Land records are very complex. There may be many transactions and documents relating to one parcel of land. Procedures and requirements for acquiring and transferring land -- and for the required record-keeping -- may have changed over time.
A useful distinction to keep in mind when researching land records is the difference between Crown grants and private land transactions. All land originally belongs to the Crown -- that is, to the government. Crown land may be owned by the provincial or the federal government which may grant it to individuals or corporations through means such as purchase, pre-emption, or auction. Once land has been alienated from the Crown and is privately owned, it can be transferred to others through private transaction.
B.C. Crown Land could be granted to an individual through pre-emption, a process similar to homesteading. The pre-emptor could acquire a piece of land from the government at a discounted price, or at no charge, if he made certain improvements on it. Land could also be acquired from the Crown by outright purchase, auction, or other means.
In the decades after B.C. joined Confederation in 1871, few Chinese people acquired Crown land. Initially, they had the right to do so, despite other discriminatory measures imposed on people of Chinese origin. But many Chinese immigrants had come to Canada to escape poverty in China and were very poor. Although pre-emption offered a means of obtaining Crown Land at little or no cost, it required the pre-emptor to make improvements to the property, which cost money.
The transient nature of the community also did not encourage the acquisition of land. The majority of immigrants were male -- single or, if married, unaccompanied by their wives. There was a great deal of migration within B.C. and to and from the U.S. as people went to places where they could find work. Many went back to China, sometimes to stay, often to return to Canada with a family member.
In 1884, a legislative barrier to the acquisition of Crown land emerged in the form of a provincial " Act to Prevent Chinese from Acquiring Crown Lands" (S.B.C. 1884, Chapter 2). The legislation was not repealed until 1950 (S.B.C. 1950 Chapter 37, Section 19).
Despite the obstacles to Chinese ownership of land, a few records can be found relating to early Chinese settlers who purchased land prior to 1884, and in a few cases afterwards, although the basis upon which they were able to do so is unclear.
Once a piece of land was acquired from the Crown it could be bought and sold privately. People of Chinese origin had similar rights to others in such matters.
FINDING THE RECORDS
All historical land title and survey records relating to both Crown land and private property are managed by the B.C. Land Title and Survey Authority (LTSA) but copies and related records and tools are available at other locations and online:
At the Vancouver Public Library
The B.C. Gazette is a weekly government publication providing information about government activities. Part I includes information about transactions and activities relating to Crown land. Indexes to the B.C. Gazette list names of individuals applying to lease or purchase land, with references to corresponding entries in the main Gazette. The indexes are available at VPL beginning from 1901. B.C. Gazette is not indexed prior to this date.
At the B.C. Archives
B.C. Archives' holdings of land records and how to use them are described in the following two B.C. Archives Research Guides, available online:
As described in the guides, finding historical land records is a complex endeavour that may involve the use of both online and conventional tools, such as card catalogues and printed user guides. It will be necessary to contact the B.C. Archives for advice and assistance.
Some of the many and varied sources of land records held by the B.C. Archives' include:
Crown Grant Records
B.C. Archives has microfilm copies of original Crown grants and indexes covering the period from 1851-1930. (The original documents are held by the LTSA). Items relating to a Crown Grant may include the certificate of grant, a map showing the parcel of land, a receipt for payment of fees, a certificate of improvement, verifying that improvements were made to the land, and other items. See the Online section below for information on how to access Crown Grant records from 1851-1930.
The B.C. Archives collection includes records of sales of Crown Land, usually by public auction or public tender. To access these records, contact or visit the B.C. Archives.
Land (Lot) Registers
Land Registers are large books that were kept by each Land District office to record the first occasion on which each parcel of land in a District passed from the Crown into private hands. The parcel of land would only appear in a Land District register again if it reverted to the Crown (for example, if the owner defaulted on taxes). After the land had passed into private hands, responsibility for recording land transactions passed to a different government office.
Entries in Land Registers include information that may lead to other sources of information. Some Registers have alphabetical indexes. The set of land registers at the B.C. Archives is incomplete. To determine what indexes are available and to access them, contact or visit the B.C. Archives.
Pre-emption existed as a means of acquiring provincial Crown land from 1859 to 1970. The B.C. Archives has originals or copies of all surviving pre-emption records. To access these records, contact or visit the B.C. Archives.
B.C. OnLine provides access to a variety of provincial government computer systems over the Internet, including land titles. A land title search currently requires payment of a statutory fee and service charge. Historical land title searches are only available from 1980.
Land Grants of Western Canada, 1870-1930
While most of B.C. was provincial Crown Land, two areas -- the Railway Belt and Peace River Block -- were federal Crown Land, and could be alienated from the Crown through the federal homesteading process (similar to pre-emption). This database, hosted by Library and Archives Canada, indexes Letters Patent issued to homesteaders in Western Canada. Very few Chinese people have been noted in the database.
Letters Patent were one-page documents, issued to confirm title to a parcel of land. More detailed information is available through homestead files and applications at the B.C. Archives.