Quebec Land Grants
For genealogy purposes, the most important documents regarding Quebec land grants are the petitions for land and the land patents (certificates that granted ownership of the land).
Land petitions may provide information with respect to the petitioner, his wife, the number of children, where he came from, who his parents were, military service (especially if they were United Empire Loyalists), the approximate date that they settled on the land, and so on.
For those in the Gaspe region (see below), especially, there may well be information with respect to the petitioners’ forefathers, who had lived on the same land before them, as many famiies had been on the same land for between one and two hundred years without obtaining a grant. In order to prove continuous occupation of the land, then, they would have had to provide the names of their forefathers who also lived on that land.
Land patents give the name of the person(s) who received the Quebec land grant, as well as a description of the land (i.e., its boundaries), and the date of the grant.
While in some provinces, a land patent is evidence that the grantee had successfully fulfilled the conditions for a land grant, that is not necessarily the case in Quebec. Quebec land grants may occur many years after the family settled on the land, and in some cases, more than a hundred years later!
A Bit of History
(a) The French Seigneurial System
Quebec originally was a French colony. The Quebec grant system in place from 1627 until the early-to-mid-1800s was based on French custom and law. It operated somewhat differently from that in the rest of Canada. Land distribution was originally based on the French seigneurial system. This was similar to the "Manorial" system in England.
Under the seigneurial system, the King of France granted seigneuries to members of the "bourgeoisie" (wealthy craftsmen not of the nobility), members of important families, or former military officers.
The "seigneur" (literally "Lord") had privileges as the owner of the land in the seigneurie, but he also had obligations toward the King. The seigneur granted parcels of land (concessions) on his seigneury to tenants called "censitaires” or “habitants”, who farmed the land.
The concessions were in long, narrow strips, all facing onto water. This is in contrast to the British system, in which the land was divided into large blocks of land and squared off into townships, which then were further subdivided into square blocks of land of approximately equal size, regardless of where the water source was located.
A notarial act (a document written by a notary public) was produced when the seigneur granted land. This contract includes the following information:
- the names of the parties;
- the dimensions and location of the land; and
- the various obligations of the "censitaire."
Maison Lamontagne, Rimouski, Quebec.
Built in 1750 by the granddaughter of seigneur Rene LePage, it is the oldest example of a half-board house on a stone foundation in Quebec.
(b) The British System Imposed
In 1763, under the Treaty of Paris, the British gained control of present-day Ontario, Quebec, and any French property to the east, except for St. Pierre and Miquelon.
Thus began a series of events which led to the confusion and uncertainty regarding title to land, especially in certain areas, which still exists in Quebec to this day:
- Beginning in 1763, any new lands were to be processed under the British township system. Quebec was divided into counties, which in turn were divided into townships or "municipalités de paroisses."
Quebec land grants, called 'location tickets’ or ‘occupation permits’, were limited to 100 acres for every head of a family, and 50 acres for all others in the family. In exceptional circumstances, up to a total of 1000 acres could be granted.
These Crown lands were to be granted in "free tenure" (meaning that the grantees had no obligations toward the seigneur), unless the Crown needed the land for military purposes.
There is no record of any grants under this system, although undoubtedly some parcels of land did change hands during this time period.
- In 1775, the British government reverted to the French system for Quebec land grants.
- In 1786, the British government sent instructions that grants of land were to be given to refugee loyalists from the United States, and to the officers and men of the 84th regiment, a Colonial corps organized during the American Revolutionary War, when American forces invaded Quebec. Grants ranged between 50 acres for privates and 5,000 acres for staff sergeants.
The Quebec land grants were to be from the Crown as seigneur. They would be subject to all of the usual conditions of seigneurial tenure.
- The soldiers objected to the seigneurial system of tenure, and refused to accept the lands.
The colonial government therefore returned to the system of Quebec land grants by location tickets, which has remained in place since that time. A total of 232,281 acres were granted to those who served in the War of 1775, and another approximately 218,000 acres to those who served in the War of 1812.
All of these grants were subject to the following conditions:
- within one year, settle on the premises;
- within three years, plant and cultivate at least two acres for every hundred acres; and
- within seven years, plant and cultivate at least seven acres for every hundred acres.
If the conditions were not met, the land would revert to the Crown, for granting to another settler family.
However, those in charge at the time did not enforce the conditions or cancel Quebec land grants where the conditions were not met. The vast majority of these lands ended up in the hands of speculators, as the soldiers sold the lands for a pittance as soon as they received title.
Painting by Cornelius Krieghoff, 1856.
- The rules as set out were not followed, and many individuals – namely, the friends and relatives of members of the Commission overseeing Quebec land grants - were granted entire townships, which then were closed to further settlement.
These individuals did nothing to meet the settlement requirements, and had no interest in developing roads on or through their property. Thus, bona fide settlers granted land adjacent to one of these properties had no way to access their own land.
In most cases, the requirement that the settlers' lands be inspected yearly (to determine whether they were meeting the requirements to obtain full title to the land) was not carried out.
- In 1791, under the new Constitutional Act, the area previously known as Canada was divided into Upper Canada (present-day southern Ontario) and Lower Canada (present-day southern Quebec).
The Act contained the same provisions as in 1763 with respect to the Quebec land grants and its inspection on at least an annual basis. However, little changed ‘on the ground’ in Quebec.
- In 1818, a further attempt at implementing settlement requirements was made. Location permits or occupation tickets were issued to settlers, which allowed them to settle on the land and fulfill minimal conditions prior to qualifying to obtain letters patent (full ownership) of the land.
Settlers were required to build a hut, and to clear and cultivate four acres of forest.
An additional condition of being permanently resident on the land for three consecutive years was soon abandoned.
- Difficulties were evident in the surveying area, as well. The Quebec lands granted to a settler were to be surveyed, so that it was clear exactly which lands belonged to whom.
As the settlers had to pay for the survey, those offering the least expensive option often were chosen, regardless of whether or not they had actual surveying experience or credentials. Many lots existed only on paper.
In one Quebec county, surveys done in the 1820s, initially with respect to some court disputes over boundaries, revealed that the actual boundaries for over 300 lots, rather than being horizontal as indicated on the map in the General Surveyor’s office, were actually on a diagonal!
The 1820s: a New Commission
By the early 1820s, it was clear that the something had to be done. Things were becoming more and more muddled, in terms of exactly what lands belonged to which individuals.
In the Gaspe and Acadian regions of Quebec, many individuals did not have proper title to the land on which they were living, although they and their forebears had been there for lengthy periods of time – some for well over 100 years. Others had obtained occupation permits, but had never bothered to obtain the letters patent which would give them full title to the land.
The government implemented a new Commission, which could investigate land claim disputes and, after viewing the property if necessary, could decide on the spot who owned the property.
Also, a court system was implemented in 1825, to inquire as to whether the settlement conditions had been met. However, those granted excessive amounts of land, as indicated above, who had met none of the requirements for settlement, managed to have their proceedings thrown out of court on technicalities.
Nevertheless, the system did work in resolving disputes about Quebec land grants for the ‘little guy’ – the bona fide settlers and others living on the land without full title to their property.
In 1826, the government began charging for new Quebec lands granted. All Crown lands were to be sold by auction. The sale price was to be paid in four instalments, without interest. Further instructions were issued in 1831 and 1837, adjusting the date(s) on which the instalments had to be paid. The 1837 instructions required that the land be fully paid for at the time of purchase.
As of 1840, the present-day system of Quebec land grants, by which Crown lands were transferred into private hands, was implemented. For Crown lands transferred after that date, it is easy to search the title to a particular property, and ownership is much more certain than with those granted between 1796 and 1840.
Given the above situation, it is not at all surprising that, even today, it is not easy to determine with full certainty the ownership of properties for Quebec land grants between 1773 and 1840.
Painting by Cornelius Kreighoff
Where can I find the Records?
Library and Archives Canada holds the index to Quebec land grant records in the "Lower Canada Land Petitions" database (RG 1 L3L), for the period 1764 - 1841. Some earlier records also are included.
Petitions for land submitted between 1841 and 1867 by people living in Quebec can be found in the Upper Canada Land Petitions (Ontario).
The Quebec Archives has "Liste des terrains concédés par la Couronne dans la province de Québec, de 1763 au 31 décembre 1890” [ A list of Crown grants in the province of Quebec, 1763-1890 ] , a group of records arranged by townships within counties, and indexed by the people receiving the Quebec land grants, published in 1891.
The documents themselves have been scanned, and are online at the above link. Unfortunately, they are in the French language.
You can also access these documents by microfilm; check with your local library with respect to their availability by inter-library loan.
As noted above, the Gaspe Land Commission was set up in 1819, for the purpose of granting lands and hearing claims to land in the Gaspe area. Library and Archives Canada has an index listing the names of individuals seeking land grants from the Commission in the early 1820s, and cross-referencing the microfilm reel holding the records related to that transaction.
There is also a company called Archi-Histo. It has the following records available:
From 1800 to 1900, you can find the name(s) of notaries practising in a particular area by consulting one, or both, of the following indexes:
- Index des lieux de résidence et de pratique des commissaires et des notaires 1621-1991, ainsi que les lieux de dépôt de leurs minutiers avec leurs côtes aux ANQ, by Jean-Marie Laliberté, 1991 [Index of the residences and practice addresses of commissioners of oaths and notaries from 1621 – 1991, as well as the location of their minute books at the Archives of Quebec Notaries, by Jean-Marie Laliberté, 1991].
- Tableau de l'ordre, Chambre des notaires du Québec, 1984. [ Membership List, Chamber of Quebec Notaries, 1984]
Once you have found the notaries practising in the area where your ancestors were, you can look at their indexes, to obtain the date and title of the contract, and the names of the parties to the contract.
The Quebec Notaries’ Archives has a website, with digital images of those indexes, at Archives des notaires du Québec, des origines à 1906 [ Archives of Quebec Notaries, from their origins to 1906 ] Unfortunately, these records are available only in French.
The website indicates that they continue to add more and more copies of the original documents. In the meantime, the indexes are there, and you can access the original document either at the Archives, or on microfilm, which should be available for inter-library loan.
I hope that this short outline of the historical occurrences which had an impact on Quebec land grants will prove useful in your search for your ancestors and the lands on which they lived in Quebec. Good luck with the search!
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