To Survey or not to survey

Before the Crown officially opened each section of Upper Canada for settlement, surveyors were sent out to define Township limits and to establish ‘lots and concessions'. At least some of the corners of each lot were monumented. The pioneers were then assigned their properties by lot and concession. For the most part, this method of land description still prevails in Rural Ontario. 

Did you know?:

- That there are 100 links, or 66 feet, in a chain? 

- That there are 4 rods of 16.5 feet each, in a chain? 

- That many Village lots are 1 chain wide by 2.5 chains deep making a ‘rood' or 1/4 acre plot? 

In most parts of Eastern Ontario, a "Township" lot would be either 100 acres, or more commonly, 200 acres. The land was wild and the surveying was rough. Surveyors and their assistants would spend months in the bush using a 66 foot chain to measure off lots. Not surprisingly, given the size of the undertaking (and the numerical superiority of the insects) many errors crept in. I've seen Township lots, supposed to have comprised 200 acres, turn out to be anywhere from 120 to 260 acres. In many areas the north or south limits, which should of course have been straight, had to be given a ‘jog' so that the lot could be closed. 


A lawyer can search the title for you and tell you who owns a property, but it takes an Ontario Land Surveyor to define for you exactly where it is. If a property is not surveyed, you, and even the person selling it to you, may think it goes to the "old apple tree", but you can't know for sure. A surveyor will certify your boundaries. 

A buyer does not have a right to a survey unless he says so in his or her offer. All the vendor has to do is give you a property description that the local Registry Office will accept. If you require a survey, you could write in that "the vendor will provide an up to date location plan survey and register a Reference Plan" by a certain date. The vendor may say no, or may try to up your price for asking, but there probably is no harm in trying. It is always a benefit to have a current survey. 

There are basically two types of property surveys: 

1. A "Location Plan Survey" will show both the land and the position of the buildings, well and improvements on a lot. This is important because local by-laws require that buildings be set back a certain distance from the property lines. 

2. A "Reference Plan" is a survey plan, usually just showing the land. It is registered in the local Registry Office and is then referred to by Part and Plan Number to describe your land in future dealings.

Whenever a survey is done, the surveyor will plant square iron bars close to, but not necessarily at, the corners of the property. Sometimes the lot corners are too rocky or in the water. This means that to know where your property lies, you have to find the stakes, relate them to the plan and refer to the Surveyor’s written report.