Land Grants of Western Canada, 1870-1930

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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 land had to be accurately described and located through cadastral surveys before Letters Patent could be issued to a homesteader.

The Dominion Lands Act required that each homesteader provide proof that the land had increased in value through additions (cultivation, building construction, etc.) costing labour and/or capital. The Dominion Lands Act stipulated the improvements that had to be made to a land grant before a homesteader would receive a Letters Patent from the Crown.

When a homesteader filed an application, the local Dominion Lands Office screened and validated the claim, and sent an inspector to the property to confirm that the improvements had been made. If the Board approved the application, it was forwarded to Ottawa for the "preparation and issuance of patents" by the Lands Patent Branch.

Letters Patent were issued to grant or confirm title to a portion of land. They are the first title to land, and serve as proof that the land no longer belongs to the Crown. They were issued by the Registrar General's Office of the Department of Secretary of State from 1867 to 1883 and by the Lands Patent Branch of the Department of the Interior after 18 July 1883.

For grants made by the provinces after 1930 or any land transactions after the issuing of the original Letters Patent, the relevant provincial archives must be consulted.

The Records

Letters Patent consist of a one-page document and provide:

  • the name of the grantee;
  • description of the homestead;
  • date when the land was granted.

The homestead files and applications, available through the various provincial archives, contain more detailed biographical information on homesteaders.

Western Canada Land System Description

Diagram showing the division of a township into sections

Diagram showing the division of a township into sections.

The land 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 parallel to the international 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 distinguished by their distance or range from a meridian. The column of townships closest to the meridian is 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).

The federal surveyors established seven major meridians, which acted as baselines 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.

Map of Townships
  Map of Townships

The Database

This database contains references to land grants (Letters Patent) issued for Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and the railway belt of British Columbia between 1870 and 1930.

It provides access to more than 670,000 references to individuals who lived in the above mentioned provinces.

Most references are to land grants contained in the records of the Department of the Interior (Record Group 15). The database does not include dates for those references. However, the Liber numbers correspond to specific years. The specific date for each grant appears on the actual documents.

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. Consult the chart below to find the relevant microfilm.

Microfilm From To
List of Volumes and Microfilm Reel Numbers
C-3984 vol. 2 vol. 3, page 324
C-3985 vol. 3 page 325 vol. 6, page 600
C-3986 vol. 6 page 601 vol. 12 page 115
C-3987 vol.12 page 116 vol. 16 page 456
C-3988 vol.16 page 457 vol. 20 page 191
C-3989 vol.20 page 192 vol.25 page 190
C-3990 vol.25 page 191 vol.28 page 213
C-3991 vol.28 page 214 vol.31 page 169
C-3992 vol.31 page 170 vol.35 page 117
C-3993 vol.35 page 118 vol.39 page 325
C-3994 vol.39 page 326 vol.43 page 155
C-3995 vol.43 page 156 vol.44 page 775
C-3996 vol.44 page 776 vol.50 page 137
C-3997 vol.50 page 138 vol.53 page 492
C-3998 vol.55 page 1 vol.56 page 320
C-3999 vol.56 page 321 vol.60 page 386
C-4000 vol.60 page 387 vol.63 page 139
C-4001 vol.63 page 140 vol.67 page 159
C-4002 vol.67 page 160 vol.70 page 325
C-4003 vol.70 page 326 vol.72 page 275
C-4004 vol.72 page 276 vol.74 page 597
C-4005 vol.74 page 598 vol.78 page 68
C-4006 vol.78 page 69 vol.80 page 300
C-4007 vol.80 page 301 vol.83 page 226
C-4008 vol.83 page 227 vol.85 page 330
C-4009 vol.85 page 331 vol.87 page 364
C-4010 vol.87 page 365 vol.90 page 248
C-4011 vol.90 page 249 vol.93 page 434
C-4012 vol.93 page 435 vol.95 page 284
C-4013 vol.95 page 284 vol.98 page 64
C-4014 vol.98 page 65 vol.100 page 100
C-4015 vol.100 page 101 vol.102 page 431
C-4016 vol.102 page 432 vol.106 page 108
C-4017 vol.106 page 109 vol.109 page 10
C-4018 vol.109 page 11 vol.111 page 420
C-4019 vol.111 page 421 vol.114 page 183
C-4020 vol.114 page 184 vol.117 page 459
C-4021 vol.117 page 460 vol.120 page 30
C-4022 vol.120 page 31 vol.123 page 275
C-4023 vol.123 page 276 vol.127 page 500

The Search Screen

The search screen enables you to search by:

  • Name (including given name(s) and surname)
  • Keywords (such as place name)
  • Section
  • Township
  • Range
  • Meridian

Note that some entries include only an initial for the given names. Sometimes there is no given name on the document. In some cases, it may be more useful to search by surname only. Names can also be written in different ways. The entries reflect the spelling of names as they appear on the documents.

Select values for each element of the legal land description in the appropriate fields using the drop-down menu. For more information, see the section about Western Land System Description.

Search by name only if you do not know the land description.

When you have entered your search terms, click on "Submit". The number of hits found will be shown at the top of the results screen.

How to Interpret the Results

Your search results will be posted as a results summary list from which you will be able to obtain an item description.

Search Results Page

The search results page displays the following fields:

  • Item Number
  • Names
  • Part
  • Section
  • Township
  • Range
  • Meridian

Click on the underlined Item Number of a record to access the Item page, which contains additional information specific to that record.

Item Page

The item page may contain a digitized image of the actual records and of a map available in JPG format and contains the following fields:

  • Name
  • Part
  • Section
  • Township
  • Range
  • Meridian
  • Folio (page number)
  • Liber (volume number)
  • Reference
  • Date of Document
  • Remarks
  • Microfilm Reel Number
  • Item Number

To suggest a correction, click on the Suggest a Correction link to access an electronic form.

To return to the Search Results page, click on the Back button of your browser in the upper left corner of your screen.

How to Obtain Copies

You can print the images or save the images on your computer. For documents that are not linked to digitized images, see How to Access Library and Archives Canada Records.

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