Remember This, Newmarket: The Little-Known Story of Charles Thompson (6 photos)


In this week’s column, History Hound Richard MacLeod highlights the story of a local entrepreneur who created a virtually seamless transportation network with stagecoaches and steamboats from Toronto south to the shores of Lake Huron .

Charles Thompson, though perhaps little known today, was once one of Ontario’s most important entrepreneurs during the early part of the 19th century. Most of the traffic, whether human or merchant, which traveled from York (Toronto) north to Simcoe County, was carried out in one of its stagecoaches or on its steam line.

Thompson was associated with almost all aspects of the stagecoach transportation and postal service on Yonge Street between York (Toronto) and Lake Simcoe during the period 1830-1850. steamboats in the area.

My research over the years has revealed many of the memories of our ancestors regarding the road from Newmarket to Penetang. The round trip took three or four days. The trip was made along the Penetang Road to Barrie Bay, where it continued by ice road in winter and by boat in summer to Holland Landing, then again by road to ‘in Newmarket.

I have told the story in previous articles of the creaky stagecoaches struggling on the hills of Yonge Street between York and Holland Landing, being the only form of public transportation north until 1853. These stages were heavy lifting. the old type of English postal trainer, drawn by four horses.

Stories abound about the discomfort of the first stagecoaches, with passengers usually cramped in two narrow seats facing each other. There were no springs to dampen the jolts and the luggage was strapped on top of it.

The earliest reference to colonial public transportation dates back to the year 1825 when a railcar service was inaugurated between York (Toronto) and Georgina, which would include Newmarket. The wagons continued to be used for passengers until 1830. They were followed by the stage and coach service which had been established by George Playter and Sons in 1832.

These Yonge Street scenes became part of a complete transportation system, including the Steamboat Crossing Lake Simcoe. One of the original owners, Charles Thompson, had an interest in two steamboats, the Beaver and the Morning. The latter’s machinery was transported to Yonge Street from Toronto on rollers made from sections of tree trunks, requiring weeks of transport.

In 1832, a stage line was purchased by William Weller, who also owned stages from Kingston, Dundas, and Niagara. These also circulated in connection with the steamboats on Lake Simcoe. After 1840 these wagons will be replaced by improved vehicles designed for more comfort and more passengers.

Today’s news tells us that: “There are few roads, and these are generally exceedingly bad and full of mud holes in which if a car falls it is very difficult to get it out again. Postal cars, or wagons, are often in this situation. At that time, it was not uncommon to see the passengers of the old stagecoach running with fence rails on their shoulders to give it a “push” when it was in difficulty.

The advertisements of the day indicate that a passenger could travel in first, second or third class on the stage line. First, he could keep his seat the whole way, unless the coach turned over; in second class the passenger was supposed to get off the horse and walk whenever the road was bad and in third class he was supposed to walk past the wrong places and get a fence whenever a mud hole gnawed at the coach .

I have mentioned the deplorable state of the roads in previous articles, for lack of official care. For a time, money was given to overseers who were authorized to repair roads and report, under oath, money. This was a sore point with York officials who regretted that part of the public money had been taken away from them. In 1824, this law would be repealed and a new law was enacted, giving the money to local justices of the peace, many of whom were tools of the Family Compact.

Mail was sent from Toronto to Holland Landing three times a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday; On Wednesday, the same leg was carrying mail for remote places in the northern wilderness. This weekly mail was then transported on horseback, sometimes on foot, sometimes by stage, depending on the season and the state of the roads. Horse riding was the mode usually employed. This was to continue until the rebellion of 1837, after which public roads became more passable.

By 1848, the northern postal system had developed as follows. A passenger car left Toronto every afternoon at 3 p.m. and was due to arrive, via Newmarket, at Holland Landing at 8 p.m., or approximately 34 miles. But sometimes it was two in the morning when he arrived. In turn, the Penetang wearer was supposed to reach the post at 3 p.m., unless it was beset by large numbers of wolves and dangerous enemies that the wearer had to contend with. If there was a passenger for the northern country on the scene, then he had to ride a horse behind the porter.

In my article on Holland Landing, I talked about how in 1830 letters intended for Holland Landing were addressed to Newmarket which was the only post office on this side of Penetang. Subsequently, an office was opened on Yonge Street, about a mile south of the village of Landing. George Lount was appointed the first postmaster and Aaron Jakeway was his deputy.

Around 1833, Thompson operated a daily service carrying mail between York (Toronto) and Lake Simcoe, via Newmarket and Holland Landing. This would soon include passenger service along the same route. Thompson himself described the nature of passenger travel along Yonge Street as “subject to tremendous shaking from the many loose stones on what was then a deeply rutted mud road.” Thompson’s stagecoaches are said to be among the most comfortable forms of transportation during this period.

Then, around 1833, he purchased the Sir John Colbourne steamboat, further expanding its services to include the transport of passengers, mail, and cargo across Lake Simcoe, becoming known locally as the “Thompson Steamboat” . Along with this steam service, Thompson added stage lines in Simcoe County along the Penetanguishene Highway stretching from Barrie to Georgian Bay. Thus, Thompson created a virtually seamless transportation network stretching from York (Toronto) in the south to the north to the shores of Lake Huron in the north.

A true entrepreneur, Thomson forged a partnership in 1844 with the Lake Simcoe shipping company and William Laughton. This was to solidify its monopoly on transporting people, goods and mail along this established route.

This partnership will lead to the construction of the new side-wheeled steamer “Beaver” that will ply Lake Simcoe for years to come.

It seems that this partnership has turned out to be a difficult alliance. You could argue that the two men are indeed very ambitious, entering the partnership only with an eye on how it might benefit their own business interests. Then, in 1850, the partnership dissolved, with Laughton taking sole control of the “Beaver” and Mr. Thompson building the “Morning”, a ship that would have been even faster and more efficient than the “Beaver”.

Laughton set up a rival stagecoach line, the “People’s Stage Line” along Yonge, in direct competition with Thompson. It was the start of years of fierce competition between the two business interests, with the two men determined to undermine the other man’s operations. Thompson, mainly because of his more efficient and extensive transportation network, would eventually win, solidifying once and for all his position as “the undisputed king of the Yonge Street to Lake Simcoe road.”

History tells us that Thompson would eventually own a piece of every stagecoach line that circulated in Ontario.

But progress always has the last word. When the railroads arrived a few years later, they destroyed the stagecoach trade and would rival steamboats for importance.

Thompson would soon focus on the lucrative market then developing in the Barrie area, where he would become a prominent citizen. He held the contract for the first courthouse and first jail in Simcoe County and built a row of houses known as the “Thompson’s Pepper Pots”. Mr. Thompson would die in Barrie, his name being intertwined with their history.

Sources: “Steamboat Thompson” by Andrew Hind, Secrets of the Lakes by Monica Frim, The Yonge Street Story 1793 – 1860 by FF Berchem, Stories of Newmarket – An Old Ontario Town by Robert Terence Carter, The History of Newmarket by Ethel Trewhella


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