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Western Land Grants (1870-1930)

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About the Records

The Dominion Land Grants

Letters Patent are instruments issued by the Crown, which grant or confirm title to a portion of land. They are issued as the first title to land, and serve as proof that the land has been alienated from the Crown. Before Letters Patent could be issued to a homesteader, the land had to be accurately described and located through cadastral surveys. As well, the Dominion Lands Act required that each homesteader provide proof that the land had been improved; that it had increased in value or utility through some additions (cultivation, building construction, etc.) costing labour and/or capital. The Dominion Lands Act clearly stipulated what improvements had to be made to a land grant before a homesteader would be issued his/her Letters Patent by the Crown.

When a homesteader felt that he met all conditions of his homestead entry, as outlined in the Dominion Lands Act, he filed an application with his local Dominion Lands Office. On receipt of an application from the local lands offfice, the Dominion Lands Board had the responsibility of undertaking all initial screening and validation of the claim, including the dispatching of a homestead inspector to the property to confirm that the proper improvements had been made. If the Board approved the application, it would then be forwarded to Ottawa for the "preparation and issuance of patents" by the Lands Patent Branch.

Prior to 1883, land patents were only issued by the Registrar General's Office of the Department of the Secretary of State. With the revised Dominion Lands Act of 1883 (46 Vic., c. 17, s. 70), responsibility for the issuance of letters patent in Western Canada passed to the Department of Interior.

For grants made by the provinces after 1930 or any land transactions subsequent to the issuance of the original Letters Patent, the relative provincial archives must be consulted, for such transactions are not recorded in the Federal Land Records.

The references found in this database relate only to the actual land grants and only provide the name of the grantee, legal description of the homestead and archival citation information. Each item is a one-page document. The homestead files and applications, available through the various provincial archives, contain more detailed biographical information on homesteaders.


About the Database

In 1871, an order in council initiated a uniform land survey of the three prairie provinces as well as the railway belt of British Columbia. The comprehensive indexing of the legal land descriptions resulting from the survey form the basis of the Western Land Grants database. When available, individual names have also been indexed.

This specialty database relates exclusively to Letters Patent issued by the Registrar General's Office of the Department of Secretary of State from c. 1867 to 1883 and by the Lands Patent Branch of the Department of the Interior after 18 July 1883. The records refer to grants issued in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and the railway belt of British Columbia, c. 1870-1930.


The Search Screen

The search screen offers specific field search capability. Several multiple choice lists allow you to refine your search. (If you do not know the land description, search by name only.)

The choice lists of each search field correspond to the elements included in a legal land descriptions. The multiple choices for each fields are as follows:

Sections are divided into four quarters or into sixteen legal sub-divisions. They are numbered from 1 to 37.

Townships are numbered from south to north starting at the U.S. border. They are numbered from 1 to 129 and 141.

Ranges are numbered from east to west starting from each meridian, except for the west-to-east numbering used for the Principal and East of the Coast Meridians. They are numbered 1 to 34.

The Meridians are as follows:

* ECM (East of the Coast Meridian) British Columbia
* EPM (East of the Principal Meridian) Manitoba
* W1 (West of the Prinicipal Meridian) Manitoba and Saskatchewan
* W2 (West of the 2nd Meridian) Saskatchewan
* W3 (West of the 3rd Meridian) Saskatchewan
* W4 (West of the 4th Meridian) Alberta
* W5 (West of the 5th Meridian) Alberta and British Columbia
* W6 (West of the 6th Meridian) Alberta and British Columbia
* W7 (West of the 7th Meridian) British Columbia
* WCM (West of the Coast Meridian) British Columbia

You can search by Names or by Keywords. When available, individual names have been indexed.


Search Tips

To search the database, enter your legal land description in the appropriate fields. Select the appropriate information from the pull-down menu available under each the various search fields.

To search by Name try spelling variations or combinations of given names and initials. Truncate if necessary, * replaces a character, and * replaces a chain of characters, to allow for possible misspelling. If the search brings up too many references, you can reduce the number of hits by using the appropriate logical connectors.

For example:
If you type Sm*th, you will obtain Smith, Smyth.
CUMMIN* (for CUMMIN, CUMMING or CUMMINGS)
M*DONELL (for MCDONELL or MACDONELL)

Logical connectors AND, OR allow more precision.

For example:
enter PETER AND MITCHELL in the Given names field.

You can use capitals or small letters. The database is not case-sensitive.


About the Western Land Description system (townships, ranges, and meridians)

The legal survey system in western Canada was based on a unique checkerboard survey developed for the prairies by the Canadian government. This system covered 200 million acres and is the world's largest survey grid laid down in a single integrated system. It led to the creation of more than 1.25 million homesteads.

The basic unit of the survey is the 36-square mile township. The townships are arranged in rows that run south to north, parallel to the Canada/United States border (the 49th parallel). Each row is numbered progressively from the border, with the row closest to the border numbered 1, the second closest numbered 2, etc. The townships in each row are, in turn, distinguished from one another by their distance or range from a meridian. The column of townships closest to the meridian are designated as range 1, the second closest as range 2, etc. Generally, the ranges are numbered from east to west (the exception being the ranges on the east side of the Principal Meridian, which are numbered from west to east). Each township is comprised of 36 sections, each measuring 1 square mile. A section contains 640 acres and is divided into four quarter-sections containing one hundred and sixty acres each.

The federal surveyors established seven major meridians, which acted as base lines for surveying and numbering the townships. The first (or principal or prime) meridian was established on the international border, near Emerson, Manitoba, at longitude 97° 27' 28'' W (of Greenwich). Subsequent meridians were surveyed at consistent intervals along more regular longitudes. For example, the second meridian falls on the 102° longitude (near the present-day Manitoba-Saskatchewan border), the third on 106°, the fourth on 110° (which also constitutes the Alberta-Saskatchewan border), the fifth on 114°, the sixth on 118° and the coast meridian on 122°. Townships are described according to the last meridian that lies to the east of the township. Therefore, a homestead in southern Alberta is described as "W4M" or "W4" or west of the fourth meridian. Only lands located along the east side of the prime meridian take their description from the meridian along their west side. Therefore, a homestead near the Manitoba-Ontario border is described as located "EPM" or "E1" or east of the principal meridian.

        5
    T4R3   4
        3
        2
5 4 3 2 1

2nd Meridian Arrow pointing up and down

In this example, the highlighted square represents Township 4, Range 3, W2 (West of the 2nd Meridian).


How to Interpret your Results

Understanding the references

The archival references are cited using the following terms:

Liber (Volume number)
Folio (Page number)
File reel number (Microfilm reel number)

Database references that cite RG 68 and/or Secretary of State relate to documents found in the records of the Department of the Secretary of State (Record Group 68), which relate to lands in Manitoba in the 1870s and 1880s. Microfilm reel numbers are not indicated. On the search screen, enter 68 in the Record Group box and enter the Liber number in the Keyword box, e.g. 98. From the references produced by that search, you will be able to identify the relevant microfilm reel number.

All other database entries are references to land grants contained in the records of the Department of the Interior (Record Group 15).

Finding a geographic location

The section about the Search Screen explains the terminology (township, range, section) and includes a list of the meridians and the corresponding provinces.

Finding the year the land was granted

The database does not include dates for the RG 15 references; however, the Liber numbers correspond to specific years. Click here to consult the list of Liber numbers and years. The specific date for each grant appears on the actual documents.


How to consult a record or order a copy

Option One:

You are welcome to visit Library and Archives Canada to view the microfilm reel(s) and obtain copies.

Option Two:

Library and Archives Canada loans microfilm copies of these records to borrowing libraries and institutions within and outside Canada. Borrowing institutions are authorized to make copies of pages on your behalf.

Option Three:

Each reference is a one-page document. Copies can be ordered through our Textual Records Reproduction Service.

Option Four:

If you have located numerous references of possible interest, you might wish to hire a local researcher to consult them for you and obtain copies of relevant documents.


We also gratefully acknowledge the financial assistance of the Department of Canadian Heritage, whose ARCHIVED - Canadian Cultural Online Program (CCOP) made this work possible.