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October 19, 2011

Municipality attempts to exert rights to shoreline road after discovering a 150 year old By-law

Meaford (Municipality) v. Grist [2011] O.J. No. 4188

This is an interesting case regarding an 1854 By-law that had been found in 2004, which purported to create a municipal/public road along the shore of Georgian Bay.

Some of the named defendants brought two summary judgment motions claiming that there are no genuine issues requiring a trial. The action is disputed by the defendants because the road would take away approximately 66 feet of their shorelines lands.

The road had not been registered on title until 2007 after the Municipality discovered the By-law.

The Municipality’s argument, among other things included the doctrine of dedication and acceptance.

Justice Daley set out the test for the common law doctrine of dedication and acceptance/ long user:

Dedication depends on the intention of the donor and also acceptance of
the road by public authority.

There are three conditions:

1. An owner of the land on which the road is situated had formed the
intention to dedicate the land to the public road or highway;

2. The intention was carried out by the road being thrown open to the
public; and

3. The road was accepted by the public.

Dedication can occur by usurpation and long enjoyment.

Where members of the public continually use the road over a long period
of time, dedication may be inferred.

Justice Daley stated that the plaintiff bears the onus “upon a preponderance of probability to demonstrate that the conditions necessary for the establishment of dedication and acceptance were all present”. He then refers to the Reed v. Town of Lincoln [1973] decision where the “cogency of the evidence required to satisfy the burden … may vary … according to the nature of the issue with respect to which the burden must be met.”

Using this ruling, he bolsters the onus requiring the municipality to “satisfy the onus by a clear and substantial preponderance of evidence that the property owners have lost the title to a portion of their property which now constitutes a public road”.

Meaford argued that the public highway existed prior to the by-law. It was held that there was no genuine issue for trial; the plaintiff had not offered any physical/documentary evidence. Even if there had been a road, the time from the initial Crown grant in 1840 to the date of the by-law in 1854, is not enough time to find a “long user”.

It was further held that there was no dedication and acceptance in modern day, for many reasons, including:

1. The municipality graded the road approximately twice a year –
otherwise had no involvement in the upkeep.

2. The municipality entered into a maintenance agreement with the
cottage owners association.

3. In 1986, part of the road had washed away and the municipality had
not restored the road. In fact, the owner of the property had a
different portion of his property, severed, re-zoned and built a
private driveway (no dispute that this “inland” driveway was a
private road).

4. The “inland” driveway was maintained pursuant to the maintenance

5. The defendants were bona fide purchasers for value and the cottages
built on the lots comply with zoning by-laws in regards to set back
from the water’s edge and not from the disputed road.

6. There was no evidence of municipal funds or labour to build, maintain
or restore the road.

7. The municipality, in this action, was only trying to lay claim to a
very small potion of the road that the By-law purported to create.

Justice Daley held that there was no evidence of actual or implied dedication or acceptance and was held not to give rise to any issues requiring a trial.

He went further to state that the municipality had slept on their rights for over 150years and applied the doctrine of laches and acquiescence and that “quite apart from all of the other reasons expressed (in the 192 paragraphs), it would be unjust to grant Meaford’s claim”.

This post was prepared by our Associate Alison McBurney.

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