OnLand: A Wonderful New Tool

I don’t know how long it will be free for (hopefully forever), but it’s quite a valuable resource while we have it.

It’s not often that, in matters of public information, your provincial government leaves you with a pleasant surprise. Earlier this week, local artist, historian, and genealogist Cindi Foreman shared on Twitter the first part in a four part series about the province’s new Land Registry portal called OnLand. The free portal is currently in its Alpha stage, but promises to bring the treasures found in the land registration system to your home. While we can already have access to the goodies in the land registry system at home through Teranet Express, that portal can be quite expensive to use if you’re not being paid for the research. More than excited, I dug in for myself.

Once you select a registry office to search or browse and choose “Historical Books”, you’re faced with this screen.

When it comes to finding information about specific buildings, in Ottawa at least, one of the benefits we have is that the city’s official mapping site allows you to view the legal description of the lot. At least in the other cities that I tend to research, this does not appear to be the case.

As things currently stand with the new OnLand portal, access is given to the “Historical Books” or in other words (mostly) parcel abstract books. Without boring you with too many details, these are a sort of index of all the transactions on a property. They list things like the records of sales, mortgages on the property, Mechanics’ Liens, and other instruments. For those of us who like to research buildings, they represent a rich source of information and can allow a much more detailed view of the construction and development process than we normally get. Buildings don’t just appear from nothing, after all.

Normally, when undertaking research on a property, I use geoOttawa to find the legal description. I then visit the conveniently-located land registry office (LRO) on Elgin, locate the plan in the index binder, get the microfilm reel from the cabinet, load it into the reader, and transcribe the relevant information.1I don’t normally like to spend the 50c per page when dealing with 1990s analog microfilm readers and printers. While you don’t have to pay for bad copies, it’s generally a hassle all around. This is why, unless I need to us an LRO for some official purpose, I stick to transcribing the abstract by hand. While it’s a fine process, it does not beat the convenience of sitting at home.

Once you step outside of Ottawa, the problem can be that the legal description (or even PIN if you’re in a pinch) may be hard to find without visiting the local Land Registry Office. Two cities that I like to research include South Porcupine (which has been part of Timmins since 1973) and Toronto. They also happen to be two cities where the official mapping (or GIS) websites don’t give too many hints about the data attached individual lots, let alone their legal descriptions. As things stand today, OnLand does not allow you to search with a civic address, so you’ll need to know this information if you’re not willing to browse for what could be days or even months.2Depending on what time frame you’re looking for, you can also find relevant information using county atlases and other historic surveys. Since I tend to look into more modern developments, early plans tend to be less indicative of what I’m looking for and the modern legal description can save considerable time and effort.

Fortunately, to save time, the existing full-featured website, Teranet Express, gives you the goods. I know that most of us normally disregard it because it’s an expensive way to get documents and when you’re researching local history or family genealogy, there’s a good chance that it’s a passion project. While that has not changed, unless you’re really interested in the details on a formulaic and routine land transfer document or mortgage, it also still does not matter. You can still create an account and still search for the building or land you’re interested in by its civic address. That’s the important thing currently lacking from OnLand. As you can see above, I went ahead and did so for the two properties that I am interested in.


As noted in the Teranet Express screen shot above, the house in South Porcupine that I grew up in is also known as being part of Whitney & Tisdale Parcel 6734.

When you search for “50 Smith” in the Cochrane District LRO (06) on Teranet Express, you can see that the address of the house I grew up in at 50 Smith Ave has a legal description of:

PCL 6734 SEC WAT SRO; E 1/2 LT 275 PL M20S TISDALE; LT 276 PL M20S TISDALE RESERVING TO THE ONTARIO NORTHLAND TRANSPORTATION COMMISSION

Depending on the local registration process, the relevant information will change. In the case of the Cochrane District LRO, that it was part of lot 275 and lot 276 on Plan M-20S is irrelevant for search. That it’s also known as Parcel 6734 in the Township of Tisdale, however, is relevant. A search for “6734” on OnLand does not lead to anything because the LRO books aren’t labeled individually. This needed a little browsing, but the relevant digitized book contained parcels 6681 to 6920.

If you’re looking for more information than what is on the parcel abstracts (and other indices), then you will need to make use of your credit card and use Teranet Express or visit the relevant Land Registry Office. For most of us, however, the abstracts will likely be sufficient.

The apartment at 1501 Woodbine in East York. I have a long story that has been caught up in draft mode. It will come eventually.

I’ve always been interested in the Y-shaped apartments that were popular during the midcentury and when I spent time in a nearby Airbnb in East York a few years ago, the Trillium Apartments caught my attention. A search for “1501 Woodbine” in the Metropolitan Toronto LRO (80) on Teranet Express, you can see the following legal description:

PCL 529-1 SEC B1696; LT 539 PL 1696 EAST YORK; LT 540 PL 1696 EAST YORK; LT 541 PL 1696 EAST YORK; LT 542 PL 1696 EAST YORK; LT 543 PL

As you can see, this means that 1501 Woodbine Avenue was constructed on Lots 539-543 as depicted on Plan 1696 in East York, Ontario. Searching for any of these lots in Plan 1696 will lead you to relevant materials on the abstract. As you can see below, I chose lot 539.

Lot 539, Plan 1696 in East York.

When you bring up the details about Plan 1696 and flip through the pages to Lot 539, we see the information that I was expecting.

As I note above, this is generally enough information for most of us. However, if more information is necessary, the instrument numbers in the first column may be located digitally on Teranet Express or at the local LRO on microfilm reels. I also look forward to seeing the service fill out other document types as the year goes on. I do hope to see plans digitized as well.

Notes   [ + ]

1. I don’t normally like to spend the 50c per page when dealing with 1990s analog microfilm readers and printers. While you don’t have to pay for bad copies, it’s generally a hassle all around. This is why, unless I need to us an LRO for some official purpose, I stick to transcribing the abstract by hand.
2. Depending on what time frame you’re looking for, you can also find relevant information using county atlases and other historic surveys. Since I tend to look into more modern developments, early plans tend to be less indicative of what I’m looking for and the modern legal description can save considerable time and effort.

3 Comments

  1. i was searching for 238 Dufferin in Toronto on Teranet and the answer was “No addresses were found that match the specified criteria.” From Google maps I can tell that this building, which appears to be an older apartment building, has recently been torn down as it is there in the satellite view but is empty space in the street view. I found the address from the Toronto Directories 1946 and 1947 looking for a person of interest in my genealogy. Would the records disappear when a building is destroyed?
    Can you suggest anything I might not have done correctly?

    1. Hi Markley,

      From what I can tell of 238 Dufferin, it was demolished around 1963/64 for the construction of the Lord Dufferin Apartments with a civic address of 200 Dufferin. The small apartment in the satellite view (getting the street view takes a bit of finagling) was a Salvation Army property at 248 Dufferin and was demolished between 2013 and 2015.

      Fortunately, the data does not go away when the building does, so it should be somewhere in the abstracts that are now found under 200 Dufferin, which looks to be Lots 25-30, Plan 431 Parkdale.

      Hope this helps!
      -Chris

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