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Toll Gates on the Proof Line Road

Toll Gates on the Proof Line Road
Plaque no. 37
Date of plaque unveiling
5 November 1994
Speakers
John Lutman
Location
1110 Richmond Street, London, Ontario

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History

The first settlers to move into this area made their way north along the blazes and stakes of Mahlon Burwell’s proof line through the middle of London Township. Laid out as a road allowance, it followed Wharncliffe Road northward, bypassing the riverlands of the Medway Creek and North Thames River, and following the present Western Road and Richmond Street route before continuing northward.

Early settlers were quick to demand road improvements. Many roads were mere dirt trails through bogs and forests. In swampy areas it was necessary to lay down layers of logs to keep horses and carriages from sinking. Ruts from wagon wheels and tree stumps were further obstacles, and in wet weather roads became rivers of mud. To deal with this situation, the Legislature of Upper Canada in 1810 delegated local justices of the peace to appoint surveyors to lay out and regulate proper roads. Roads were to be constructed and maintained with the costs assessed to local landowners.

In 1849, the Provincial Legislature passed legislation permitting private companies to build toll roads. That same year, a local group formed the "Proof Line Road Joint Stock Company" to grade, macadamize, and bridge the Proof Line Road. The completed road had three toll gates and followed the Richmond Street route north through Arva, Birr, and Elginfield. Several hotels and taverns opened along the road, an indication of its heavy use.

By 1882, however, all publicly owned county roads had been declared free of tolls. The Proof Line Road came to be seen as an anachronism, and citizens often detoured to avoid the toll gates. In 1907, local councils and the province bought the Proof Line Road for $11,000. The occasion was marked by a huge celebration in Arva, during which the collected toll gates were burned in a large bonfire.