Ontario Land and Property
Major surveying and settlement of Upper Canada began with the arrival of the Loyalists in 1783. Most of southern Ontario employed a survey system based on counties, townships, concessions, and farm lots. A county grouped together several named townships of unequal size and shape. Each township was divided into strips called concessions. The concessions were further divided into 100, 200, or 300-acre lots.
Concessions were usually numbered first, second, third, etc., shown in Roman numerals as I, II, III, etc. Lots were also usually numbered, but with Arabic numerals: lot 1, lot 2, lot 3, etc.
Land Grants and Petitions
Originally all Ontario land belonged to the Crown. To obtain Crown land, early settlers petitioned the Governor or his executive council. The petitions often include information on the petitioner's family and his military service. Only rarely do they tell where he came from. They do not give the location of the land he received. The Family History Library and the National Archives of Canada have 349 microfilms of the Upper Canada Petitions for Land Grants and Leases, 1791-1867 (FHL film 1,630,807) with indexes (FHL film 1,205,476-502).
The Archives of Ontario has original copies of land grants, including Loyalist, military, and other land grants, and of settlement papers associated with the Peter Robinson and Canada Company settlements. They tell when and where the grant was awarded. Some series of these grants and papers are available on 289 microfilms at the Family History Library; see the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under ONTARIO - LAND AND PROPERTY as records of the "Ontario. Crown Lands Department. Land records, ca. 1792-1876. Petitions (R.G. 1)."
Index to Land Records
Many Ontario land grants are indexed in this record, which is available at archives and libraries across Canada and in the Family History Library:
- Ontario Archives Land Record Index(also called the Computerized Land Records Index). [Ontario?: Computrex Centre Limited, 1979?]. (For surname index, see FHL fiche 6330425-77; for geographical index by township, see FHL fiche 6330478-552; for a key to the symbols in the index, see FHL fiche 6049631.)
This index gives:
- The name of the township or town and a concession and lot number in the township where the individual received his Crown grant.
More than 230,000 names of first owners of property in Ontario, that is, those who received the initial land grant from the government from the first Loyalists in 1783 to veterans of the Boer War in 1910.
- The name of the proprietor, the location of his property, the date of filing, and the type of grant he received.
- The volume and page number in the land grant series.
This index does not list the names of those who subsequently purchased the property from the original owner.
For further information on this index, write to the Archives of Ontario.
To Use Land Records
You must know the name of the township where your ancestor lived and the concession and lot number he lived on to use some significant groups of land records for early Ontario. You may find this information in these records:
The Ontario Archives Land Record Index.
The agricultural schedules sometimes included with the 1851/1852, 1861, and 1871 censuses.
The "Buildings and Lands" schedules included with the 1901 Canadian census.
The illustrated historical atlases of southern Ontario counties originally published about 1878. See the "Census" and "Maps" sections of this research outline and the Census and Maps sections of the Canada Research Outline (34545).
Township Papers. There is sometimes family information in the correspondence included with the miscellaneous records called Township Papers. They are not indexed, but are arranged by township, concession, and lot number. The Family History Library and the Archives of Ontario have film copies of the Ontario Crown Lands Department, Township Papers, ca. 1783-1870's, Toronto, Ontario: Microfilmed by the Archives of Ontario, 1982) on 541 rolls.
Heir and Devisee Commissions. Other provincial land records which may include family information are the records of the two Heir and Devisee Commissions. These commissions were established to resolve land disputes in cases where Ontario land may have been transferred improperly.
The pre-1804 First Heir and Devisee Commission Records (on microfilm) are at the National Archives of Canada and at the Family History Library:
Ontario Heir and Devisee Commission (1st). Land records, 1784-1857. These are not usually indexed by name, but they are arranged by original Ontario district.
The Second Heir and Devisee Commission Records 1804-1895 are at the Archives of Ontario and at the Family History Library:
Ontario Heir and Devisee Commission (2nd). Land records, 1796-1894. A good surname index to the case files of these records is on FHL films 1,313,779-82.
Transfers of Property. After the initial land grant was awarded, subsequent transfers of property were listed in Abstract Indexes of Deeds kept in various land registry offices in the counties. The Family History Library has microfilm copies of about half the records from southern Ontario for 1783-1957. For example, the library has 55 microfilms of Abstract Indexes for Wentworth County.
Within each county the Abstract Indexes are arranged chronologically by township, concession, and lot number. They often list names of family members to whom the lot was transferred and give file numbers of deeds, mortgages, and sometimes wills which may contain more information.
County "Memorials". The Family History Library has copies of county "memorials," usually deeds and wills, but not mortgages, dating from the creation of each county to 1880 or 1900. You can obtain copies of other land transactions by contacting the appropriate land registry office. Addresses are given in the government pages of telephone directories.
For a discussion of land records and their uses see:
A Guide to Ontario Land Registry Records. Toronto, Ontario: Ontario Genealogical Society, 1994. (FHL book 971.3 R27g; not on microfilm.)