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Crown Land Grants & Purchasing

Understanding the Crown Land Granting Process

In the mid to late 1800s the authorities wanted to bring in settlers  for the expansion of the British Empire and  to strengthen the colonies against any American incursion; particularly after the hard lessons learned during the War of 1812-1814.  The elite governing class of the new colony, Upper Canada, was heavily weighted with United Empire Loyalists and the British Crown was relying on them to hold and expand the territory.  Beginning very early on and running right up into the twentieth century, advertising campaigns were staged to attract more settlers.

Post-Confederation 1869
Emigration Poster

As those settlers arrived, the administration required to complete the land grants or sales began to gear up;  initially in a piece-meal way.  As the crown land agents and land registries became more organized the transactions became smoother.  The earliest transactions and  paperwork are  Crown land records called the “ Westmeath  Papers”   – a miscellaneous collection of documents about land purchasing and ownership.  They are available, in full, in the next section of this site.

To more fully understand the definitions and the organization of these Papers please review the following document from the  Ontario Archives website:   Ont. Archive Early Land Settlement Grant to Patent

The following is from the first page of that document:

“The Crown Land Records of Upper Canada date back to the eighteenth century. Then, due to the American Revolution, a flood of immigrants from the American colonies wanted to settle on British territory. The land that was to become known under the Constitutional Act of 1791 as “Upper Canada” was to be distributed under the control of, and according to regulations that the Crown or its representatives made. By 1795,there was a complex system of land titles and ownership under the direction of the surveyor general. Throughout the pre-Confederation period, (before 1867), land policy and distribution was a central activity of the Crown Lands Department.

“The Crown’s system for granting land changed a lot over the years. In very general terms, this is how people obtained Crown land:  A person who wanted to apply for a land grant from the Crown may have submitted a petition (application) to the Crown.

“If the petition was successful, the Crown would issue a land grant to the petitioner who then became a settler.  Receiving a land grant was a complex process. Many offices were involved. Each office (Executive  Council Office, Receiver General’s Office,Attorney General’s Office, Surveyor General’s Office, Provincial Secretary’s Office, etc.) had its own numbering system for the land  grant documents it created or received.

“If the settler took up residence on the land and fulfilled certain settlement duties, he or she would have ended up owning the land. Then, the Crown issued a patent to the settler, indicating that the ownership of the land had passed from the Crown to a private   individual. If there were any later transactions relating to that property (e.g., sale to another individual, taking out a mortgage on the property, etc.), this was documented in the records of the county Land Registry Offices (LROs).”

A very good example of this process is the grant to James Bromley, a settler on the Bromley Line:  1874 Certificate of Sale of Crown Land

In 1830 at York (later Toronto) an important notice of executive orders from the Upper Canada Executive Council gave clear guidelines to be followed in the  settlement of lands in the province of Ontario. John Small (1746-1831) signed the order as Clerk of the Executive Council. Small’s reputation would be ruined by a charge and acquittal of murder following a duel he fought and won with the then attorney general of the new province.



Executive Council Office
York, 20th November, 1830

NOTICE is hereby given, by Order of His Excellency the LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR IN COUNCIL; that in lieu of the Settlement Duties heretofore exacted, the following Settlement Duties shall be required in respect of all Locations made after this date. viz:-
The Locatee shall clear thoroughly the half of the Road width, opposite to the front of his lot, by burning or totally removing all the Timber, Wood and underwood of every kind therefrom. He shall cut down the stumps for the space of ten feet from the centre of the Road, so low, that a Waggon Wheel may easily pass over any thing that stands within that space, and we shall sow with Grass-seed the Road so cleared.
Upon proof that this has been done, and that some person has been constantly resident upon the Lot for the space of two years, a Patent may issue without other condition of Settlement Duty. But in cases where the Lot has not been so occupied, a Patent shall not issue until the Locatee, in addition to the Road Duties, above prescribed, shall have wholly cleared the Timber from the front of his Lot for the space of one chain.
If proof of Settlement Duties, as above required, with, or without residence, be not produced the Survey-General within two years and a half, the Lot shall be again open to Location.
It is further ordered, that the above regulation shall not interfere with the Order in Council of 14th May, 1830 which applies exclusively to discharged Soldiers and in respect to whom, the period of residence is herby appointed to be three years, instead of five, as prescribed by the Order.
And further, that in respect to all Locations made before this date, the Grantee shall have the option of performing the Settlement Duties either according to this regulation, or to the Regulations which were in force before making of this Order.

Lastly, it is ordered, that where a Grantee has a Grant to more than one Lot in a Township, and resides upon one of them, the Settlement Duties in respect to those Lots, on which he does not reside, shall consist of the Road Duty, and the clearing the chain in front of the Lot, as above mentioned.


Source: National Archives of Canada, Upper Canada Land Papers, RG1, L3, 113, c18/137(e), C-1727. Re-copied here from “Timberline” Fall 2015 edition from Upper Ottawa Valley Genealogy Group.

How to Purchase Crown Lands in Colonial Upper Canada

Arriving into the port of Quebec from an overseas voyage, or arriving in Upper Canada after an overland trip from the American states,  the new would-be settlers were often “greenhorns” with no idea of how to undertake the task of settling in the new nation of Canada.  The authorities supplied an Emigrants Handbook  to give the newcomers some help in setting up their new life. This is from the University of Waterloo site which is full of free information on the immigrant experience. http://jubilation.uwaterloo.ca/~marj/genealogy/emigrants1832.html.

“Designing Characters” could prey on the newcomers and numerous pitfalls and errors would befall the uninformed”   1832 Emigrants Handbook

We find it hard to imagine what it would be like to take leave of all that you had known in your country of birth, to leave behind all whom you loved,  in the knowledge that you would never meet again, to emigrate to the New World. This official handbook and others like it given to incoming emigrants informed the travelers and outlined expectations for the initial arrival and setting up of a new life in early Canada.

Announcement of Sale of Crown Lands in Upper Canada 1832

(from the University of Waterloo site noted above)

“Notice is hereby given, that a portion of the Crown Lands in the Township of Oro, Medonte and Orillia, on the Lake Simcoe, in the Home District, will be exposed to Sale by Public Auction, at the upset price of Five Shillings, Currency, per Acre: and also, a portion of the Town Lots in the Town Plots of Kempenfeldt Bay and Roach’s Point, at the upset price of Ten Pounds, currency, each, and upon the express condition of building a stone, brick or frame house, not less than twenty-four feet long and eighteen feet wide, to be completed within two years from the day of sale. The sale to take place in the Court-House in the Town of York, on the second day of July next, at ten o’clock a.m.

“Also–That the tract of Crown Land comprising the Townships of Ross, Pembroke, and Westmeath, bordering on Musk-Rat Lake, near Ottawa or Grand River, recently surveyed by Mr. John McNaughton, Deputy Surveyor, will be exposed to Sale by Public Auction, at the upset price of Five Shillings, currency, per acre, at the office of Mr. McNaughton, in the Town of Bytown, in the Bathurst District, on Monday, the second day of July next, at ten o’clock a.m.

“The conditions as follows:–The purchase money to be paid by four installments, with interest; the first instalment at the time of Sale, and the second, third and fourth installments at the interval of a year between each.

“Plans exhibiting the situation of the Lots may be seen at the Surveyor General’s Office, York:–also of the lots in the Home District, with Mr. Richey in the Township of Medonte, and of those near the Ottawa River, with Mr. McNaughton, Deputy Surveyor,  Bytown.

“For the accommodation of Emigrants arriving in the Province with the intention of settling, an adjourned sale will take place monthly, until the first November next.

“Peter Robinson, Commissioner of Crown Lands Office,

“York, 21st May, 1832.”

Note that the place names such as Bathhurst District, Grand River and Musk-Rat Lake were in common usage.

The Varied Ways to Purchase Crown Land

To bring the process of acquiring or purchasing land closer to home, these examples taken from the Westmeath Papers are presented here. Various circumstances dictated how the new settler’s purchasing of property in historic Westmeath Township would proceed. These are the most common circumstances:

1. Respond to a Land Sale Notice:    Sometimes the would-be purchaser instigated the process after reading a land sale notice, as is the case with this example of a letter from a Mr.Wm. Hughes who had seen a notice in the Gazette:

“Renfrew &  Lanark 1854,

“William Harris, Agent.

“Herewith you will receive the sum of £4.18.5 as deposit on account of Lot No. 9 West Front E, Westmeath, which I hereby apply for permission to occupy and cultivate with a view of purchasing in our family with the notice issued from the Crown Land print and published in the official Gazette under date 6th of August 1852.

“Signed William Hughes.  Witness: Wm. Harris”

2. Attend a Land Sale:   Sometimes the purchaser attended a Land Sale in Bytown (Ottawa), or elsewhere, and used the services of a Crown Land Agent such as John McNaughton, who knew these lands particularly well, as he had also been the surveyor of much of this territory. Upon both sides agreeing to the purchase a certificate was issued.

“I Certify that at the Public Sale of Crown Lands held under the authority of the Commissioner of Crown Lands at the Sheriff’s Office in Bytown on the fourteenth day of September, 1836 John B. Poupore formerly of the Johnstown District now of the Township of Westmeath became the purchaser of Lot No. 11 of Front E in the Township of Westmeath in the County of Lanark in the Bathurst District containing one hundred and thirteen acres more or less at the rate of ten shillings currency per Acre.

“And it is understood that this certificate shall be void unless transmitted to the Commissioner of Crown Lands, Toronto, together with the amount of the first installment, being five pounds, nineteen shillings currency, on or before the first date of October, next and the Land shall be liable to be resold at any future sales.

“On production of this certificate and payment of the first Instalment, the Commissioner for Crown Lands will give to the purchaser a written acknowledgment of the payment on account and authority to take possession of the Lot. But the obtaining of a perfect title must of course depend on the punctual fulfillment of the conditions of the purchase.

Bytown, 14th September 1839,  John W. McNaughton”

These Certificates set out the conditions and reservations of the sale. It was then up to the purchaser to fulfill the conditions to receive “perfect title”. These conditions stay with the land even though the land might be bought and sold many times over.

If you want a further description of Crown Land Patents please read:  Crown Land Patents

3. Land Grant as Compensation for Militia Service to the Crown:   sometimes the service given in times of war, resulted in being granted a land grant from the Crown; as is the case for Yeomen John Butterfield, a veteran of the War of 1812-1814. (Some words in the original document are extremely hard to decipher.)

 No. 1462

I hereby certify that I have carefully examined the claims of John Butterfield in the Township of Woolfore(?)  in the Johnstown District  Yeoman and find him entitled to his Royal Highness the Prince Regent’s bounty of a Grant of the waste Lands of the Crown, having served as a Private in a flank company of the 2nd Regiment of Grenville Militia, between the 1 July and the 31 December 1812.

Given under my hand, at York, this 22nd day of September 1820

To Thomas Ridout, Esq.,. Surveyor General of Lands, Upper Canada. 

Herman Lauson Esq. Agent.

Signed: N. Coffin (?),Colonel, ___of____Militia, Upper Canada. 

The Prince Regent mentioned was Heir to the Throne. He served as provisional monarch  during this period because his father George III was unwell and deemed unfit to reign.  The Prince  Regent would assume the throne upon his father’s death and be crowned George IV in 1821.

4. Squatting on a Piece of Crown Land: A fourth method of acquiring land was used by at least one settler that we know about.  He wrote the authorities  to inquire if the land on which he had “squatted” was for sale and set forth his case of being a poor man and described the improvement he had already made on the land.  After he acquired the property he then sold it, thus realizing a good profit and ending his “poor” man status.

The earliest settlers had no choice but to be “sqatting” because they were in territories not yet surveyed. That work started in 1801. Deputy Provincial Land Surveyor John McNaughton and his land survey crew were working in the early 1800s laying out the Townships of  Ross, Pembroke and Westmeath. By 1836 the Westmeath Township map was completed. See Maps Section for the early maps.  Also in the Maps Section are two 1969 “Patent Plan” maps from the Archives of Ontario showing mining and mineral rights on Crown Land.

Land speculation companies were also active contracting for large tracts and then reselling smaller lots to the incoming settlers.

Finally the would-be settler needed to adhere to any stipulations set out in the application (petition) for sale of land.   Those Conditions of Sale of Crown Land could vary but would usually contain a stated amount of money and the payment terms, a requirement for occupancy and a requirement for clearing and planting crops as well as building a house and moving onto the land in question.

This following example signed by William Harris, the Crown Land Agent, to a Mr. Donald McDonald,  is typical.

“Whereas Donald MacDonald is desirous to occupy and cultivate the W part of Lot Number Sixteen in the Second Concession of the Township of Westmeath in the County of Renfrew with a view to purchase and obtain a deed in Fee for the said Lot in terms hereinafter mentioned:-

“Know therefore that the Commissioner of Crown Lands by this Instrument grants full license and permission to the said Donald McDonald to enter upon and clear and cultivate the said lot of Land for the term of five years, subject to the following conditions, reservations, and restrictions, viz:-

“First:- That he shall pay an instalment of one fifth of the purchase money at the rate of four shillings per acre upon execution hereof, and an Instalment of one fifth annually, with interest until the whole shall be aid.

“Second:- That he shall enter upon the said Lot immediately and occupy it continuously, and shall, during the first five years, clear thereon at the rate of not less than five acres annually for every hundred acres, and build a dwelling house, not less that eighteen feet by twenty-six feet.

“Third:- That he shall not cut any of the growing wood on the said Lot, except for the clearing of the ground, for fuel, buildings and fences thereon, nor dispose of it in any manner, until the land has been paid for in full and Patented and any wood cut in violation of this condition shall be deemed to have been cut by the said Donald McDonald and be dealt with as by law provided in respect to timber cut upon Public Lands without authority.

“Fourth:- That should said Donald McDonald violate or neglect to fulfill any of the forgoing conditions this Instrument shall become null and void and the Commissioner of Crown Lands may revoke the same, and he  or his Agent may enter upon and take back the parcel of land without any formality whatever, and without any other proof than such as maybe satisfactory to the Governor General in Council.

“Fifth:- That the said Donald McDonald shall not transfer or assign this Instrument, unless with the written consent of the Commissioner of Crown Lands so to do.

“Sixth:- That upon compliance with the foregoing the said Donald McDonald shall be entitles to receive Deed in Fee for the said Lot, but the timber though owned thereafter by the Patentee shall be held subject to any general duty the Legislature may hereafter impose upon timber. Sale bearing date seventh June 185

“In Witness whereof have hereunto set my hands and seal this First day of April in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and fifty four.

In presence of

Wm. Harris

Donald McDonald  X   his mark

Militia Grants

In colonial times, service to the Crown could result in a free grant of land; in fact this was used as an incentive for men to sign on with the militia of the day.  Following the 1812-14 War, vets found that they often had to jump through some hoops to finally receive such grants.  It was left incumbent on the militiaman to prove his service and lobby for the grant.

This list from the Upper Ottawa Valley Genealogy Group Library lists the twenty-three men who served and were granted lands in Westmeath Township.

War Veterans of 1812- 14 War Who Received Militia Grants in the Township of Westmeath, Renfrew County, Ontario.

  1. ROLAND MCDONELL – Sgt, in 1st Flank of the Regiment of Stormont Militia
  2. STEPHEN NETTLETON – Private in a Flank Company of the Regiment Grenville Militia in 1812 from Edwardburgh.
  3. JOHN KENNEDY – served in the 1st Glengarry Fencible Regiment.
  4. DAVID HARBISON – Corporal in the Late 11th Regiment of Foot.
  5. JACOB HELLENBECK – in the Flank Company of the 1st Regiment of the North Cumberland Militia.
  6. WILLIAM CANNON – Surgeon in the Royal Navy.
  7. REUBEN TRAVELLER – Royal Navy Seaman.
  8. PETER DUNNIGAN – of the Royal African Corps.
  9. JOHN BUTTERFIELD – a Private in the Grenville Militia 2nd Regiment.
  10. HENRY NEWLAND – a Private in the Late Incorporated Militia.
  11. PETER BURK – a Private in the Regiment of the Grenville Militia.
  12. JOHN SNYDER  – a Private in a Flank Company of the 1st Regiment of the Grenville Militia
  13. MAHLON BEACH  – a Sgt. in the 1st Regiment of the Grenville Militia.
  14. JOHN J. SHAVER  – a Private in the Flank Company of the 1st Regiment of the Grenville Militia.
  15. WILLIAM ADAMS – a Private in the Flank Company of the 1st Regiment of the Glenville Militia
  16. JOHN WOLF – a Private in the Flank Company of the 1st Regiment of the Glengarry Militia.
  17. DAVID BEACH – a soldier from the Late 104th Regiment.
  18. MAHAM or ABRAHAM BEACH – a Private in the Incorporated Militia of 1812.
  19. DANIEL MALLORY – a Private in the 1st Regiment of the Leeds Militia
  20. DR. THOMAS BLACK – Militia Grant ?
  21. WATER MCDONALD – Glengarry Fencible Militia
  22. WILLIAM MCDONALD – Served in the War of 1812
  23. JOHN MCDONALD – Served with the 1st Glengarry Fencible Regiment

These men would be in the first wave of settlers because many of these Crown Land Patents were processed in the 1820’s. Most of those who came to Westmeath came from the St. Lawrence Valley in the Leeds and Glengarry area.  Three have BEACH as a surname; but it is only known that David Beach settled in the area later named Beachburgh; the final H in the spelling being later dropped from usage.

A Notice Regarding Land Grants for Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers, and Privates of the Militia- January 21, 1820.  This notice, dated January 21, 1820, was sent by the Adjutant General’s office to inform all officers, non-commissioned officers, and privates of the militia that they could apply for land grants from the government. The notice explained when and how to submit these applications to the Adjutant General’s office and also provided examples of the certificates that must be signed by a Colonel, or senior officer, prior to applyin

United Empire Loyalists:  The use of land grants as a compensation for loyalty to the crown was well rooted in the history of colonial Canada.  Americans moving north to flee the revolutionary sentiments festering in the new republic of the Thirteen Colonies were rewarded by the Crown and given land, often as much as 1,000 acres but usually 200 acres per person.  This trickle of new emigrants became a large and  important nation-building influx as the American Revolution heated up. Loyalist families, whose ancestors had originally settled in the Colonies in the early 17th Century had their property confiscated by the revolutionaries.

Reasons for their movement north ranged from loyalty  to Britain, to a rejection of the republican ideals of the American Revolution, to an offer of free land in British North America.  These families settled all through New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, the lower parts of Lower and Upper Canada; the Eastern Townships of Quebec, the St. Lawrence River Valley and Lake Ontario basin and formed a beachhead in British North America.  Many newcomers into the Upper Ottawa Valley were descendents of these first Loyalist families.

American War of Independence, 1775–83

“Loyalist refugees, mainly of British descent, later called United Empire Loyalists, began leaving at the end of the war whenever transport was available, with considerable loss of property and transfer of wealth. An estimated 70,000 left the thirteen newly independent states, representing about 3% of the total American population, of which 20-30% had supported the Crown during the American War for Independence.”  from Wikipedia