By: Jack Jackowetz
To recap from last month’s column New France was originally divided into two districts: the District of Québec, centred in Québec City, and comprising present day southern Québec to Labrador, and the District of Montréal, centred in Montréal, and comprising present day southern Ontario.
The land west of the Ottawa River in the District of Montréal was initially set aside as Indigenous territory, not to be colonised. No organised settlement of the land west of Montréal, except for Niagara and Detroit, took place until after the United States gained independence in 1783.
In 1783, General Frederick Haldimand, governor or Québec, began to have Upper Canada surveyed into townships to accommodate the Loyalist settlers migrating from the United States.
To prepare the land for settlement a township boundary was surveyed. The township survey represents 18th-century English thinking where order and symmetry were the rule, so unlike the seemingly random roads and properties lots in England, Upper Canada would be laid out in an orderly and rigid fashion.
Concession roads were laid out by the colonial government through undeveloped Crown land to provide access to the newly surveyed lots intended for new settlers. The land that spanned the entire length of a new township was conceded by the Crown for this purpose, hence a concession of land. Land was conceded to an individual in exchange for building a house, performing roadwork and land clearance, and money.
The first townships were intended to be six miles square, however, no standard was ever adopted thus the size and shape of townships varied. A baseline or front concession road was surveyed. The road ran from one end of the township to the other. All subsequent concession roads would be surveyed from this baseline road. Lots were then surveyed along the concession road. These lots, grouped together, were called a concession. Baseline roads were usually parallel to the St. Lawrence River, the Bay of Quinte, and Lake Ontario whereas most of the townships adjacent to Lake Erie used a settlement road such as the Talbot road. Concession roads usually ran east / west but in some townships they ran north / south. Sometimes the baseline was in the middle of the township with concessions on either side identified as east or west, e.g. 2nd Concession East.
Lots were measured in chains, the standard unit of measure in land management in England and America at the time. One chain is 66 feet or 20.1 metres. The layout and size of lots evolved over time. In the 1780s, lots were 200 acres and measured 20 chains by 100 chains. A road allowance of one chain was provided in front of each concession and usually every fifth lot for a side road. This survey method was known as a single-front system, i.e. the surveyor only measured the concession from the front of each lot. By the mid-1810s, lots measuring 30 chains by 66 2/3 chains were being surveyed. These 200 acre lots were divided in half with each settler getting 100 acres. This survey method was known as a double-front system, i.e. the surveyor measured the 200 acre lot at the front and the rear of each lot, the lot was then divided into two 100 acre lots.
Side roads run at right angles to the concession road and are often called cross roads. As much as corners were supposed to be square you will find some township where they are not.
In some townships Concession roads are called Line roads, e.g. Fifth Line Road or Fifth Line. In some townships Concession roads might be named Concession 5-6 indicating that the road runs between the 5th and 6th concession.
Upper Canada was an untamed wilderness when the surveying was carried out. Surveying tools were primitive at the time and most surveyors used a compass for direction rather than a theodolite which is more precise. Small mistakes in measurement would be compounded over distance and resulted in the familiar jog in the side roads we encounter today when they crossed concessions.
Of interest, when Toronto was surveyed, what is now Queen Street was the baseline road.
The Haldimand Proclamation was a decree issued by Frederick Haldimand on 25-October-1784 that granted land to the Haudenosaunee who had served on the British side of the American Revolution.
Whereas His Majesty having been pleased to direct that in consideration of the early attachment to his cause manifested by the Mohawk Indians, and of the loss of their settlement which they thereby sustained– that a convenient tract of land under his protection should be chosen as a safe and comfortable retreat for them and others of the Six Nations, who have either lost their settlements within the Territory of the American States, or wish to retire from them to the British — I have at the earnest desire of many of these His Majesty’s faithful Allies purchased a tract of land from the Indians situated between the Lakes Ontario, Erie and Huron and I do hereby in His Majesty’s name authorize and permit the said Mohawk Nation and such others of the Six Nation Indians as wish to settle in that quarter to take possession of and settle upon the Banks of the River commonly called Ours [Ouse] or Grand River, running into Lake Erie, allotting to them for that purpose six miles deep from each side of the river beginning at Lake Erie and extending in that proportion to the head of the said river, which them and their posterity are to enjoy for ever. Johnson, Charles M., ed. (1964). The Valley of the Six Nations: A Collection of Documents on the Indian Lands of the Grand River. University of Toronto Press.
Joseph Brant had selected the Grand River Valley as his preferred place of resettlement. The land was acquired by Haldimand from the Mississaugas in May 1784. Brant’s opinion was that the Haudenosaunee held title to the land in fee simple, i.e. without any limitations as to use, and could sell or lease the land as they saw fit. He viewed the Proclamation as recognition by the British of the Mohawk’s as a sovereign nation. Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe’s view was that the Haudenosaurnee had the right of occupancy, not sovereignty and for land surrenders to be legal they had to be made to the Crown alone. These differing stances have never been resolved.
The lands were surveyed in 1791 but this survey was either lost or destroyed so the lands were resurveyed in 1821. At this time, the northern portion of the lands, to the head of the river, was truncated near present day Arthur, along the 1792 surveyed Jones Baseline. It was the Crown’s contention that that was the extent of the land that was purchased from the Mississaugas and they could not grant land beyond what they owned.
The Jones Baseline was the eastern boundary of the land purchased from the Mississaugas. The line was surveyed by Augustus Jones. It began at Richard Beasley’s property on Burlington Bay and proceeded north 45 degrees West. Jones concluded his survey at the Conestogo River at present day Arthur. The Jones Baseline determined the shape of later surveys on either side of it and is the western boundary of Halton County. Highway 6 runs roughly parallel and about 5 miles / 8 kilometres to the west of the Jones Baseline. The Jones Baseline and the Haldimand Tract resulted in the irregular shapes of the townships surveyed later because they had to fit between these two surveys.
Of interest, Peter Jones, Augustus Jones’ son, built Echo Villa on Colborne Street in 1851.
In spite of the difference of opinion Brant held with government over the Haudenosaunee right to sell and lease land directly, Brant did sell and lease land. He fought with the government to his dying days to recognise these direct sales and register title to the lands to the new land owners. Brant died in 1807, in 1835 these land sales were finally made legal.
The shape of the Haldimand Tract defines some of the present boundary of Brant County. The tract boundaries formed the eastern boundary of the former South Dumfries, Brantford, and Onondaga Townships and the western boundary of the former South Dumfries, Brantford, and Tuscarora Townships. The former townships of Burford and Oakland were not in the Haldimand Tract.
Note to Readers – I will be leading a six week course at Laurier Brantford this winter about the History of Brantford. The course is a non-credit course, part of the Laurier Association for Lifelong Learning. The course will take place on the Laurier Brantford campus on Wednesday mornings between 10 AM and Noon, beginning 29-January-2020. The course runs until 11-March-2020. There is a week off in the middle for reading week. I will provide the link for registration when it becomes available.