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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Canadian: Land Records Course Part 1 and Part 2 by Sharon L. Murphy, Brenda Dougall Merriman, CG, and Frances Coe, PLCGS. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
Map of Northern Ontario
Map of Southern Ontario
What’s Available on the Internet
Library and Archives Canada - Upper Canada Land Petitions 1763-1856 Library and Archives Canada have an index database for Upper Canada Land Petitions searchable by name and place. The results provide the necessary information to access the petition by microfilm.
Library and Archives Canada - Upper Canada Land Board 1765-1804 Library and Archives Canada have an index database for Upper Canada Land Board with more than 16,400 references searchable by name and district. The results provide the necessary information to access the document by microfilm.
Websites of Interest
Many branches of the OGS have separate websites, reached through the above. Some will have projects that transcribe information about local land descriptions, or excerpts of landowners from historical atlases, gazetteers or directories.
The township maps of nineteenth century Ontario historical county atlases, many of which feature names of farm occupants (not necessarily the owners) at the time of publication, can be seen at McGill University’s In Search of Your Canadian Past: The Canadian County Atlas Digital Project. A few atlases are also featured for Quebec and the Maritime Provinces. The site is searchable by the name of a map or a person.
In Search of Your Canadian Past: The Canadian County Atlas Digital Project
After the Treaty of Paris in 1763, British territory encompassed the colony of Québec with boundaries that extended across what would become Upper Canada (Ontario). The British Crown ruled, although French civil law continued to dominate the land ownership system. British merchants, commercial interests, and some settlers moved into the colony, followed by the Loyalists during and after the Revolutionary War. Their combined influence demanded a land tenure system similar to the American colonies, and was successful.
The Constitutional Act of 1791 divided Québec into Upper Canada (Ontario) and Lower Canada (Québec). Later when the Act of Union came into effect in 1841, Upper and Lower Canada were united as the Province of Canada (Canada West and Canada East). Finally in 1867 with the British North America Act, Canada West became the province of Ontario.
So we must determine when land records were created, and if or how these different jurisdictions affected them. As a genealogist you will want to investigate land records for information about your ancestors, in the variety of data they can provide. Some, more than others, can be a rich source of information.
Ontario land records are in two different categories, Crown land records and Land Registry records. The Crown Land Records pertain to property owned by the Crown. Once this property was disposed of by grant or sale (patent issued) it no longer fell under the Crown lands records category.
The second category, Land Registry records, pertains to property after it was granted or sold by the Crown. In Ontario in 1795 a land registry system was established to document land ownership. See Land Registry records further for more detail.
Crown Lands Records
All land was Crown property until it was given or sold to an individual or corporation. Initially, many free grants were dispensed, meaning an eligible individual did not pay for the land itself. A free grant usually meant the recipient paid the service fees incurred by the government departments who processed the paperwork. In the case of the Loyalists, the fees were waived. It was the colonial government which determined eligibility for free grants. Once the grant or patent was issued by the Crown, its responsibility ended and was assumed by local Land Registry or Land Titles offices.
Norman MacDonald, author of Canada, 1763-1841, Immigration and Settlement: The Administration of the Imperial Land Regulations, gives an interesting view on this topic.
- “The Land of Upper Canada was initially regarded in Great Britain and in Canada as Crown land to be managed under the direction of the Colonial Office by the Lieutenant-Governor and Executive Council of the province, assisted later by an official who bore an English title, Commissioner of Crown Lands. The Imperial government was at first disposed to give the land away to reward loyalty and service; later it wanted to make the land pay the expenses of its administration; finally it became eager to develop a revenue from the Crown lands to further emigration from the mother country. Gradually, the land came to be thought of as public domain subject to the legislature of the province, and this foreign concept came to be accepted by the Colonial Office.”
This is a good example of the feelings and thoughts of the day. So many different changes and adjustments were made because of this pattern of decision making by the British government.
Loyalist Land Grants
Land in Upper Canada was granted to the United Empire Loyalists for two reasons. The first was to reward them for their loyalty to the Crown and the second was to help increase the growth of settlement of the country. Grants to Loyalist refugees were generally 100 acres to a head of family, and an additional 50 acres for each child or dependent. Men who fought with the various Loyalist corps were entitled to 200 acres for a private, rising from there up to 5,000 acres for a field officer. Of course some evidence of their service was necessary for approval. The Upper Canada Land Petitions series can often reveal good genealogical information about these men.
Procedures and Steps in Land Granting Process
The general procedures for acquiring land were as follows:
Beginning in 1795 in Ontario, any early settler who wanted a free grant of land was required to submit a petition to the Governor or Lieutenant-Governor stating his wish. As in any government system there was a series of steps that had to be taken in order for the grant to be awarded.
First the petition was made to the Lieutenant-Governor. If approved a grant was ordered by the Executive Council. A copy of the order-in-council with a warrant to survey was forwarded to the Receiver General’s office where all appropriate fees were paid. The receipt of these fees was sent back to the Executive Council and filed.
The order-in-council and the warrant of the survey were then forwarded to the Attorney General’s office where the order was replaced by a fiat authorizing that the grant be made. The fiat and the warrant were then taken to the Surveyor General’s office.
The parcel of land to be granted was located and a description of the location was issued. The description and the Fiat were sent to the provincial secretary who engrossed (created/issued) the patent or certificate proving ownership.
A record of each patent was then recorded in the docket book of the Auditor General and in the register of the Provincial Registrar.
The Provincial Secretary kept the fiat and description and issued the patent to the petitioner.
As you can see, there was a lot of paperwork to simply get a piece of property identified and authorized for the settler. However, each time another step took place another record was created which, as genealogists, is to our benefit. Fawne Stratford-Devai lecturing on Upper Canada land records and the land granting process, stated, “Payments received were recorded in 13 different places; this is the beginning of the trail of records.”
The procedures outlined above are just a general outline as individual circumstances dictated the route people had to follow depending on their own situation. It serves as a guideline to help direct your search through the maze of government records created by the land granting process.
There were certain obligations to be fulfilled by the settlers when they received their land grant. They were to build a house, clear a certain amount of land and other and various duties within a certain time period. Because this was not done by many, the government imposed another step in the system.
An affidavit was required to be presented to the Surveyor General by the petitioner before the fees were paid and before the Attorney-General’s fiat was issued. The affidavit was to confirm that the settlement duties had been completed. As you can see, this changed the time and order of the paperwork and therefore makes the present day search all that more interesting and rewarding.
In 1827, free grants were abolished for all but children of United Empire Loyalists and those who were eligible for grants for militia or military service. At that time a Commissioner of Crown Lands was appointed and he became responsible for all existing Crown Land sales in Ontario. All petitions and applications now had to be sent to this Commissioner of Crown Lands.
The early land records of Ontario and Québec are divided between Library and Archives Canada and the provincial archives. The division of the records is the result of political processes.
Library and Archives Canada
Library and Archives Canada
395 Wellington Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0N4
Toll-free Canada & US: 1-866-578-7777
Library and Archives Canada has custody of such land-related documents as petitions, land books, land board minutes and other sources. For the most part, the Archives of Ontario has microfilm copies of the series created during the eras of Upper Canada and Canada West. Both institutions participate in inter-institutional lending of microfilm.
Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Canadian: Land Records Course Part 1 and Part 2 offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.