There are many reasons residents love Newmarket. Its location offers the convenience of a relatively quick commute into the city, paired with the luxury of easy access to cottage country. It combines the amenities of big city living with the benefit of small town charm. Its Main Street is tucked away off of Yonge Street, shielding the town’s heritage from the steadfast development many of its neighbouring cities have endured.
Perhaps most notable among the town’s attractions is its rich history, a feature that Wes Playter —past president of the Newmarket Historical Society and past chairman of Heritage Newmarket— holds a deep appreciation for.
The Playter family roots stretch back over 200 years; they first arrived in Newmarket as Quaker Settlers in 1802. Wes Playter was born and raised in town. In addition to his position as co-owner of Roadhouse & Rose Funeral Home, he works with groups and schools in the community, educating and promoting the town’s historical relevance.
“People appreciate the architecture,” says Playter. “You can talk to different people to relive the stories, and engage in the history of what happened here.” Main Street itself holds many fascinating narratives including the tale of Samuel Morse, the inventor of Morse code. Morse was said to have developed the telegraph right on the corner of Main and Botsford, in the dining room of out of what was then the North American Hotel.
Built in 1826 and originally referred to as the Hewitt Hotel, The North American had many names and was operated by numerous landlords. That is until 1902, when it was demolished to make way for the Bank of Toronto – a building that still stands today.
Next door to the hotel was the Cawthra House, where men were once spotted at target practice with loaves of bread, in preparation for the March on Toronto. “Main Street Newmarket played an active and significant role in the Upper Canada Rebellion in 1837,” says Playter. On August 3rd, 1837, William Lyon Mackenzie, the first mayor of Toronto and a leader during the Rebellion, delivered his famous speech from the balcony of the North American Hotel.
Of course, in order to truly immerse yourself in the history of this town you must look to its churches. The Newmarket Christian Church is an iconic and focal point of the town, perched at the top of Main Street hill. “It was built in 1874, but the congregation actually dates back to 1822,” says Playter. Alexander Muir, who wrote the song “Maple Leaf Forever”, performed his first public recording of the song—once in consideration for Canada’s national anthem—in front of the Christian Baptist Church in 1874. “He brought his class over from the school, on the corner of Prospect and Timothy Street, which was eventually renamed for him,” Playter explains.
The church still stands tall today, but was recently offered for sale, a move that has gathered public attention. “It’s fate hangs in jeopardy a bit,” says Playter. Fortunately, the building is recognized as a historic site under the Ontario Heritage Act, which will protect it from being torn down or renovated in a non-historical manner.
The historical relevance of Main Street is vibrant as you pass by the structures on either side. Shops that were once hotels and law offices, even a courthouse and jail, stretch alongside the Post Office and the old Town Hall. Most of the buildings that are now occupied for commercial and residential purposes date back to the early to mid 1860s, after a significant fire in 1862 tragically wiped out the east side.
The town of Newmarket continues to evolve while still maintaining much of its legacy. And if you’re interested in celebrating its historic relevance, Canada’s 150th birthday this July presents the perfect opportunity, as all of Main Street is blocked off to make room for live entertainment and a variety of vendors. There’s certainly much to commemorate.
by Charlotte Ottaway
Newmarket Public Library
Elman W. Campbell Museum
Wes Playter, Roadhouse & Rose Funeral Home