Land Grants
in Newfoundland and Labrador

Brief History

Land grants in Newfoundland and Labrador are not recorded prior to the mid-1800s, although this province has a history of Europeans fishing in their waters as far back as the 1500s.

The British claimed the territory in the early 1600s, and various colonies were attempted, beginning in 1610. However, the British government was more interested in the abundance of fish for the European market than they were in settling the land, and discouraged settlement for other than temporary, fishing-related purposes.

A limited form of land ownership was allowed beginning in 1699, connected to the fishing industry. It was only in 1824 that the British government provided the governor the right to grant “waste” land for any purpose (not just to facilitate fishing).

Main Street, La Poile, NF.
Wikimedia Commons
Main Street, La Poile, NF

The Newfoundland government passed its first Crown Lands Act in 1844.

The history of Crown land grants, therefore, begins in the mid-1800s. However, land titles, and the transfer of title between individuals, both exist from the early 1800s.

Despite the passage of the two Acts in 1824 and 1844, which made it easier for individuals to obtain Crown land grants, many individuals continued what had previously been the practice: to claim land as their own simply by “squatters’ rights” or “adverse possession”. That is, once an individual and his/her heirs had lived on the property for an uninterrupted period of time – usually about 20 years – they could claim that land as their own.

Even today, squatters’ rights play a large role in the Newfoundland and Labrador land registration system. Legislation is in place to allow those meeting the requirements to apply for a Crown grant giving them title to ‘their’ land. It appears that Newfoundland and Labrador is the only Canadian province still granting Crown land at a substantial discount or free.The British government attempted to impose a uniform system for the registration of title to property in 1824, and passed a law which stated that all title to property had to be registered within six months. However, this requirement proved impossible to implement fully, due to the isolation of many communities and the difficulties of communicating the law. This requirement was withdrawn, and never reinstated.

Land Registries

As in other Canadian provinces, the Province has a Registry for Crown Titles, and a separate Registry of Deeds for transfers of land between private parties.

(i) Registry of Crown Titles

The Crown Lands Registry was created in 1848, under the Crown Grants Registration Act. The Registry currently contains more than 70,000 grants, leases and licences of Crown land. Approximately 1600 titles to Crown land are registered yearly.

About 95% of the land in Newfoundland and Labrador is Crown land.

The Registry of Crown Titles contains land tenure documents, along with background information, applications and legal surveys dating back to the 1830's. A further 1600 titles are added each year.

The register is incomplete, owing to a fire at the Registry Office during the Great Fire of St. John’s in July of 1892, resulting in the loss of 20 volumes of Crown land grants, along with some maps and other records. Some of the records have been re-registered, using copies of the documents which the owners had in their possession. However, a substantial number are still missing.

Since that time, steps have been taken to conserve and preserve any remaining documents. They now are kept in a fire-proof vault.

The Registry stores and manages all files and related documents pertaining to Crown land titles, including administration and legal proceedings. It also houses documents from other government departments which have an effect on Crown land, such mining grants, timber licences, water power agreements, and so on.

The Registry provides information to the general public with respect to land ownership, payments for rents due on leased land, and administration of the assignment of leased/licenced tenures.

Contact details for the Registry of Crown Titles are as follows:

Crown Lands Administration Division
PO Box 8710, Higgins Line, Howley Building
St. John's,Newfoundland
A1B 4J6

Phone: (709) 729-3085
Fax: (709) 729-6136

Fishing Boats in the Harbour.
Wikimedia Commons
Bonavista, NF Harbour

(ii) Registry of Deeds

The Registry of Deeds contains records related to real estate in Newfoundland and Labrador dating back to the early 1800's.

A manual index is available for searching between the years 1825 to 1979. An electronic database exists for deeds registered between 1980 and the present, but it is not available to the general public. To search title to a particular property, you must physically go to the Registry of Deeds, or hire a title searcher to do so.

The Registry of Deeds also handles two additional registries: the Registry of Mechanics’ Liens, where creditors can register unpaid debts against the debtor’s property, and the Registry of Condominiums.

Contact details for the Registry of Deeds are as follows:

Registry of Deeds
Department of Government Services
Commercial Registrations Division
P.O. Box 8700
St. John's, NL
A1B 4J6

Tel: (709) 729-3302
Fax: (709) 729-0232

Street Address: 59 Elizabeth Avenue, St. John’s NL

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