Crown Lands Land Registries
I have copied the information below directly from the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Fisheries and Land Resources Department website because it explains in fairly simple to understand terms why it is that there are in effect two independent government offices responsible for land registration in this province. There is a fair amount of overlap and duplication in this arrangement but it has historical reasons for being and until someone takes the bull by the horns and unifies these two systems, this is what any researcher will have to contend with when they deal with the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador when trying to find information on land tenure and ownership.
One thing that this description does not adequately explain is that not all Deeds were always lodged with the Registry of Deeds. Beginning in 1849, but only consistently observed since about 1888, all Deeds were registered at that one central office. Prior to that time, from 1824 onward, there were essentially three registries, each attached to a subsidiary branch of the Supreme Court, one for each geographical district: The Southern District Court, based in Ferryland; the Central District Court, based in St. John’s; and the Northern District Court, based in Harbour Grace. These three registries continued to function, more or less, until 1888, though they were supposed to cease to exist when the central registry came into existence in 1849.
So for historical documents such as indentures one can now go to the Registry of Deeds office on Elizabeth Avenue and examine their historical registers going back as far as they exist in time.
But there is one more wrinkle that needs to be explained. Each of the above district Courts also retained its own set of files that were generally related to legal matters – such things as disputes over money, the recording of Wills and so on. These are not normally found at the Registry of Deeds but rather have been lodged for safekeeping with the Provincial Archives Division of the Rooms Corporation.
I had previously created a page for the Registry of Deeds specifically. I am now creating this new page to house information primarily on historical land grants pertaining to my paternal and maternal lines. This I am referring to as the Registry of Crown Titles, because this is what they call it on their website. But in point of fact the office in the Howley Building on Higgins Line in St. John’s, which is where most researchers will eventually find themselves, is the “Eastern Regional Lands Office”.
The Province of Newfoundland and Labrador maintains two separate registries for land holdings. The Registry of Crown Titles located at the Howley Building, Higgins Line, St. John’s contains records of all land titles issued by the Crown. The Registry of Deeds contains records of private land holdings and transactions, it is situated at 55 Elizabeth Avenue, St. John’s.
1. Registry of Crown Titles – Department of Fisheries and Land Resources
2. Registry of Deeds – Service NL
1. Registry of Crown Titles (This Page)
The Registry contains 70,000 land tenure documents together with background information, applications and legal surveys dating back to the 1830’s. A further 1600 titles are added each year. The Registry is responsible for records management which involves the storage and management of all files and related documents pertaining to Crown land titles, administration, legal proceedings, as well as the protection of documents related to other government departments such as Mining Grants, Timber Licences, Water Power Agreements etc. The Registry provides a public service regarding information on land ownership, payments for rents due on leased land, and administration of the assignment of leased/licenced tenures. All Crown lands title documents are housed in a fire proof vault for maximum security and protection. Document security is a major concern because in 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 which occurred in July of that year. While many documents were re-registered, from duplicate copies held by land owners, a large number of titles are still missing. Listed below are the volumes which were lost in the fire of 1892. Persons holding old Crown grants registered in any of these volumes are encouraged to contact the nearest Regional Lands Office so arrangements can be made to re-register the missing grant.
Volumes Lost in the Great Fire of 1892
- Volumes A, B, C, D
- Volumes 1 and 2 (Free Grants)
- Volumes 1 to 7 (inclusive)
- Volumes 10 to 16 (inclusive)
- Volumes 19,20 and 28
The Registry of Deeds has the largest database of information of all the registries within the Service NL Commercial Registrations Division. The records maintained relate to real estate in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador dating back to the early 1800’s. This information can be searched through a manual index system from 1825 to 1979, and an electronic database from 1980 to present. The electronic database currently cannot be accessed by external clients. A visit to the Registry of Deeds is necessary for searching land title in the Province. Within the Registry of Deeds, clients can access two other land related registries namely, the Registry of Mechanics’ Liens and the Registry of Condominiums.
Land Grants of Interest at the Eastern Regional Lands Office
On several occasions over the years I have visited this office in search of information relevant to my research. Since my family history research contact, Steve Barnable, is presently the Regional Lands Manager – Eastern working out of these offices, it is generally my practice to visit him there each year on my annual visits “home”. But before he was working there, I searched their index for chosen names of interest and discovered that they had several Land Grants of interest to my research.
Wheeler Family Land Grants on the Torbay Rd.
A visit to this office in 2003 revealed that there were five grants in the name of various members of the Wheeler family on Torbay Rd. These Wheelers were my mother’s ancestors. It was always known that they were farmers and not fishermen, though they might have fished occasionally to make a little extra money. Farming the thin soil in that region was no recipe for success, nor even a stable income for that matter.
Not having time to copy these grants then and there, I later contacted the office and purchased copies of these five grants, as well as blueprint copies of maps showing all grants on record along the Torbay Rd. between St. John’s and Torbay, and as far east as the ocean at Outer Cove and Logy Bay. Examining these maps did not reveal any further grants of immediate interest. That said, there are many familiar names on these grants, mostly more distant relatives, that may prove worth investigating further at some future date.
The five grants that were pertinent were issued to Joseph Wheeler, the immigrant ancestor of our line in Newfoundland, and three of his sons, James (my second great-grandfather) and his two surviving brothers, Philip and William, as well as one grandson of Joseph Wheeler, John Thomas Wheeler, a son of James. The dates of issue ranged from 1845 to 1900. Contrary to what I had been led to believe by family lore pertaining to where the Wheeler family farmed, all of these grants were closer to St. John’s than I had imagined, being on both sides of the Torbay Rd. starting at Majors Path and extending toward the Town of Torbay as far as Island Pond at the outside limit.
In addition to these official land grants, it became clear from the description of the grants and from other references that a number of parcels of land in the same general area were also claimed by members of the Wheeler family. These would have been occupied by them through tenant arrangements with the actual land owners in some instances as well as a few instances of purchases from the original grant holders. These blocks do not appear in the records of the Regional Lands Office since the grants were not issued under the name Wheeler, but I did discover a number of Indentures related to these properties in the records of the Central District Court at the Registry of Deeds. Search for “Wheeler” on that page and you will find them all.
As discussed above, several of the earlier volumes of the Crown Lands Grants were destroyed in the Great Fire of July 1892. Volume 4, in which this grant was originally recorded as Folio 104, Crown Grant No. 440, was amongst the Registers Volumes destroyed. But some, most likely not all, of the grants contained in that Volume were later replaced with duplicates and found their way for a period of time into a new Volume 2A as Folio 587. Later again, there was a reorganisation of the salvaged grants into different Volume, Folio and Grant numbers, and this grant wound up being in the new Volume 5 as Folio 47, Crown Grant # 1311.
The grant was for a 50 acre parcel on the west (left) side of the Torbay Rd. just after Majors Path on the way to Torbay. The fee was a nominal £5 because these grants were issued with the intention that they be used for agricultural purposes to provide food to the growing population of the St. John’s area.
Circumstantial evidence seems to indicate that, after his death, Joseph’s eldest son, James, claimed ownership of this grant, though there was no will on register to show that this was Joseph’s wish, and no attempt was made to register the change of ownership at the Registry of Deeds.
Family lore has it that all of these grants eventually came down through inheritance, whether via a will that is not on record or simply as a result of the usual system of eldest son takes all. One way or the other, it is said that Mom’s Uncle Art owned this property at one stage and gave away or sold for a pittance bits and pieces of it until it was all gone. Today those 50 acres would be worth countless millions.
Forty years have passed and yet this does seem to be the second grant received by any member of the Wheeler family. This is the son of the above Joseph Wheeler. He is my second great-grandfather. By the time he applied for and received this grant, he was the age that his father was before him when he first applied for a grant — 69 years of age. And just like his father, it seems pretty clear that he was not applying for this grant to farm it personally, even though it was ostensibly to be used as agricultural land (under Section 26 of the Crown lands Act of 1884), and even though he was named as a farmer in the grant. He had four sons, though it appears one of them died as a child, and it is more than likely that it was they and not James who were involved in active farming on the Torbay Rd. at the time this grant was issued in their father’s name.
There is another possibility, however. Two large grants abutting this one (both substantially larger) were granted in the name of the Honourable George T. Rendell, a merchant and member of the legislative council. These would have been acquired solely for speculative reasons. Land this close to town was already increasing in value in those days and all it took to acquire such grants was to have 1/10th of the total land put under cultivation within one year. No effort was made thereafter to determine if it was still being employed for this purpose or if the other 9/10ths were ever so developed. So it may be that James, as his old age was upon him, decided to acquire this property as a sort of retirement fund to be sold off in parcels in future years, as required and as the need arose. For a fee of only $5, this would have represented excellent insurance.
This is a huge grant – 105 acres; more than twice the size of the one received by his father. It is on the opposite side of the Torbay Rd. (the east or right side, facing Torbay) and is slightly further in the direction of Torbay, on land occupied today by part of the industrial estate. I can only imagine how much this land would be worth today. But like the grant that his father obtained, none of this land made it to even our parents’ generation, let alone ours.
One very curious thing about this grant is that the description of the layout and location included this phrase: “commencing at a point being the Northern angle of of land granted to Philip Wheeler at a “juniper tree”, thence…”
Apart from how ludicrous it was to use as its starting marker something as impermanent as a tree, rendering the location a complete unknown to anyone today, the fact is that his brother, Philip Wheeler, was not in possession of a grant, at least not as far as the Registry today knows. And it seems likely that it was not an early enough grant to have been lost in the fire of 1892, which primarily did damage to the volumes containing the very earliest grants. But perhaps it was in one of the later volumes that was also burned and that no duplicate could be found to replace it. More likely, however, is the possibility that Philip had purchased the grant belonging to the actual grant holder and had not bothered to register the transfer.
This was one of two grants issued in the name of James Wheeler (see below).
This is NOT the grant owned by Philip Wheeler mentioned above as being adjacent to the grant obtained in 1885 by his brother James.
This grant is smaller – only 15 acres, 3 roods and 7 perches. It is also back on the other side of Torbay Rd. (the west or left side going toward Torbay) and is adjacent to the grant issued in his father’s name. However, it is not on the Torbay road per se, but rather is to the west of that grant, on land a part of which was later expropriated during WWII to provide a landing area for aircraft belonging to the US Military. Today it would be part of the St. John’s International Airport.
Once again there is a curious element to the description of this grant as well. It refers to one of the adjacent properties as “commencing at a point being the South East angle of land in possession of the heirs of the late William Wheeler”. William was Philip’s brother and he died in 1868, eighteen years previous to this grant being awarded. So this language is strange for two reasons; first it is clear that the title has not been changed to name the heir or heirs now in possession; and secondly, it does not say “granted” but rather “in the possession”. In point of fact, there is no existing evidence that William ever did receive a grant. This may have been land occupied by “squatters rights”. It seems unlikely that it was rented because, if it were, the name of the grant-holder would be given.
And of course, once again, none of this land is held by anyone in the Wheeler family today. The grant fee was $4.80, reflecting its being given conditionally based upon its use in conformance with the laws and regulations pertaining to agricultural development.
Both this grant and the previous one given to Philip’s brother James were witnessed by “Sir Frederick B. T. Carter, Knight Commander of the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and George, Administrator of the Government and Commander-in-Chief”. Interestingly, this lengthy title fails to mention that, at this time, he was also Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Newfoundland. This presumably had more to do with the reason for him witnessing such grants, though perhaps that position was considered less prestigious and not worthy of mention.
Here we have James once again acquiring a grant of land for agricultural purposes despite his advancing years. He is now 73 years old. Even his sons are dubiously involved in the manual labour of farming by this time. So we have to assume that such grants were easier to obtain if you had long service as a farmer and that the working of the land actually fell to sons, or more likely grandsons.
This smaller parcel of land (14 acres and 2 roods) is not adjacent to the earlier grant but is on the same side of the Torbay Rd. (east or right side facing Torbay) slightly closer to Torbay, just this side of Island Pond. A parcel granted to a Charles Langdon separated the two grants given to James. There was no mention in the description of any other Wheeler grant-holders or in possession of land adjacent.
Interestingly, my mother told us that her father and his brother, Joe, with whom he used to always go hunting and fishing, regularly cycled out this pond to fish. Obviously there were easier places to fish which were much closer to their attached houses at 64 and 62 Quidi Vidi Terrace, but they had probably been fishing these waters since they were boys and knew every inch of the pond.
The fee was only $4.35 reflecting both the small size of the grant and its restricted use.
We are now at the turn of the century, eleven years after the previous Wheeler grant was issued, and we have moved on to a new generation. John Thomas Wheeler was not the John Thomas Carr Wheeler who was my grandfather. He was the son of the above James Richard Wheeler. Being an uncle of my grandfather it is possible that his first two forenames were in his honour. We know that the name Carr was added to his longer than normal string of names in honour of the Carr brothers, John Thomas Tertius Carr and Mark Wilson Carr, merchant mariners from Gateshead near Newcastle, who married two of my grandfather’s aunts, Caroline and Sophia, respectively. I had always assumed that Daddy Jack received his full forename, “John Thomas Carr” from his uncle by marriage who bore that name, but now I wonder.
This was the last of the five known grants issued to Wheeler men on the Torbay Rd. It perhaps indicates a continuing interest in farming in the family. However, we know that John Thomas Wheeler’s father was now deceased, as were his grandfather and his farming uncles, Philip and William.
And my great grandfather (the brother of John Thomas), who had been involved to some extent in farming on his father’s grants, had by this time moved into town and was working as the groundskeeper/gardener on the Emerson Estate and in other locations. He had initially been listed as a fishermen on the birth/baptismal records of his eldest children, then this changed to “farmer” on some of the later children’s records and finally as a labourer with addresses varying from Torbay Rd. to Outer Cove Rd. to several places in St. John’s including Kingsbridge Rd., Mulloch St., Signal Hill Rd., Walsh’s Square and finally Powers Court in a small thatched cottage on Powers Court before his death in 1924. I have to assume, judging from the poverty in which he found himself during much of this time, that he no longer owned or had any right to use any of the farmland on Torbay Rd.
John Thomas’s grant was the smallest of all: 9 acres, 2 roods and 28 perches. It was located adjacent to land that was now designated as being a grant to James Wheeler, his father, but that was, in point of fact, the original grant given to his grandfather, Joseph Wheeler. On modern grant maps, the property in question is shown as having been granted to Philip Wheeler, but i think that was a clerical error and it should have read John Thomas Wheeler. Philip’s grant is nearby but not adjacent.
The Final Wheeler Farmers on Torbay Rd.
I cannot be absolutely certain when the Wheelers gave up farming on the Torbay Rd. I know that our great grandfather Joseph’s brother, James William was initially a farmer but gave it up and became a carman (equivalent of a taxi driver when automobiles emerged later on) in St. John’s as early as 1886. Philip Wheeler’s sons are a bit of a mystery because they had no children and hence there are no birth/baptismal records to give a clue as to their occupations over the years. Only one of William’s sons appears to have survived to adulthood and he moved away to Southwest Arm, Green Bay, after his marriage.
So I am tempted to conclude that the Wheeler era as farmers on Torbay Rd. ended with the family of John Thomas Wheeler. He had three sons, but one of them, L. Cpl. James Joseph Wheeler was killed on the Somme in WWI in the Battle of Leboeufs. He was one of those dedicated members of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment who did honour to their comrades by fighting on after being initialled wounded and died of a second series of wounds several days later.
Philip Joseph was in the Royal Navy and survived the sinking of the CALGARIAN because he was ill in hospital when it sailed on its final fateful cruise in which everyone on board perished. In the 1921 and 1935 Censuses, he and his other brother, Peter, were shown as working as farmers on their late father’s farm on Torbay Rd., then occupied by their mother, Agnes.
Philip died in 1943. Peter was still farming there by the time of the 1945 Census. After that, of course, there are no other records to tell us how long he continued to work the farm. He was only 47 at the time of the 1945 Census and we can presume he had a good few years in him, since he only died in 1962. But we do not know if he farmed right up until the time that he died. He had no children, and that may have been the end of the story.