COLUMN: Transitioning to vibrancy in Sharon
This weekend we examine the hamlet of Sharon and its transition into a vibrant village.
Sharon’s people were well known across the county and that certainly extended to their musical ability. In this article, I’ll draw on that fact to delve deeper into what made Sharon so special.
The master architect of many of the area’s great buildings was a Sharon man, JT Stokes. Several churches, schools and public buildings were the work of Stokes. His house is on the east side of Leslie Street, just as you enter Sharon. Stokes received several prominent commissions across the county and received the President’s Award for his unique architectural skills.
Many area families looked to western Canada, particularly Saskatchewan and Manitoba, as “greener fields” in the 1880s, prompting both individuals and groups to leave the area in search of their future. The farmland around Sharon was scarce and perhaps not of the highest fertility. One particularly large group that decided to try their luck in the West was nicknamed the “Sharon Colony”. They set out from Newmarket station in May 1883 with great ceremony. Newspaper descriptions speak of their farewell with a nine-piece brass band and a crowd of around 200 well-wishers. They reserved a special Grand Trunk railroad car and took everything they needed with them, including wagons, plows, and their livestock. Some would return, but many stayed west (mainly in the Regina area). Their intention was to settle down and then fetch their wives and children once they were settled.
This group was led by Jesse Doan. Here is a list of some of the prominent families who have undertaken this trek:
- William Mackie, Thomas Blizzard, Charles Traviss, George M. Doan, John Doan, GR Doan, Marshall Kitely, Henry Kitely, Robert Briggs, GP Smith and AP Smith, all by Sharon.
Likewise, many from the Queensville and Newmarket areas migrated west, including some of my ancestors. Regina, Brandon, and Winnipeg seemed to be the most popular destinations.
In my January 2021 article on our local black history, I mentioned how many of our early black ancestors were successful entrepreneurs, and I spoke of Henry Hisson, who started a business and community of escaped slaves on the eastern border of Sharon. One of the most important skills in the early 1800’s was the manufacture of charcoal and the only source in this area was Henry Hisson and his wife Sara Jane. They lived near Sharon in Concession 5 in East Gwillimbury.
He had first found employment at the William Cane woodworking factory in Queensville, where Cane Woodworking got its start. Eventually he was able to purchase 60 acres of land from William Cane, where he started a charcoal manufacturing business and shipped the finished product to Toronto and all the surrounding communities.
Charcoal had many uses back then, from brushing teeth to medicinal purposes. It was an important ingredient in the manufacture of iron, the manufacture of black ink, the storage of ice, and the manufacture of gunpowder.
It is said that in 1979 a huge pile of Hisson’s charcoal was found in East Gwillimbury. The charcoal business was extremely profitable for the Hissons and they used his horse and wagon to become one of the wealthiest men in the small black community that grew up around the original Cane factory in East Gwillimbury.
Accounts recall a well-mannered gentleman traveling the streets of Newmarket and environs shouting:
charcoal by the bushel.
charcoal through the pick.
Charcoal next to the frying pan
Or whatever you lek!
One of our early early York County legends, Eli Corbiere and his family, rest in the Pioneer Methodist Cemetery on the hill just north of the village of Sharon. Eli Corbiere was the first to carry His Majesty’s mail a distance of more than 30 miles of dirt track through forests and across swamps and streams supplying Barrie, Orillia and Penetang from our area. He became known as “Fleet Foot Corbiere” and is said to have walked once between sunrise and sunset between Holland Landing and Penetang, a distance of about 60 miles.
As we have seen, the hamlet of Newmarket quite often thrived at the expense of the surrounding communities. The departmental court was moved from Sharon to Newmarket in 1852. In 1864 the office of the Court Clerk of the 4th Division was moved from Sharon to Newmarket and moved to premises on Water Street adjacent to McMaster’s shop. William Reid and John Maguire were joint district court bailiffs and JC Hogaboom of Sharon was the clerk. This trend has continued to this day.
This year the Newmarket Citizen’s Band celebrates its 150th anniversary. Before the Newmarket Band was formed, however, the Sharon Brass Band had been formed in 1820 under the direction of Patrick Hughes, and soon after under Richard Coates and Jesse Doan. According to several reports in the local press, they would often pay homage to the village of Newmarket and the surrounding area at their local ceremonies. They also served as the house band for the Children of Peace. When the band formed in Newmarket, they acquired their instruments, many of their members and much-needed direction from the long-established Sharon Brass Band.
One of the things that has long interested me about the people of Sharon and Newmarket was the dichotomy between their Quaker background (staunch pacifist) and their involvement in both the War of 1812 and the Rebellion of 1837. In a letter from the At the time of the rebellion, aimed at occupying the Houses of Parliament in Toronto and installing a provisional government until responsible government could be formed, we learn that on the evening of December 6, 1837, a wagon appeared laden with old weapons and pikes carrying the secretly forged at Holland Landing, Shillelaghs and provisions were sent down Yonge Street to Montgomery’s Tavern by Sharon under the direction of John D. Willson. Most historians recognize that Sharon, Holland Landing and Newmarket were at the heart of the rising. Interesting given that their populations were heavily flavored with Quaker broth.
I thought I could conclude this second article on the village of Sharon with a brief discussion of the various village traders who flourished in the community in the mid-19th century.
An 1856 advertisement shows the services of Peter Rowan, who apparently specialized in painting of all kinds and ran a transport service center repairing all matters of wagons, coaches and sleighs. The Rowan family had been prominent in the community from the start, and Peter was listed as a wheelwright, blacksmith and painter. He is also credited with building the brick house known locally as Oxtoby House. Interesting to me was the fact that he was responsible, along with Samuel Lount, for producing the pikes for the 1837 rebellion. His son William became a well-known manufacturer of agricultural implements and eventually sold his business to the Aurora-based company Fleury.
Another local early entrepreneur was Orkin Williams, who had a thriving potash operation in Sharon that shipped throughout Ontario and Quebec. I’ve listed some other local early business owners below from advertisements that appeared at the time. You may know some of these names.
- 1857 – John Bentz – Furniture and coffin maker and Charles Doan and Company a local grocer.
- 1858 – Charles McCarty, who sold shoes.
- 1859 – JW Edmund, who ran a local shop, and JW Keetch, who made and sold clocks.
- 1861 – Charles Haines, a shoemaker.
- 1862 – Mr. Reid, who owned a marble factory (he was to move to Newmarket and open a few shops on Main Street), Adam Borngasser, who made furs, and Kester McCarthy, who was also a shoemaker.
- 1869 – Edward Tattersal, a weaver, and Robert Brammer, who ran a chipping mill on site.
- 1870 – David Hughes, a shopkeeper, and John G. Graham, a piano tuner.
All of these companies were known throughout the region for their expertise. There were also several notable professional residents of Sharon.
- 1852 – Dr. D. Moore, who was a doctor
- 1857 – Dr. EC Edmunds, a dentist, along with Dr. M Ranney, Dr. H. Noble and Dr. Morton, all practicing in Sharon.
- 1864 – Dr. Peck was a dental surgeon, one of three working in Sharon at the time.
I will discuss other prominent families in Sharon in my final article. I end this article knowing that I still have more information to gather and therefore need to write a third article in this series. In this article I want to talk about Sharon’s architectural legacy. I expect this article to be out early in the new year so stay tuned.
See you all back here next weekend when I hope to take a step back in time and talk about Newmarkets Teen Town.
- East Gwillimbury in the Nineteenth Century by Gladys M. Rolling
- East Gwillimbury Parish website
- The Story of Sharon by Ethel Trewhella (published in the Newmarket Era)
- The Story of Newmarket by Ethel Trewhella
- Tales from Newmarket – An Old Ontario Town by Robert Terence Carter
- History of Toronto and the County of York, Ontario – Part III: Parish of East Gwillimbury
- The Newmarket Era – Articles and Ads
Newmarket resident Richard MacLeod – the history dog - has been a local historian for more than 40 years. He writes a weekly story on our town’s history in association with Newmarket Today, lectures on heritage and walks of local interest and conducts oral history interviews on site.