REMEMBER THIS: Newmarket through the 1910s

In this week’s column, History Hound Richard MacLeod continues his timeline series

This weekend on Newmarket Today I continue my timeline series, starting with the year 1910.  The second decade of the twentieth century found Newmarket in the midst of rapid industrialization and a period of steady growth.  We were blessed with an abundance of natural resources including a clean and safe water supply on both the commercial and domestic flowing from the extensive waterworks that had been constructed recently.  By 1915 there were fourteen producing wells in close proximity to Fairy Lake.

William Cane and Son’s, during the period 1910 to 1920 would average a work force of three hundred employees and for a time was the largest manufacturer in Canada of wooden items such as pails, tubs, doors, and sashes.  Davis Leathers doubled its industrial capacity during this period, exporting its product to over 50 countries world-wide.  The Office Specialty built a new addition to the north and its work force grew from sixty to over four hundred employees during this period.

The declaration of war (1914 to 1918) placed a severe strain on the availability of manpower locally and the community was abuzz with patriotic efforts in support of the Queen’s York Rangers (the 127th and 220th Battalions) locally.  Then of course just as peace was being declared, the Spanish Flu arrived, and we stood back in horror.  All these events I have detailed in my previous articles to be found on Newmarket Today.  

Electricity became our major source of energy led to our streets and houses now being lit by electrical power, our industries were now converted over to electricity for the operation of their machinery and the electric railway line showed the true capabilities of this new resource for the future.

The year 1910 found P. W. Pearson, a local lumber merchant installed as our mayor.  In a vote conducted this year, prohibition passed by a vote of 491 to 253.  A concrete bridge over the river at Timothy Street was nearly a reality as the local engineers were doing their thing. 

The local High School Board had announced a drive to raise $15,000 to enlarge the school necessitated by the rapid growth in our population.  A huge, public funeral for King Edward VII was held on May 20 and a public holiday was declared.

Arden Avenue, a street running from Millard to Queen Street on the west side of town was officially opened this year and the cries for a new post office intensified.

It seems that we seized on even the smallest event to throw a town party.  In 1911 Thomas Blizzard received his new Massey-Harris farm implements and a huge parade was organized, complete with the local band and a free public meal according to the Era.

The ‘Colonial’ theatre located on Millard Avenue began showing ‘moving pictures’ such as ‘Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show’, admission being 10 cents.  A $4.00 currency was put into circulation, replacing the $5.00 bill.

Finally, the local building boom intensified with an estimated $150,000 invested in new real estate in the community.

We elected a new mayor in 1912 with E. S. Cane, brother of H. S. Cane being installed.  This is the year that the political campaign by the federal Conservative party to abandon the ‘Ghost Canal’ project began to intensify.

If you remember from my article on the King George School this was the year that the town passed a bylaw raising approx. $18,000 for a new public school on the west side of town and land was purchased on Park Avenue.

Future Prime Minister William Lyon MacKenzie King visited the Town Hall for a massive political rally this year.  He was to serve as our local federal MP for a term.

On the business front, the Era tells us that Sam Rusto purchased a new, modern delivery truck in anticipation of heavy summer trade in the Lake Simcoe area.  The Davis Leather company was at the fore front of the increased demand for leather products world-wide, receiving eight carloads of skins from Russia and seven from France monthly.     

This is the year that a new factory building for the Office Specialty was being staked out on the north side of Timothy Street.  The Methodist Church at Park and Main Streets received a large addition this year, increasing its seating capacity substantially. 

The year 1913 brought a few new agricultural events to Newmarket, including the first annual Poultry show which was held in the Town Hall.   The King George School on Park Avenue was completed this year.

1913 brought a political controversy to Council with the entire Council resigning in mass as part of a disagreement over the ownership and future of the power supply in Newmarket.  This prompted a special nomination to be called to replace council with twenty-six candidates throwing their hats into the ring.  In the end, Colonel J. A. Allan, was elected our new mayor. 

The sale of that new fangled contraption, as my grandfather called it, boomed locally.  A news report in the paper tells us that K. N. Robertson sold twenty-three new Ford cars in the first six months of the year. 

Government surveyors arrived in Newmarket to begin work on the site of the new Post Office on the south-west corner of Main Street and Park Avenue.

The official population of Newmarket at the close of the year was pegged at 4,000.

As the year 1914 opens we find J. A. W. Allan, a local hardware merchant continuing to hold the mayor’s chair.  A contract for $27,000 is awarded to build the new post office and work starts in earnest.

The defining event of this decade was to surface in August of 1914 with the declaration of war by Germany.   Mayor Allan resigned his position as mayor, returning to active service with the second Canadian contingent.  I have provided a link to a brief video of our local troops mustering here in Newmarket for assignment to the European theatre ( 

A public meeting is convened at the Town Hall by a local citizen’s committee to raise funds by public subscription in support of the Governor-General’s Horse Guards at Aemilius Jarvis’s Farm just south of Aurora.  This was the beginning of what would be an intensification of local support for the war effort.  

Joseph Piper, who owned a bowling alley on Main Street petitioned the Town for permission to convert his alley into a shooting gallery for target practice in aid of the local Home Guard.

With the resignation of mayor Allan to return to active service, B. W. Hunter stepped forward to serve as acting mayor from October to December.

Another vote was taken in November on the premise of repealing Prohibition, but it was yet again defeated.  Also defeated was a proposed plan for another radial line to run from Newmarket, through Ballantrae, Stouffville and Markham to Toronto.  

A perfect example of the transition underway amongst our local businesses is that of E. A. Boyd who decided to equip his livery stables for the accommodation of forty horses, taking advantage of the move away from private barns to public stables.  He was to eventually convert his stables to a car repair.

The year 1915 finds the return of H. S. Cane to the mayor’s chair.  Council passes a resolution to supply rifles for the Home Guard.

A public meeting is held in the Town Hall to discuss and eventually pass a resolution to have the Metropolitan Railway supply electrical power to the town instead of the newly formed Ontario Hydro Corporation.

The local Newmarket Red Cross purchased a motor ambulance for the Canadian troops in France in 1915.  A new ‘war tax’ of one cent is imposed on stamps and a two-cent tax on bank cheques and notes.  

The fact that the world was at war did not deter local celebrations, however.  J. E. Nesbitt received delivery of new, improved farm implements and so a huge parade was organized complete with a span of forty horses to mark the occasion.  The local papers are full of reports of local festivities of all kinds.  

Few people are aware that we had our own, local home guard.  They held their manoeuvres in the Market Square and huge, patriotic events were held in the Town Hall.  In 1915 recruiting offices opened in the Town Hall and in the clerk’s office with great success.

The new Post Office officially opens in November 1915.  It was also this year that the Prospect Street school was officially named the “Alexander Muir School’.

In April of 1916 the 127th Battalion (York Queen’s Rangers) was mobilized with approx. one thousand men from Newmarket and the surrounding area headed overseas on August 19th.  The 220th Battalion was mobilized on June 30 of that year.

It was also this year that Charles McCauley purchased the old Central Hotel building, located where Made in Mexico currently sits and converted it into three new stores.

The town tendered a proposal to winter the 220th Battalion at the ‘Palace’ located at the Fair Grounds but the federal government decided that Exhibition Place was a better location.  

War brings inflation and this year the price of milk increased to nine cents a quart.  

People began to complain that the muddy Main Street was an eyesore, but Council responded by saying that any paving of streets would have to wait until after the war and until the installation of sewer systen was completed.

In December of 1916, Mayor Cane announced his retirement thus ending an historic run as our political leader.

1917 found us with a new mayor, W. H. Eves who was a lumber merchant on Davis Drive.  The local merchants advocated for the formation of a Board of Trade (Chamber of Commerce) to promote local business.

Danford Roche placed his business up for sale in 1917.  You will remember from previous installments of this series that Roche, a long-time local merchant once owned two large department stores on Main Street and one in Aurora.

Public meetings were held to promote local food production.  If you have read my articles over the years, you will recall that Pickering College was converted into a military hospital as part of their contribution to the nation’s war effort.  As we know, Quakers do not fight or support financially wars.

During my oral history interviews, many interviewed mentioned their first view of an airplane came that summer as a few flew over the town.

The Cane factory profited from the war, receiving two hundred car loads of lumber which they made into wooden pails.  The Davis Tannery was one of the government’s prime providers of military boots.

It was this year that conscription was formally announced by federal proclamation.   This would have a profound effect on the youth of this community for the next few years.

In December of 1917 the Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden visited Newmarket and was received at the Town Hall.

By 1918 things were tightening up financially.  There was a critical shortage of coal for heating and all non-essential local stores were closed on Mondays and Saturdays.  Local stores on Main Street still close on Mondays. Due to the high numbers of men who were serving, a labor shortage was created.  Local factories and food production facilities were dramatically affected.  The Metropolitan railway increased their service to surrounding local communities to facilitate the commute of potential labor forces from area towns. 

There were some local infrastructure projects completed this year.  The old, iron bridge built over the stream on Huron Street (Davis Drive) in 1889 was replaced with a concrete bridge this year. 

This was the year of the Spanish Flu with over five hundred cases being reported in town, resulting in a high death toll.  You can read all about the devastation of the Spanish Flu on Newmarket Today as part of this series.

Peace was declared on November 11th and ‘all hell broke loose’ locally with celebrations popping up everywhere. 

The year 1919 started on a sober note as on January 6th Erastus Jackson, owner / editor of the Era, former mayor and reeve and community benefactor passed away.  You will remember he championed the move to incorporate Newmarket first as a village and then as a town.

With the war over, Council turned its attention back to matters of infrastructure.  They returned to the question of a town wide sewer system, first looked at in 1912.  Engineers proposed a plan estimated to cost approx. $100,000.  In May a bylaw was passed to raise $40,000 for the project.   Later that year sewers were installed from Eagle Street to Water Street and from Main Street to Huron (Davis Drive) Street.

The local telephone company was instructed to bury the telephone wires before work began on the sewer system.

There was a real ‘uptick’ in local business this year.  R. B. Smith purchased the J. A. Allan hardware store, and Theo Bolton purchased the bakery and bookstore located on the east side of Main Street. New grocery stores, freight services and car dealerships opened in the core and things began to return to normal.

The new Board of Trade became active and rented space over Bolton’s new stores on the east side of Main Street across from the Post Office.  Again, we had a referendum on Prohibition and the citizens decided that we would continue to be ‘dry’.

Official figures were released by the government showing a town population of 3,500 souls, a total assessment of $1,372,000 and a business assessment of $87,275.

In 1920 the Office Specialty leased the ground floor of the Royal Hotel on the south-west corner of Millard Avenue and Main Street to house its ever increasing administrative and clerical staff which had by 1920 increased to fifty-five. 

This year the Bank of Montreal purchased the property on the south-east corner of Main and Timothy Street and removed the existing buildings in preparation for the construction of their new bank building.  Main Street was said to be in terrible shape with its ruts and muddy condition.

Pickering College was returned to its status as an educational institution after having served as a military hospital, returning it to the Society of Friends (Quakers) governance. 

We have concluded this weekend’s look back, having reached the end of the year 1920.  Next weekend we will pick up the story with the year 1921.  We have now looked back at over 120 years of our history at this point, and it seems that many of you have been enjoying the trip so far.

See you all back here next weekend.  


  • Clippings from The Newmarket Era and The Newmarket Courier
  • Oral History Interviews conducted by Richard MacLeod
  • The Memorable Merchants and Trades 1930 to 1950 by Eugene McCaffrey and George Luesby 
  • The History of Newmarket by Ethel Trewhella
  • Stories of Newmarket, An Old Ontario Town by Robert Terence Carter
  • Previous Articles from Newmarket Today

Newmarket resident Richard MacLeod, the History Hound, has been a local historian for more than 40 years. He writes a weekly feature about our town’s history in partnership with Newmarket Today, conducts heritage lectures and walking tours of local interest, and leads local oral history interviews.


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