The Interesting Toll-Gate Case

from the Guelph Mercury newspaper files, August 1876.



On Friday evening, an important case was tried at the village of Freelton, and as it may prove of some interest to our readers, we give a report of it.


On Sunday, the 9th of August 1876, Mr. Clark, tinsmith, Morriston, was returning from church, when a toll-gate keeper named Lamont closed the gate and refused to allow the former to pass through until he would pay the toll.  Mr. Clark claimed that he was exempt from toll, as he was returning from Divine Worship and contended that he should be allowed to pass free.  An altercation ensued and Mr. Clark pushed the gate open, drawing the staple, and drove through.  The toll gate-keeper laid a complaint before Mr. Peebles, J.P. (Justice of the Peace), of Beverley, charging the defendant with “passing through his gate without paying toll, not going to or returning from his usual place of worship and also for advising others to go through without paying toll and for breaking the gate”.  The complainant, at the opening of the trial withdrew the first two charges, Mr. McMillan of the firm McMillan & O’Connor, counsel for the defendant, objecting.  Three magistrates, Messrs. Peebles, Freel, and Swetzel, sat upon the case, which occupied about three hours, the courtroom being crowded with spectators who paid great attention to the proceedings, the breaking of the gate having been proved by complainant and not denied by defendant.


Mr. McMillan addressed the court at considerable length.  His argument was listened to with a great deal of attention by the court and audience.  He gave it as his opinion, that any person going to or returning from Divine Service on a Sunday or holiday in or contiguous to the neighbourhood in which he lives is entitled to pass toll-free with his vehicle; and if, as in this case, the toll-gate be closed against him, he can use any and every means requisite to force it open and treat it as an obstruction on the road.  He said he would not advise such a course in any case, but rather to pay the toll under protest, but since Mr. Clark had adopted it, he contended he was justified in the act.  Another objection raised was that it was not stated in the information or evidence in what county the toll-gate was situate, which Mr. McMillan looked upon as a fatal objection.


Several other technical points were raised in defence, when the magistrates thought it prudent to defer their decision until they could have the opinion of the Crown Attorney.  The case has excited considerable interest and the magistrates’ decision will be anxiously looked for.


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