Crown Land Records
In Upper Canada, land was held by the Crown and granted to individuals. Whether the individual was offering to buy the land, or applying for a free grant, the first step in the process was a petition. Many of the petitions, which explain the reasons the applicant felt he or she deserved the grant, have survived. The petition was addressed to the Executive Council or a Land Board, and those bodies created records of how the petitions were dealt with. Most of those records also survive. If a grant was approved, the Surveyor General’s office got involved, creating another set of records that may have survived. The largest and most important collection of petitions is the “Upper Canada Land Petitions” at Library and Archives Canada. Use the online index to find your ancestor’s name. (Try all spelling variants.) Record the petition number, bundle, volume and film number. The microfilms are available at the Archives of Ontario, and are digitized on FamilySearch.org or Library and Archives Canada.
The record of how the petitions were received is in the Upper Canada Land books which are digitized on Héritage.Canadiana, however they are not well described and difficult to navigate. Please see this finding aid created by Toronto Branch member Irena Lewycka.
Other Crown Land department records are at the Archives of Ontario and many have been digitized by FamilySearch.org. It is a rich but complex collection. Watch the courses page for our regular Land Records courses. The Archives of Ontario has several excellent guides to the land granting process and all these records.
Land Registry Records
Land located near the new capital, the Town of York, was desirable and much of it was granted within the first few years after York’s founding in 1793. By about the 1830s, virtually all the land within today’s Toronto had been granted by the Crown and was in private hands. If your ancestor arrived in Toronto after that time, they probably purchased land from an earlier grantee.
Any transfer of ownership after the Crown grant fell under the auspices of the Land Registry Office, which had been established in 1795. However registration of land sales was optional for the first 50 years. In 1846, registration of land transfers, mortgages and other legal matters affecting real property became compulsory.
Land records in Ontario are organized by parcel, rather than by owner’s name. The parcel can be as large as a 200-acre farm lot, or as small as a single house lot in a subdivision. You’ll need the legal description, whether it is a lot and concession number, or lot and subdivision number. An “Abstract Index to Deeds” for each parcel of land was created in 1865, and later for more recent subdivisions. The Abstract Indexes attempt to list transactions right back to the Patent from the Crown, and provide the “instrument number” for each subsequent sale, etc. These instrument numbers lead to the actual documents (or copies).
Many Toronto Land Registry Records have been microfilmed by FamilySearch.org. Toronto Abstract Indexes and corresponding copybooks (identified as “Land Records”) can be found here. The microfilms are also available at the Archives of Ontario. There is a good finding aid here.
However for Toronto, in particular, the FamilySearch.org and Archives of Ontario holdings are far from complete. Toronto land records are accessible via the online application OnLand. Learn as much about the property as you can first—and be persistent. There is a series of how-to videos here.
The Land Registry system was gradually replaced by Land Titles. Most of the conversion in the Toronto area began in the late 1960s and continued over several decades. This new system is only on OnLand. See the links above.
As with the Crown Land Records mentioned above, Land Registry Records are rich but very complex resources. Watch the courses page for our regular Land Records courses.