Land Petitions of Upper Canada, 1763-1865

View of Purbrook in Medonte Township, Upper Canada, 1836
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Background

Following the Constitutional Act of 1791, the colony of Quebec was divided to create Upper Canada (present-day Ontario) and Lower Canada (present-day Québec). Military and civilian settlers submitted petitions to the Governor to obtain Crown land. Sons and daughters of Loyalists were also entitled to free lands.

Land Boards were created in 1789 to oversee land matters, to facilitate settlement in the four districts of Hesse, Nassau, Luneburg and Mecklenburg, and to grant certificates of location to the settlers in these districts.

The Land Boards were abolished in 1794 when the land granting process was centralized through the Executive Council. Therefore, petitions relating to Ontario Loyalists prior to 1791 are to be found in the Land Boards of Upper Canada, 1765-1804 or in the Land Petitions of Lower Canada, 1764-1841.

The Records

The petitions date predominantly from 1783 to 1841.

Each applicant for a grant or lease was required to submit a written petition. He or she also had to supply the necessary supporting documentation such as certificates from a local magistrate confirming his or her age, good character, loyalty and identity, or a discharge certificate from the Army or Navy. In many cases, the documents were returned to the applicant, so they are not included with the land petition. The petitioner paid a small fee for processing the petition up to the point of granting the land.

The records of the land granting process focused on four essential steps:

  • allocation of specific lots to the petitioners;
  • surveying of the land to establish precise boundaries;
  • performance of the settlement duties (clearing and cultivating a certain acreage, erecting a dwelling of minimum size); and
  • issuance of the deed.

The key to a successful petition was to identify oneself without any doubt and to justify any special entitlement. Therefore, the petitions will often contain an applicant's story detailing services, losses and suffering during the American Revolutionary War or the War of 1812. They may also contain discharge certificates, letters of introduction from prominent individuals in Britain, reports by the Surveyor General or the Attorney General on technical and legal matters, and some lists of settlers by region.

The petitions were received at the Executive Council Office. They were presented and read before a meeting of the Land Committee of the Executive Council, and a decision was recommended by the Councillors to the Lieutenant Governor. The clerk of the Council compiled the Minute Books from his notes of Council and Committee proceedings.

The Clerk assigned an alpha-numeric reference to the petition and entered the reference into the Land Book margin next to the appropriate Minute. The letter is based on the initial letter of the petitioner's surname and the petition number represents the order in which the petition appears in the Land Book: e.g. V 5 means the fifth petitioner whose name began with V for the Land Book in question. The letters I and J (I-J) and U and V (U-V) are often formed into one sequence.

The archival reference includes a bundle number corresponding to the sequence of the Land Books: e.g., V6/5 means bundle V6, petition number 5. The bundle numbers start from 1 again in 1841. A connection can be made between the Land Books and the individual petitions, and vice versa.

Miscellaneous bundles bring together other types of petitions, such as:

  • petitions dating before the creation of Upper Canada;
  • petitions lacking supporting documentation or receipts for fees;
  • petitions that were refused or rejected;
  • petitions from non-residents or underage or otherwise unqualified petitioners;
  • claims deemed fraudulent; and
  • duplicate petitions.

The Database

This database contains petitions for grants or leases of land and other administrative records for Upper Canada from the following collections:

It provides access to more than 82,000 references to individuals who lived in present-day Ontario between 1763 and 1865.

Indexes by name were originally created on cards for both series. The Upper Canada Land Petitions (RG 1 L 3) were derived from lists of names, not directly from the petitions, so errors or omissions in the lists are repeated on the index cards. Moreover, the spelling of names on petitions varies widely and handwriting is sometimes illegible. The index cards have been microfilmed (reels C-10810 to C-10836 and H-1976 to H-1978). The database was created from the list of names at the beginning of each bundle of petitions, and not from the card index or the actual petitions.

For the Upper Canada Sundries, references for land petitions were taken from the finding aid and an index by name was created on cards. Information appearing on the cards has been added to this database. The records for the Upper Canada Sundries have not been digitized and are only available on microfilm.

Search Screen

The search screen enables you to search by:

  • Surname
  • Given Name(s)
  • Place

For group petitions, subjects can be entered in the surname box (e.g. name of a township or town, militia, Indians, land, schools, church, etc.).

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 lists for each bundle.

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.

Search Results Page

The search results page displays the following fields:

  • Surname
  • Given name(s)
  • Place
  • Year
  • Volume
  • Bundle
  • Petition
  • Page(s)
  • Reference
  • Microfilm

How to Obtain Copies

The documents have been digitized and are available online. Make sure to carefully note the microfilm, volume, bundle and page numbers in order to easily find the relevant digitized images.

The records for the Upper Canada Sundries have also been digitized and are available through the Heritage project.

Other Resources