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Upper Canada Land Petitions (1763-1865)

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Background

Library and Archives Canada holds the records of the Upper Canada Land Petitions (RG1 L 3). Each applicant for a grant or lease was required to submit a written petition, according to the regulations in force at that date. He/she also had to supply the necessary supporting documentation such as certificates from a local magistrate confirming his/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 key to a successful petition was to be able to identify oneself without any doubt and to be able to justify any special entitlement. For that reason, the petitions will often contain an applicant's story detailing services, losses and sufferings 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 petitioner had to pay 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;
  • the survey 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.

About the records

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 Board records (RG 1 L4) or in the Lower Canada Land Petitions (RG 1 L3L).

The petitions were received at the Executive Council Office. They were presented and read before the next 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 was responsible for compiling the Minute Books from his notes of Council and Committee proceedings. At this point he assigned an alpha-numeric reference to the petition and entered that reference in 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. The petitions date predominantly from 1783 to 1841.

Miscellaneous bundles bring together other types of petitions. These are:

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

For more information about the records, consult the archival description.

Additional information about the land granting process can be obtained from David Moorman's theses: The first business of government: the land granting administration of Upper Canada [PDF 19,827 KB].

Database

This research tool provides access to more than 82,000 references to the Upper Canada Land Petitions (RG1 L 3) and petitions contained in the Upper Canada Sundries (RG 5 A1) held at Library and Archives Canada.

Indexes by name were originally created on cards for both series. For the Upper Canada Land Petitions (RG 1 L3), it was derived from list compilations of names, not directly from the petitions, with the result that errors or omissions in the lists were repeated on the index cards. Moreover, the spelling of names on petitions varies widely and handwriting is sometimes scarcely legible. The nominal 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 extracted from the finding aid and an index by name was created on cards. Information appearing on the cards has been inputted in this database.

Search Screen

The search screen allows you to search by the name of an individual. You can enter a surname and/or given name(s) and/or place (e.g. township). 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. Try searching by surname only. Names can also be written 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 will produce a results list, from which you can obtain more detailed descriptions.

The results list contains the following fields:

Name (surname and given name)
Place
Year(s) of document(s)

You can export the results to a portable storage device or to your own computer.

Click on the underlined name of the individual for a more detailed description. The detailed description contains the following fields:

Name (surname and given name)
Place (township or town)
Year
Volume
Bundle
Petition
Page (in some cases)
Microfilm
Reference

How to Obtain Copies

The Upper Canada land petitions (RG 1 L3) 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 actual records for the Upper Canada Sundries have not been digitized. They are only available on microfilm. Use the following link for options such as borrowing microfilm or ordering copies: How to Access Library and Archives Canada Records

Other Resources

Other archival records exist. Consult Land and Loyalists for more information about these records.

Other land records are held by the Archives of Ontario.