Land registry was the foundational government service in Canada.
If there were no place for a pioneer entrepreneur to register their Crown land patent for a mill seat, the mill didn’t get built. And if the mill didn’t get built, prospective homesteaders wouldn’t clear land if they had nowhere to process their grain or square up their timber.
These same farmers also wouldn’t invest in their land if surveyors had no place to register their documentation.
“Without lawful ownership of land — made official by the appointed registrar — there would be very little to attract development and the building of communities — in fact, the entire settlement of Upper and Lower Canada right through to the expansion of the west,” says James Christison, curator of the Waterford Heritage and Agricultural Museum.
“By the 1850s, surveyors and cartographers had fully recorded the geography of Norfolk and published numerous important documents to further the legitimacy of land ownership.”
In the early history of Canada, the land registrar was a celebrated, respected personality in the community. The first land registrar serving what became Norfolk County was Francis L. Walsh (1789-1884).
Walsh enjoyed an extraordinary run, serving in the position from 1810 until his death 74 years later in his mid-90s.
The land registry office in Simcoe served a vital function for well over 200 years.
But access to the maps and physical documents housed at the courthouse location came to a quiet end this month now that the service is delivered entirely online.
As of Oct. 13, anyone wishing to do a title search in Simcoe or learn details of a property’s financial history and encumbrances must visit the province’s virtual land registry office on the internet.
“Much has changed since Ontario’s land registry system was established 225 years ago,” says Ellen Samek, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services. “Most clients now complete their transactions online, with 87 percent of searches being conducted online and 98 percent of surveyors submitting plans for pre-approval via email.”
“Fact is, data show a clear preference for online versus in-person land registry services. To serve Ontarians better, our government is embracing this trend and has shifted to a digital-focused service model.”
Samek adds numerous stakeholders were consulted. These include the Association of Ontario Land Surveyors, the Ontario Genealogical Society, the Ontario Bar Association, the Federation of Ontario Law Associations, the Ontario Association of Professional Searchers of Records, and municipalities.
“Now, Ontarians will no longer need to drive to a land registry office or navigate a manual process,” Samek said. “This means clients can now download records from the comfort of their homes or offices.
It is making life easier for our clients that this change is about.”
Realtors also use land registry services frequently. Port Rowan realtor Ray Ferris, a past president of the Ontario Real Estate Association, agrees that accessing records online is preferable to an in-person search.
Ferris doesn’t miss the commute from Ward 1 to the registry office in Simcoe – a drive that usually took longer than the search he performed upon arrival.
“I can’t recall the last time I set foot in a land registry office,” Ferris said. “Being able to sit at my desk and do this is simply easier and more efficient. It’s something realtors have been doing for some time.
“I actually have more confidence in the online system. Someone can’t re-file a document in the wrong spot. There are definite advantages to it.”
Those wishing to learn more can do so by visiting www.OnLand.ca .