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Description found in Archives
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Series consists of records created and maintained by the British Columbia Lands Branch. The series includes correspondence, a 1912 report on the Railway Belt, and orders-in-council concerning the administration of the Railway Belt. Also included in this series is a nominal index to the Branch's central registry compiled in 1973 by the land administration unit, Northern Program, Department of Indian and Northern Affairs.
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Biography / Administrative history
When British Columbia entered Confederation in 1871, one of the terms of entry was the building of a railway to link the Pacific coast with eastern Canada. To assist in the construction, the province granted the federal government a strip of public land 40 miles in width along the entire length of the railway. This strip became officially known as the "Railway Belt". Because some lands within this Belt had already been alienated from the Crown by the British Columbia government prior to their transfer to the Dominion government, the province compensated the federal government by awarding it a separate block of some 3,500,000 acres in the Peace River district. This last parcel of land became officially known as the "Peace River Block".
The British Columbia Lands and Townsite Division was established within the Dominion Lands Branch in 1889 to administer all the department's programs for land settlement and resource development in the Railway Belt of British Columbia -- and after 1900, the Peace River Block. The Department of the Interior felt that a separate office was necessary to administer these two land areas because, for a variety of historical and environmental reasons, the Railway Belt and Peace River Block required different land use regulations from other Dominion Lands in western Canada. For example, the mountainous topography of the Railway Belt often left the department with no other choice than to restrict homestead entry to less than the full 160 acres that settlers on the prairies were granted -- often to as little as 25 acres. Major differences also included the absence of extensive grants for railway companies, the Hudson's Bay Company, and school lands. As well, separate regulations had to be made for the possibility of fruit culture and commercial timber, and because the region had already received full provincial status prior to the department's arrival on the scene, allowance also had to be made for provincial royalties from mineral resources (for a more complete discussion on how departmental policy for the Railway Belt differed from that of the prairies and parkland, see Kirk N. Lambrecht, "The Administration of Dominion Lands", 1870-1930, Regina: Canadian Plains Research Centre, 1991, pp. 44-48).
In 1910, the British Columbia Lands and Townsite Division was placed under the Railway and Swamp Lands Branch (P.C. 1130, -), and in 1912, following the death of Superintendent Robert Evans Young, it assumed the status of an independent departmental branch, with S. Maber as Superintendent (P.C. 1342, 22 May, 1912). Shortly, after this change in status, the British Columbia Lands Branch was also given the responsibility for administering the Doukhobour reserves (P.C. 41/1750, 1914). In the general reorganization of the Department of the Interior in 1922/23, the Branch returned to a divisional status, was renamed the British Columbia Lands Division, and was placed under the direction of the Dominion Lands Bureau. With the transfer of the administration of natural resources to the western provinces in 1930, the British Columbia Lands Division was dissolved. RG15 General Inventory
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