holland River, where cyclists and hikers can enjoy a natural setting and bird watch.
Newmarket has a fabulous historic downtown that offers many unique boutiques, antique shops, restaurants and cafés. Here you can see beautiful flower displays along Main Street. The Upper Canada Mall is a high-end centre with over 300 stores and services and is surrounded by other shopping plazas and big box stores.
Local police services are provided by the York Regional Police, who service the entire region. Fire service is provided by Central York Fire Services, a shared arrangement between Aurora and Newmarket. Southlake Regional Health Centre provides a wide range of services.
Newmarket is connected to Toronto by Highway 404, which then connects with Highways 407 and 401. Public transit is provided by York Region Transit, which operates the Viva Blue bus rapid transit route from Newmarket to the Finch Bus Terminal. YRT is also building a Rapidway along Davis Drive between Yonge Street and Highway 404, with separated bus lanes. Commuter train and bus service is operated by GO Transit, which can takes commuters south to Toronto and north to Barrie.