Land Records

Land records, and documents filed with transactions involving land, are important resources for genealogists. In Ontario, transfer of ownership from the Crown became possible following the passage of the Constitutional Act of 1791 which, in addition to creating the Provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, established the legal framework for freehold ownership of land.

For all parcels of land, the first transaction recorded was the granting of title from the King termed ‘granting of Crown land’. The application for this process and the requirements varied depending on the era and the reason for the application. This has led to a wide array of terms and associated documents which can be confusing for a novice. Also, for a particular property, not all documents may survive. Here is a summary of the usual steps in obtaining title to Crown land beginning in 1791:

  1. A petition requesting land.
  2. An Order-in-Council authorizing the grant.
  3. A warrant from the Council to the Surveyor General.
  4. A receipt for fees paid to the Receiver General.
  5. A fiat from the Attorney General authorizing the Surveyor General to act.
  6. A location ticket from the Surveyor General.
  7. Declaration that all conditions have been fulfilled.
  8. Issuance of the property title (the Patent).

All subsequent conveyances of property and all legal contracts and documents involving title to property were recorded by the County Land Registry Office.

A key to following the property records is to remember that the records are organized by Township, and as towns/cities became organized, by Municipality within a Township. As certain Townships developed, their records were divided (e.g. Garafraxa Twp. was divided in 1869 into West & East Garafraxa and Luther Twp. was divided in 1883 into West & East Luther). The southern part of Eramosa was originally included with Nassagaweya Twp. and these records were later moved to Wellington.

Furthermore, as Counties were created, and Counties were reorganized, the Township records would move to their new ‘home’ county. For example, Amaranth, East Luther and East Garafraxa’s records moved from Wellington to Dufferin. Although all the records for a Township remain together, as you follow records of a property over time you will see different styles of organization due to differences in approaches within each of the County Offices. To further confound the searching, Wellington County had two Land Registry Offices and this has resulted in differences in how the instruments are organized.

The first Wellington County Land Registry Office was located in Guelph. H. W. Peterson, printer and publisher at Berlin (now Kitchener) was the first Registrar. He initially worked out of his home in Berlin along with the Deputy Registrars who were located in Guelph. Peterson moved to Guelph in the early 1840’s. The first deed registered by the Office was registered by the Deputy Registrar, Judge William Dummer Powell, on 17 Oct 1840 for an Eramosa farm.

The first Registry Office was located in the Courthouse located in the Suffolk Hotel. When this was destroyed by fire, it was temporarily moved to another hotel on Gordon St., then to Peterson’s home, and finally by 1843 to the ‘new’ Registry Office built at 21 Douglas St. In February 1954, the Land Registry Office was moved again to a replacement building built immediately behind the original structure on Douglas St. This was officially opened on 2 Mar 1954.

Distance and travel were always problems for registration of land transfers. This was the original reason for establishing Registry Offices within each County. Issues of travel were also problems within Counties. For this reason, a second Wellington County Land Registry Office (to serve the northern part of the County) was opened in Arthur in 1871. John Anderson was the first Registrar for the Arthur Office. The Office was located on the ‘Owen Sound Road’, now Highway #6. The building, which was constructed specifically for use as a Registry Office, is located on the west side of George St. It was originally a red brick building which received a coat of off-white stucco in the 1970’s which later was painted white. The office served for registration of land transactions for the northern part of Wellington County (Minto, Arthur, Maryborough, Peel, and West Garafraxa). Movement of the West Garafraxa records from the Guelph Office to the Arthur Office was not a rapid process; the last group of records were finally relocated in Arthur on 1 November 1938.

The Ontario Government amalgamated the Arthur and Guelph Offices in 1991. The Arthur Registry Office was closed 7 Nov 1991 and all records were moved to Guelph. The Wellington County Land Registry Office is now located at 1 Stone Road, Guelph. It is on the first floor, and is part of the ‘Service Ontario’ cluster. The records are on microfilm and are available in a self-serve area.

Further Reading

Stratford-Devai, F. and Burkholder, R. 2003. Ontario Land Registry Office Records: A Research Guide. Global Heritage Press. Milton, ON.