Toronto, d. 23.November.1934, killed
by negligent driver on way home from work.
On November 23, 1934, Toronto bike messenger Wesley McLean was
riding home around 10:30 pm after a long hard day at work. McLean
worked for Canadian National Telegraph (CNT) alongside Bob McLeod and George Crompton. All three
messengers were enthusiastic racers and members of the Maple Leaf
Bike Club. McLeod had recently returned from the 1934 British Empire
Games (Commonwealth Games) where he was Canada’s hero of the games,
surprising the world by beating a very strong field to win the
premier cycling event of the games – the 10-mile race.
McLean, McLeod and Crompton traded victories over the years. McLeod
and Crompton would go on to represent Canada at the 1936 Berlin
Olympics and McLean may have joined them if it were not for the
tragic events of that night.
McLean rode home, east along Harbord Street. As he approach Shaw St,
a north bound car, driven by Harland Freemantle flew through the
stop sign crashing in to McLean and either dragging or hurling him
more than 50 feet. Freemantle was charged with manslaughter and
released on $5,000 bail supplied by his father.
McLean died from his injuries that night. With no family to identify
him, Canada’s cycling hero, Bob McLeod identified his best friend’s
body. He would later name his son, Wesley in memory of his friend..
The case seemed quite simple. Freemantle’s car hit McLean with such
force that he had to have been traveling quite fast and therefore
must have ran the stop sign. McLean faced no stop sign and had the
right of way.
At the trial, witness, Charles Higgs, testified that Freemantle’s
car was travelling at about 30 miles per hour and that the car went
straight through the stop sign without slowing down, crashing into
McLean. At that time there were no breathalyzer tests so Freemantle
denied that he was drinking.
It seemed a clear case of vehicle manslaughter but Freemantle’s
family had the wealth and means to put forth a vigorous defence and
McLean was dead without a voice.
Like many of today’s bike messengers, Wesley McLean rode a fixed
gear bicycle with no hand brake. The bike is stopped by pedalling
backwards and an experienced fixed gear rider has no problem
stopping quickly when needed.
Despite evidence to the contrary, Freemantle’s defence team claimed
that he stopped his car, looked both ways for traffic and began
accelerating when McLean came out of nowhere. The defence brought in
an automotive engineering expert, Clarence Hastings, who claimed
(incorrectly) that because McLean’s bike was a fixed gear he could
not brake and a person riding “at any speed would have to rely on
steering to avoid an accident.”
In other words Freemantle claimed without evidence that experienced
bike messenger and champion racer, Wesley McLean couldn’t stop his
bike and therefore rode it into the path of an oncoming car.
The supposition was enough for the jury to acquit Freemantle of
manslaughter but convict him of criminal negligence in McLean’s
The judge, Justice Henderson sentenced Freemantle to four to six
months in prison, commenting that the jury may have been swayed by
“The jury has taken a merciful view of your case,” Justice Henderson
“In my opinion the evidence very well warranted a conviction of
manslaughter. Your reckless disregard imposed a duty on the jury and
now imposes a duty on me.”
Freemantle received a prison sentence of only four to six months.