25th Trillium Award

Five Things Literary: Newmarket, Ontario, with Robert Terence Carter

Share |

As part of our mapping of literary Ontario, we're highlighting five things about literary life in communities throughout the province. What do our cities, towns and villages have to offer writers, readers and the curious? Follow Five Things Literary to find out.

Today's feature on literary life in Newmarket was contributed by writer and historian Robert Terence Carter. His book, Stories of Newmarket: An Old Ontario Town, has just been published with Dundurn Press.

Join Robert Terence Carter and the Newmarket Historical Society at Newmarket's Starlight Books on Wednesday, May 18th for the launch of Stories of Newmarket! A short presentation and reading will be followed by a book-signing. Please visit our Events page for more details.


Five Things Literary: Newmarket, Ontario

I write history and I prefer to write about the things around me. I?m lucky that way. I?ve lived and worked for years in Newmarket, one of the oldest towns in Ontario. Local history is made up of the stories popular historians don?t bother with — a rich and often untapped field.

Founded in 1801-02 by American Quaker farmers and some fur traders, Newmarket has lots of stories to tell. I?ve been digging them out and writing about them for over 40 years, and now more than 100 of these have been gathered into Stories of Newmarket, An Old Ontario Town (Dundurn Press).


  1. The resources available to a digger for stories in one of Ontario?s oldest towns are plentiful. The newspapers are there for the browsing. One in particular has been published continuously since 1852, and all those back editions documenting our triumphs and tragedies are on microfilm. Old and unpublished manuscripts and diaries from years gone by often offer stories of colourful characters and events long forgotten.

  3. Family recollections of friends, the tales of old and interesting buildings and the local histories of major events such as the 1837 rebellion are all fodder for the storyteller. The answers to history?s mysteries can often be put together into great stories: was there really not enough water to float barges in the 1890-era Newmarket Canal, or was it abandoned for political reasons? When tracks for the streetcar line from Toronto were built up Main Street early in the 20th century, did local businesses go broke because the clattering contraptions scared shoppers? horses? Where was the 1810 fur trading post? Who were the community?s first residents? All good stuff, and you can still touch that history — pieces of the streetcar tracks pop up here and there, the canal survives as a scar on the landscape and bits of the fur-trading post can still be found imbedded in one very old foundation.

  5. Every town has its famous native sons, eminent visitors and historical characters. We sure had ours, and here are just a few. The Family Compact members Peter, William and Sir John B. Robinson were from a Newmarket family; Sir William Mulock, father of the penny post, grew up here; author Mazo de la Roche?s family lived here; writer Ernest Hemingway was on assignment here and Samuel Morse demonstrated his invention, the telegraph, at a Main Street hotel.

  7. A searcher for stories in a community?s history is bound to find one or two places were the record needs correcting. I found a big one. Local records showed 47 men from Newmarket gave their lives in World War I. When I Iooked at that list of names, I discovered mistakes. The war had been traumatic for small towns. Newmarket had a population of 3,800 in 1914. The list of casualties was prepared years later and there were wrong names, misspelled names and worst of all, missed names. When I started digging, I documented 83 men linked to Newmarket who did not return.

  9. Finding other writers with a shared interest in the town is one of the great pleasures of writing. Barbara Pritchard Fear, the Newmarket-raised author of It?s About Time and Memories of a Smalltown Girl now lives near Kingston, and retired teacher and writer Robert Holden are among these.


Robert Terence Carter has been writing about Newmarket?s history since the late 1960s when he began a column after becoming editor of The Era, Newmarket?s weekly newspaper (founded in 1852). He founded the Newmarket Historical Society and continues as a director. For over 15 years he has written the Society newsletter as well as a number of its papers on subjects ranging from the Rebellion of 1837 to Newmarket?s dead in the First World War. Carter is a long-time resident of Newmarket.

For more information about Stories of Newmarket: An Old Ontario Town please visit the Dundurn Press website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

Would you like to contribute five things about literary life in your community? Send an email with your ideas to [email protected]

Advanced Search

Quill and Quire Quillast