History and Background: The Administration of Land in Saskatchewan

Following the transfer of ownership of Rupert’s Land and the North-West Territories from the Hudson’s Bay Company to the Dominion of Canada in 1868, the Canadian government passed the Dominion Lands Act of 1872 to set out guidelines for the settlement of Western Canada.

Starting in the 1870s, surveyors were sent out to mark boundaries and survey the area which would become Saskatchewan.  The Dominion Government decided to develop a grid system for land description in the West, similar to that used in United States.

For a detailed explanation of the grid system that was set up in Saskatchewan, and to learn how to read a legal land description and identify the location on a map, please read Measuring Land in Saskatchewan, a document prepared by the Information Services Corporation of Saskatchewan.

During the early surveys, the Dominion Government set aside almost all of the even-numbered sections in Saskatchewan as 160 acre homestead grants.

In addition, designated tracts in each township were reserved or appropriated for a variety of other purposes, including:

  • Railway lands:  all odd-numbered sections except 11 and 29 were reserved for railway grants, which were made to railway companies in partial payment for building railways;
  • School lands:  two sections (Section 11 and 29) reserved as school lands that could be sold by local school districts to raise money to finance the building of schools;
  • Hudson’s Bay Company Lands:  section 8 and three-quarters of section 26 were retained by the Hudson’s Bay Company as part of the 1870 Deed of Surrender; the company gradually sold these lands until 1984, when it donated about 5100 acres to the Saskatchewan Wildlife Association for use as habitat reserves;
  • Métis Scrip:  Scrip, either as land or money, was offered to Métis families to compensate them for loss of their Aboriginal title and for grievances that led to the 1885 Resistance. To qualify for scrip that was offered in 1885 the applicants had to prove they were living in the North-West Territories prior to 15 July 1870. Those who applied for scrip from 1886 - 1902 or in 1906 had to prove that they were living in the North-West Territories prior to 31 December 1885. The land scrip entitlement was for 240 acres that had to be selected from land that had been allocated as homestead land. Frequently this land was a long distance from where the grantees were living so many sold their scrip, often for less money than it was worth, to land speculators.
  • Land Colonization Companies:  In the 1880s, as many as twenty companies contracted with the government to purchase sections of Dominion Lands in defined tracts, which the companies would sell in sponsored settlement schemes.  The sponsors could receive a rebate on the purchase price of the lands depending on the success of settlement in the tract.  A total of about three million acres was committed under these plans, the largest single allocation of 210,000 acres being received by the Temperance Colonization Society.  For the most part, sponsored settlement failed after 1885 when the boom period of Canadian Pacific Railway construction had finished. 

During the settlement period, special land grants were given to individuals who served the Dominion in a military capacity.  These special grants included:

  • Militia and North West Mounted Policy (NWMP) Bounty:  In 1871, officers and men of two battalions who served in Manitoba during the Red River Resistance were offered a free grant of 160 acres of land without the necessity of residence or cultivation.  The offer was repeated in subsequent years to encourage recruitment.  Similarly, in 1885 a new grant was offered to all officers, non-commissioned officers and men serving in the militia west of Port Arthur of a homestead of 320 acres, which could be re-assigned to any person eligible to make homestead entry.  Entry had to be made by August 1, 1886, and the patent could only be obtained through compliance with the homestead provisions of the Dominion Lands Act
  • South African (Boer War) Veterans:  Veterans from Canada who had served as soldiers or nurses in the Boer War in South Africa (1899 - 1902) were eligible for land scrip entitling them to 320 acres without fees providing they complied with the homestead regulations. This land grant, also known as a Volunteer Bounty Land Grant, was often not taken or was sold to others.
     
  • Soldier Settlement Grants after the First World War:  These grants of 160 acres were for soldiers who served in First World War (1914-1918). There were no fees, but soldiers had to comply with the homestead regulations.  

Some lands in the West fell outside of the survey system. These lands were not resurveyed by the Dominion surveyors, and they fell outside the area included in the grid system.  Examples that fall into this category include:

  • Indian reserves which had been established prior to the survey;
  • River lots which were protected and not incorporated into the grid system during the survey;

  • Unsettled land in northern Saskatchewan;

  • Hudson’s Bay Company posts, in which case the land was retained by the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Please click on the links below to read more about:

Homesteading

Transfer of Land to Saskatchewan in 1930

Land Titles

Helpful Definitions

Bibliography of Useful Sources