Newmarket boasts one of the most colourful histories of any community in Ontario – and also one of the oldest. Before becoming the town we know and love today, it was home to numerous pioneer communities that have since vanished or remain only as names on a map or plaque. “There aren’t many towns in this part of the world that can say they were founded in 1801 when the first settler arrived,” says Terry Carter, retired newspaperm
an and member of the Archives Committee with the Newmarket Historical Society.
Carter started researching Newmarket’s past back in the early 1970s, while working as the editor of the Era Banner. “The Era had a wonderful collection of back editions, and a lot of them were stored in our building,” he says. “If I had an afternoon with an hour clear, I would delve through those.”
He began writing a column on local history for the paper. Soon he was contacted by a man named Edward Roe, who he learned was the grandson of William Roe – one of Newmarket’s founders. “He had a lot of good information, and wonderful scotch in his cabinet,” Carter says with a laugh.
According to Roe, the town was first established around a huge Elm tree located on Timothy Street, just west of Main. The giant tree served as a landmark for tradesman travelling down the river by canoe. “His grandpa used it as a trading site, meeting people coming south with their catches of fur,” Carter recalls. The Elm tree stood its ground until 1947, when it was labeled a traffic hazard and eventually removed by the town. Former mayor Ray Twinney eventually planted a maple tree in its place, which is now marked with a plaque.
Many other longtime residents of the town would visit Carter to share diaries of the past, just like this one. Through his research, the newspaperman was able to stitch together stories of the area’s ghost towns. Here’s what he found:
“It was probably fall, 1801, when John Bogart Sr. left his home in Muncy, Pennsylvania and road north into Upper Canada to scout for good land,” Carter writes in his column. Bogart Sr. purchased 400 acres of property located between the 2nd and 3rd concession of Whitchurch Township. The community began to thrive with a saw mill in 1805, then a grist mill the next year, followed by many shops and taverns. “By the 1850s, Bogarttown was bypassed by the new railroad tracks and after that, business went to Newmarket,” Carter writes.
Fleeing famine at home, a surge of Irish Catholics arrived to the area in 1847 and eventually settled in a small community located along the river on Main Street north of Davis Drive (formerly Huron Street). The area was known as East Gwillimbury Township until 1971. “It took many years for Newmarket to spread north over the hill on Main Street,” writes Carter. “The new arrivals built homes, barns and planted gardens and orchards.” That is, until about 1980, when a bypass was built, and to this day Paddytown remains only as a marker on Main Street.
“Situated deep among the strip of farms cleared, [Armitage] is best recognized by today’s residents as the intersection of Yonge Street and Mulock Drive,” Carter notes. But the crossroads community once featured its own post office, and was in fact the first permanent settlement in King Township. “It took its name from its first settler, Amos Armitage, who arrived with Timothy Rogers’ Quakers and in 1804 settled on the east side of Yong Street on Whitchurch Township land.” On March 6, 1809, the first public meeting in King Township was held here, and King council continued to meet at Gambles Inn until 1839.
“In the early years, Newmarket grew up around its mill pond, spreading along Water, Eagle and Main Street,” Carter explains. “Across the river – there was no bridge – another community grew along Prospect and Gorham.” Named after resident carpenter Thomas Garbutt, the little community included about 20 houses, many wagon and carriage makers, and three cabinetmaking shops. Businessmen George Bache and Elwood Hughes opened their stores in 1854, accepting produce in exchange for goods. “Also there were Shipman & Stokes, furniture makers; and a shop making pumps, rakes, grain cradles and churns,” writes Carter. “In 1875 fire swept the east side of the business and residential area. By then there was a bridge over the Holland River and commerce moved to Main Street.”
Many of the area’s former communities have either been swallowed by their neighbour or simply forgotten. Fortunately, places like the Elman Campbell Museum have archived an impressive collection of written documents, maps, and photos sharing vivid details of Newmarket’s past. And thanks to the meticulous research and storytelling of people like Terry Carter, their stories live on today.
by Charlotte Ottaway
Newmarket Historical Society
Elman Campbell Museum