The Town of Newmarket is a town of 84,000 people (2016) in the centre of the Region of York in Ontario. It is halfway between Toronto and Barrie along Highway 11/Yonge Street. The surrounding towns include Aurora (south), Bradford (northwest), East Gwillimbury (north), Schomberg (west), and Uxbridge (east).
Newmarket covers about 38 km² and is approximately bound by St. John’s Sideroad (south), Bathurst Street (west), Green Lane (north), and Leslie (east).
Newmarket’s main tourist feature is its Main Street Heritage Conservation District.
Many Newmarket residents commute to Toronto, about 45 minutes south of the town.
The town was formed as one of many farming communities in the area, but also developed an industrial centre on the Northern Railway of Canada’s mainline, which ran through what became the downtown area starting in the 1850s. It became a thriving market town with the arrival of the Metropolitan Street Railway in 1899. Over time, the town developed into a primarily residential area, and the of Ontario Highway 400 to the west and the construction of Highway 404 to the east has increasingly turned it into a bedroom town since the 1980s. The province’s Official Plan includes growth in the business services and knowledge industries, as well as in the administrative, manufacturing and retail sectors.
Newmarket’s location on the Holland River long ago made the area a natural route of travel between Lake Ontario and Lake Simcoe. A major portage route, the Toronto Carrying-Place Trail ran one of its two routes down the Holland, through the Newmarket area, and over the Oak Ridges Moraine to the Rouge River and into Lake Ontario. A more widely used route ran down the western branch of the Holland River, over the moraine, and down the Humber River. In 1793, John Graves Simcoe travelled the trail, northward along the main route to the west, and south to York (now Toronto) along the lesser used eastern route though Newmarket. Selecting the eastern route as the better of the two, Simcoe started construction of Yonge Street along the former trail in late 1795, starting in York in Toronto Bay, and ending at the newly named St. Albans (Holland Landing), north of Newmarket.
Some of the United States Quakers were interested in moving northward, disturbed by the violence they were expected to take part in during the American Revolution. In June 1800, Timothy Rogers, a Quaker from Vermont, explored the area around the Holland River to find a suitable location for a new Quaker settlement. He, Samuel Lundy and their group of Religious Society of Friends received the grant of a large amount of land. Several Quaker families who had left their homes in Vermont and Pennsylvania settled here in 1801-1803.
In 1801, the Quaker families acquired 8,000 acres around the Holland River. Joseph Hill constructed a mill on the river, damming it to produce a mill pond that is now known as Fairy Lake. The settlement 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 Yonge Street which is some distance to the west.
The town continued to grow through the early 19th century, along with the formation of Aurora and Holland Landing, and a market held in the current downtown location gave rise to the name “Newmarket”.
Newmarket played a central role in the Rebellions of 1837–1838. 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, on August 3, 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 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 St. to take the capital. A number of leaders from this area were attainted for high treason, convicted and hanged.
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.
By the early 1980s, the original historic Downtown area suffered as most businesses had built up in the area around Upper Canada Mall, with additional strip malls developing directly across the intersections to the south and southeast. A concerted effort to revitalize the historic Downtown area during the late 1980s was successful. The historic area of Downtown’s Main Street is again a major focal point of the town.