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Newfoundland Legal Documents - Crown Land Titles


Registry of Crown Lands

The passing of King William's Act of 1699, England, while allowing rentention of properties held since March of 1685, severely limited any form of resident land ownership in Newfoundland, giving instead preference for its use to those engaged in the prosecution of the English migratory cod fishery. However, as time went by, these restrictions were eased and some grants, were given under authority of the Governor, either approved by him or by his appointed Naval Surrogates. It was stipulated that these grants did not give outright ownership of the properties, but grantees were allowed possession of the properies provided they were to be used for the improvement of either the migratory or resident fisheries. However, in 1824 the British Parliament passed legislation which also allowed the Governor to grant or lease vacant land for diverse purposes, whether fishery related or not. At that time, the British government enacted the Judicature Act which created the first land registration system in Newfoundland. It was based on a District Court model and three juristictions were established, viz; the Northern District Court in Harbour Grace, the Southern District Court in Ferryland and the Central District Court in St. John's. All grants of land and other such transactions were required to be registered in a District Court within six months after a petition was approved. However, this time limit for compulsory registration was subsequently removed by the legislature because poor transportation and communications systems often prevented the public from meeting the deadline. With this requirement waived, many individuals continued to claim and occupy land by "squatter's rights" only.

Eventually in 1844, the first Crown Lands Act was passed by the Newfoundland legislature. This legislation directed that all individuals holding what was deemed to be Crown land (but held under squatter's rights) had four years to have that land surveyed and legally registered in their names, otherwise the land would revert back to the Crown. As a result of this legislation, a number of properties were registered in various government documents throughout Newfoundland. In 1849 the Crown Lands Registry was created under the Crown Grants Registration Act. This Registry remains in existence to the present day and houses upwards of 72,000 grants, leases and licences of Crown land.

Over the years, the diverse nature of recording Crown Land Grants has left the surviving records spread out over a number of collections held in various government departments and locations. The main collection is housed at the Registry of Crown Titles and Records but unfortunately a number of volumes have been destroyed over the years. In July 1892, the Registry experienced the devastating loss of 20 volumes of Crown grants, numerous maps, and other records, during the Great Fire of St. John's. While some documents were re-registered from duplicate copies held by individual land owners, a large number of grants are still missing.


1A & 2A (1803-1823) Volume D (1833-1847) Volumes 1 to 7 (1849-1860) Volumes 10 to 16 (1863-1869)
Volumes 19 to 20 & 28 (1870-1883) Volumes 107 & 108 (1930-1940) Occupations Licenses (1867-1889) Special Grants (1751-1930)

Persons holding old Crown grants registered in any of the volumes above are encouraged to contact the nearest Regional Lands Office so arrangements can be made to re-register the missing grant.

Page Last Modified: February 09, 2017 (Kevin Reddigan)

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