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Land, man, and the law : the disposal of crown lands in British Columbia, 1871-1913 Cail, Robert E. 1974

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 >v Robert ECail
E^iposjil of Crown Lands
in Bp|ish Columbia,
I 1871-1913
 Land, Man, and the Law
The Disposal of Crown Lands in
British Columbia, 1871-1913
Robert E. Cail
A thorough and unrivalled study of the
disposal of crown lands in early British
Columbia, Land, Man, and the Law
provides the background for such topics
of current debate as timber and mineral
rights and Indian Land claims.
During the Hudson Bay Company's
years, when trapping and trading were
the only concerns of the few white
occupants of British Columbia, land
tenure was of little interest and few
provisions were made for it. With the
arrival of settlers, the officers of the
colony were forced to act. An analysis
of Governor James Douglas's policies,
many of them hurriedly established
when he was faced with an influx of
gold miners, precedes a survey of the
situation that existed when British
Columbia entered Confederation in
Encouraging settlement, forestalling
speculation, and securing revenue were
the three aims of Colonial and early
Provincial legislatures. This book examines their success in the face of rapid
exploitation of natural resources. Conflicts between the dominion and provincial governments and between well-
known public personalities were frequent. The successes and failures of the
men in office determined the future of
the province — for example, had early
governments not retained rights to timber, forests would now be in private
hands as most of them are in the United
States and the government would not
be able to plan changes in the forms of
tenure as it is now doing.
The three chapters in which the author
treats aboriginal land claims are essential background for an understanding
of the present debate.
     Land, Man, and the Law
The Disposal of Crown Lands in
British Columbia, 1871-1913
Robert E. Cail
University of British Columbia Press
List of Illustrations and Maps vii
Foreword by Margaret A. Ormsby ix
Introduction xi
Colonial Land Settlement Policy 1
Provincial Land Policy to 1880 19
Provincial Land Policy 1880-1913 36
Land Surveys 59
Mining Legislation 70
Timber Legislation 91
Water Rights 111
The Railway Belt to 1884 125
The Railway Belt after the Settlement Act 146
Intraprovincial Railways 153
Imperial Colonial Indian Policy 169
Indian Land Policy after Confederation 185
The Reserve Allotment Commissions 209
Land Ordinance, 1870 251
Pre-emption Records, 1873-1913 262
Certificates of Improvement, 1873-1913 264
Certificates of Purchase, 1873-1913 266
Crown Grants, 1873-1913 268
Total Land Transactions, 1873-1913 269
Land and Natural Resources Receipts, 1871-1913 270
Private and Government Surveys, 1900-1913 272
Timber Statistics 273
Timber Leases Held, 1888 275
Summary of Data, 1916 Indian Royal Commission
Report 277
Chapter   1
Chapter  2
Chapter  3
Chapter  4
Chapter  5
Chapter  6
Chapter   7
Chapter  8
Chapter  9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Appendix A
Appendix B
Table    1
Table    2
Table   3
Table   4
Table   5
Table   6
Table    7
Table   8
Table   9
Table 10
 Appendix C
Item     1
Item     2
Appendix D
Item 1
Item     2
Item     3
Item     4
Item     5
Item     6
Item     7
Railway Papers
Defunct Railway Companies Legislated out of
Existence, 1927
Railways Incorporated under Acts of the Legislature of
British Columbia since 1883
Indian Reserve Papers
Indian Reserves in the Province of British Columbia, 1871
Lieutenant-Governor Trutch to Prime Minister
Sir John A. Macdonald, October 14, 1872
Indian Petition to Dr. I. W. Powell, July 14, 1874
Sir James Douglas to Dr. I. W. Powell, Indian
Commissioner, re: Colonial Indian Lands,
October 14, 1874
1) McKenna-McBride Agreement, September 24, 1912
2) Order in Council, November 27, 1912
Extracts from the Introduction to Report of the Royal
Commission on Indian Affairs for the Province of
British Columbia, 1916
Statement of the Allied Indian Tribes of British Columbia,
for the Government of British Columbia, 1919
Selected Bibliography
Following page 128
Plate   1. Sketch of the Lower Mainland by Colonel R. C. Moody,
presumably in 1863
2. Lord Edward Bulwer Lytton
3. Colonel R. C. Moody
4. Sir James Douglas Taking the Oath of Office as Governor of
British Columbia, November 19, 1858
5. Reputedly the D. L. Clynch, the First Ocean-going Vessel to
Enter the Fraser River at New Westminster
6. Sawmill at Chemainus, 1902
7. C.P.R. Price List for City Lots in the Granville Townsite
8. The Mint, New Westminster, 1862
9. The Land Registry Office, New Westminster
10. D. B. Charleson's Camp near Fraser Mills, 1890
11. Gold-Washing, 1868
12. H.M.S. Cormorant in Esquimalt Graving Dock in 1887
13. Hudson's Bay Company Store at Yale, 1883
14. Songhees Indian Reserve, Victoria Harbour, Esquimalt and Nanaimo
Railway Trestle in Background
15. Testing the Howe Trestle of the Crow's Nest Railway,
December 12, 1897
16. Arrival of First Transcontinental Train at Vancouver, May 23, 1887
17. Joseph W. Trutch
18. Kootenay Indians, Chief Isadore and Council
19. Okanagan Indians, Goastamana, Son of Chief Kalamalka,
Long Lake Reserve
20. Okanagan Indians, Mrs. Josephine Gregoire and Children,
Long Lake Reserve
21. Peter O'Reilly
22. Dr. I. W. Powell
23. Cartoon of Yale in Construction Days, probably by
Harry Fairfax, 1883
The Canadian Pacific Railway Belt 135
Railway Belt Boundaries in the Lower Mainland 145
Indian Reserves in the Okanagan Agency, 1916 236
Photographs appear through the courtesy of the Vancouver City
Archives, the Provincial Archives of British Columbia, the Victoria
City Archives, the New Westminster Public Library Photography Collection, the Vernon Museum and Archives, and Mrs. Louis Marchand.
Of the four western provinces, only British Columbia entered Confederation having control of its public lands. This patrimony had
been managed by Sir James Douglas in such a manner as to encourage an orderly settlement process and curb speculation in lands,
forests, and mines. Douglas's successors, however, lacked his vision
and his practicality and, yielding to the pressures of the moment,
often squandered the province's valuable natural resources.
In this study, the late Robert Cail examines the essence of the
policies which Douglas forged at the height of the gold rush and
recounts the compromises made by those political successors who
yielded to the insistent demands of their contemporaries for the
opportunity to exploit the province's natural wealth. The vastness
of the area contained within provincial boundaries encouraged their
feeling that the province's resources were inexhaustible. In the
course of time, however, it became apparent that the amount of
arable land is severely limited and that other natural resources are
widely dispersed over a mountainous terrain.
The myopic vision of early legislators led to a bitter dispute with
the Dominion of Canada over the location and boundaries of the
railway lands. More tragically, it strained the harmonious relations
with the native peoples, a relationship which Douglas had fostered.
Robert Cail was a graduate student in History at the University
of British Columbia when he completed this study in 1955. The
subject remains highly relevant to discussions of public policy which
are taking place today. After taking his M.A. degree, the author
proceeded to the University of Minnesota to continue his graduate
work. He was engaged in writing his Ph.D. dissertation when he
died on July 18, 1958 in an automobile collision. Had Robert Cail
lived he would have returned to his native province, and undoubtedly his work would have further enriched our historical literature.
Throughout the last century the most complex and comprehensive
legislation in British Columbia was that concerned with public
lands. There was no precedent readily available to the colony prior
to entering Confederation, and Governor James Douglas, upon
whose shoulders rested the responsibility for devising land policy,
had to formulate that policy before the example of the American
Homestead Act of 1862 was available for guidance. Instructions
from the Colonial Office and his own common sense were his only
guides. Even had the American example been at hand, it is unlikely
that Douglas would have considered granting 160 acres free to
bona fide settlers.1 Nor was any advice forthcoming from Canada.
There had been practically no interchange of ideas between
Canada and the two Pacific colonies, and not until after the union
of the two colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia in
1866 was there any appreciable Canadian element on the West
Coast. Hudson's Bay Company employees had never greatly concerned themselves with the formulation of a land policy providing
for the organized settlement of the country, and on his appointment as governor of "Vancouver's Island" in 1851, James Douglas
had to work out his own procedures. In doing so he devised a
policy that was a surprisingly good one.
Creating a policy for the disposal of public lands in British
Columbia where ownership had to be reconciled with water, timber,
and grazing rights, with mining claims, and the urgent need for
agricultural development, was both complicated and difficult. Until
after British Columbia entered Confederation, it was gold, not land,
that brought men to the Pacific colony (but of those who came,
Section 1 of the American Homestead Act, 1862, provided for the preemption of a quarter-section, or less, of unappropriated public lands provided that "any person owning and residing on land may, under the provisions of this act, enter other lands lying contiguous to his or her said land,
which shall not, with the land so already owned and occupied, exceed in the
aggregate one hundred and sixty acres." United States, Statutes at Large,
vol. 12, p. 392.
many remained to settle). It is significant that Douglas's chief
concern from 1858, when he severed his connection with the Hudson's Bay Company, until 1864, when he retired from public life,
was to draw up regulations governing miners' rights and claims.
Second to this was his concern with the disposal of land for settlement. Because placer mining could locate only the surface gold,
hydraulic developments soon appeared, and for these, water was
necessary. Very early then, land legislation had to recognize the
miners' water requirements, and, in so doing, had to abandon the
English common law relating to riparian rights in water.2 The fact
that much of British Columbia was heavily timbered also influenced
land legislation. Although the economic significance of timber was
not recognized until after 1900, legal provision for the disposal of
timbered lands had to be made much earlier. After the union with
Canada in 1871, both American and Canadian land legislation
were taken into account — often with the inevitable confusion arising from the application of half-understood principles — but, on
the whole, the land acts of British Columbia were in answer to the
province's specific and peculiar needs.
Complications in administering the land laws, as in framing
them, were many. The first difficulty was a result of the vastness
of the colony. However well-devised the law, it was worse than
useless if it could not be administered with some degree of efficiency
and uniformity. The miners returning from the Cariboo gold fields
after i860 were not greatly concerned with niceties of phraseology
in a land act which they had never read and for which there was
no administrative agency close at hand. Communication was slow
and difficult; small wonder that unauthorized homesteads were
The civil and criminal laws of England, as the same existed on November 19,
1858, were declared to have force of law in British Columbia on that date.
"Proclamation ... to declare that English law is in force in British Columbia," in British Columbia, [Proclamations and Ordinances, 1858-1864 (Victoria, New Westminster, 1858-64)].
This proclamation was repealed in 1867, but at the same time it was confirmed that the laws of England, as of November 19, 1858, were applicable
in_ British Columbia so far as they were not "from local circumstances inapplicable" and as "modified and altered by all past Legislation" of the two
colonies before union. British Columbia, The Laws . . . Consisting of the Acts,
Ordinances & Proclamations of the Formerly Separated Colonies, Vancouver
Island and British Columbia, and of the United Colony of British Columbia,
by authority compiled and published under the "Revised Statutes Act, 1871"
(Victoria: Printed at the Government Printing Office, 1871), p. 214,
x867, 30 Vict., no. 70, s. 2.
taken up throughout the Fraser Valley and on Vancouver Island.3
Such homesteads had to be legalized later in revisions and amendments.
It was also difficult to ensure that lands were taken by genuine
settlers and not by speculators. For fifty years the official documents, correspondence, and reports dealing with land were filled
with innumerable references to the existence of speculators, or to
the fear of their existence. Starting with Douglas and continuing
to the present, the land acts have tried to make it impossible for
land to be taken except for beneficial purposes. For many years,
provided that the land was to be used in all good faith, unlimited
quantities might be had for practically nothing. For this reason,
every act stipulated that occupation must begin within a specified
period and certain improvements be made by a definite date after
the pre-emption was recorded. Failure to comply resulted in
Because no effective administrative machinery was provided until
after 1900, earlier regulatory clauses were often disregarded.
Governor Douglas made every effort to see that his proclamations
were rigidly enforced, but hampered as he was by a meagre and
uncertain revenue, he could do little.4 Even when money became
available after 1871, only desultory attempts were made to enforce
the regulations. For thirty years the prevalent attitude was to be
that land was plentiful but most of it useless, and should anyone
have enough initiative to pay a nominal price, no hindrance ought
to be placed in his way.
Indians did not qualify as settlers, nor, for the first few years,
were they considered to be speculators. So long as Douglas remained
governor, little difficulty arose over Indian lands. Douglas left the
tribes entirely unmolested on any lands already settled or used by
them, and he had begun to buy out their beneficial interest in all
Pioneers intending to raise foodstuffs to feed the miners took up isolated,
unauthorized homesteads wherever they considered the conditions suitable.
This led to the Crown granting isolated blocks of land of which the geographic position was not definitely known. British Columbia, Department of
Lands, "Surveyor-General's Report [1911]," British Columbia, Legislative
Assembly, Sessional Papers, 12th Pari., 3d sess., 1912, p. G9.
As early as November 14, 1861, Douglas was borrowing money to finance
road construction and maintenance. "Proclamation, no. 13, A.D. 1861," in
B.C., [Proclamations and Ordinances, 1858-1864]. After 1861, such loans
became annual events.
lands on Vancouver Island. After Douglas retired in 1864, however,
Indian reserves became an increasingly troublesome issue in British
Columbia and, along with the complications stemming from the
existence of the Railway Belt within the province, gave rise to the
strained relations between Victoria and Ottawa that culminated
in the Secession Resolution of 1878.5
The most troublesome of administrative problems, however, arose
as a result of the Terms of Union under which the colony entered
Confederation in 1871. Article 11 specified that in return for railway connection with Canada, British Columbia should convey to
the Dominion a strip of land forty miles wide along the line of rail
wherever it was to be located. Five years were spent in surveying
and locating the route which, as then planned, was to come through
the Rockies by the Yellowhead Pass, through the gap in the Cascades provided by the Thompson River Valley, and through the
Coast Range by means of the lower Fraser Valley. Then as now,
this route was through the most heavily settled portion of the province. The transfer to the Dominion of a forty-mile strip of land
through this heartland created a dual administration in British
Columbia: one set of regulations administered by the Dominion
for what came to be known as the Railway Belt, and another,
administered by the province, for the rest of British Columbia. The
resulting complications required sixty years to disentangle.6 In the
process, British Columbia came close to withdrawing from Confederation; and the dominion government was badgered almost
beyond endurance. The wonder is not that British Columbia did
not withdraw from Confederation, but rather that Canada did not
5 On August 30, 1878, the Secession Resolution proposed by Premier George
A._ Walkem passed the assembly by a vote of fourteen to nine. The motion
said, in part, "that British Columbia shall thereafter have the right to
exclusively collect and retain her Customs and Excise duties and to withdraw from the Union." In the confusion attendant upon the general election
in Canada that September, the resolution was "mislaid" in Ottawa and did
not reach London until January 24, 1879. In the meantime, a much more
conciliatory attitude had replaced the former hostility and the resolution was
forgotten both by the Walkem ministry and the newly elected John A. Mac-
donald government in Ottawa. British Columbia, Legislative Assembly,
Journals, 3d Pari., 1st sess., 1878, pp. no, 107; Frederic W. Howay, "Political History, 1871-1913," in Canada and Its Provinces, Adam Shortt and
Arthur Doughty, general eds., 23 vols. (Toronto: Brook, 1914-17),
6 For the genesis and first fifteen years of this problem, see Margaret A.
Ormsby, "The Relations between British Columbia and the Dominion of
Canada, 1871-1885" (Ph.D. diss., Bryn Mawr, 1937).
try to rid herself of what became the most involved and unpleasant
problem in domestic politics for fifty years.
But all this was to come in the future. To follow the story of
the disposal of public lands in British Columbia from 1871 to 1913,
it is essential to return to colonial days. Governor Douglas's regulations formed a firm basis for the new province's land legislation
framed subsequently to 1871.
Colonial Land Settlement Policy
With the revocation of the Hudson's Bay Company licence of exclusive trade west of the Rocky Mountains in 1858, Douglas, as
governor of both Vancouver Island and British Columbia, faced
the problem of framing legislation for the disposal of public lands.
There was no thought then of railroads and conflicting jurisdictions, nor was there any intimation of the value crown lands were
later to acquire. It is all the more remarkable, therefore, that
Douglas's proclamations covered every major contingency that has
yet arisen in the land policy of the province. Close study of Douglas's
ordinances and a comparison of them with later land acts lead to
the conclusion that had Douglas continued the role of leadership in
British Columbia until after union with Canada, few of the land
problems which did plague the province for so many years would
have arisen.
Douglas would no doubt have been a leader in any society, or at
any period; not necessarily popular, but certainly respected, and
deferred to, for his qualities of mind. His capacity for clear and
concise thinking is constantly evident in his despatches to the
Colonial Office asking for instructions on land policy, or giving
analytical and informed reasons for actions he had already taken.
The problem Douglas faced was the need to provide for the systematic alienation of public land in an uncharted wilderness of
unknown area and unsuspected resources, inhabited by many thousands of Indians and a few thousand transient miners. Douglas
had to devise a land system for not only most unaccommodating,
but also widely scattered, areas of arable land. He had three
sources upon which he could draw; the provisions under which the
Hudson's Bay Company had allotted lands, the Colonial Office,
and his own experience.
Under the grant made by the Royal Proclamation of January
13, 1849, the Hudson's Bay Company had been given absolute
lordship over, and proprietorship of, Vancouver Island, its land
and its minerals, in perpetuum, subject only to the domination of
the British Crown, an annual rent of seven shillings, and agreement to settle a colony of British subjects on the island within five
years. It was solely to gain this last condition that the home government had acceded to the Company's request when it was before
Parliament in 1849. The stipulation to which Douglas had first to
direct his attention required the Company to dispose of land at
reasonable prices for purposes of colonization, retaining as a service
charge 10 per cent of all money received from the sale of land
and coal, or other minerals. The remaining 90 per cent was to be
applied to public improvements and, in particular, to building
roads. The Company was empowered to reserve such lands as were
necessary for improvements, but every two years an accounting was
to be made to the Colonial Office of these reservations, the number
of colonists settled on the island, and of the lands sold. The Crown
reserved the right to recall the grant at the end of five years should
the Company fail to effect colonization, and to repossess after ten
years on reimbursing the Company for all expenses, civil or military, incurred in its administration of the island. Repossession was
effected in 1858.
The articles of the proclamation that must have interested
Douglas particularly were those specifying price, size of holdings,
provisions for surveying, and rights reserved to the Company. No
grant was to contain less than twenty acres; the price was to be
fixed at one pound per acre; after payment the land was to be held
in "free and common socage"; the island was to be divided into
districts of from five to ten square miles; and all minerals, wherever
found, were to belong to the Company and might be mined upon
payment of adequate compensation for any surface damage.1
So long as the colony was held imperium in imperio, Douglas
had no quarrel with the terms under which the land had been
granted to the Company, although he recognized that these terms
1 The complete text of the grant may be found in British Columbia, Provincial
Archives Department, "Report ... 1913," B.C., Sessional Papers, 13th Pari.,
2d sess., 1914, p. V73-74.
were inimical to colonization. Notwithstanding the high price of
one pound per acre, he himself purchased land, but he stated that
other Company men were "scared at the high price charged."2 He
knew that Vancouver Island from 1849 to x^5^ would have been
a favourable field for settlement under other auspices, and that the
Company had had sufficient capital to successfully carry out any
scheme of colonization had it been so inclined. The Company had
been familiar with the country and its resources; its officials had
understood the natives thoroughly and could have conducted trade
and developed the country in a way not possible to individual
effort. But Douglas also knew that what had happened had been
just the reverse. Bancroft, an historian of the Pacific Northwest
never too charitable toward the Hudson's Bay Company, remarked
Not alone must the pound per acre for wild, and thus far worthless, land, stolen from the savages, be paid the imperial government, but to the representative of the government as the representative of a crushing monopoly must the settler go for every
necessity, every article of comfort or form of requirement, paying
therefor often two or three hundred per cent on London cost;
to this same hydra-head he must carry his produce, and receive
for it whatever the company might please to pay. Who among
nineteenth-century Englishmen would leave his happy English
home with all its hallowed memories, and take up his residence
in this far-away north-west wilderness only to breathe so stifling
an atmosphere as this? Nobody.8
An American himself, Bancroft overlooked the fact that had it
not been for the presence of this "hydra-head" the territory might
well have fallen into American hands by default, but it was true that
settlers were conspicuously absent. In 1849 there were no more
than twenty and these had been obliged to retire at least ten miles
from Victoria, since the Company had reserved for its own use a
ten-mile radius around the fort — an area which contained the
2 Douglas to A. C. Anderson, March 18, 1850, in Frederic W. Howay, "The
Raison d'Etre of Forts Yale and Hope," Proceedings and Transactions of the
Royal Society of Canada, 3d ser., 16 (1922), sec. 2, p. 63.
3 Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of British Columbia, iygs-i88y, Works of
Hubert Howe Bancroft, vol. 32 (San Francisco: History Company, 1887),
p. 311. For reasons why the grant should not have been made to the Company if colonization were the primary aim, see R. E.  Gosnell,  "Colonial
. History, 1849-1871," in Canada and Its Provinces, Shortt and Doughty, eds.,
best and most easily cleared farm land.4 Douglas was aware of the
frustrations experienced by the settlers because the lands at the
periphery of the company's reserve were heavily timbered and
devoid of adequate communication with the fort. By the end of
1853, applications had been made for about twenty thousand acres
and approximately nine thousand pounds had been paid. Between
July 12, 1855 and October 10, 1856, public lands amounting to
2,137 acres were sold to settlers at one pound per acre.
Douglas, then, could find little help in the terms under which
the Company he had served for thirty-seven years had held the
land. All that had really been accomplished between 1849 and
859 was to demonstrate that under more favourable conditions
the country might have had possibilities for greater settlement.
Even before his investiture as governor of the mainland colony on
November 19, 1858, Douglas had transmitted his views on a land
policy to the Colonial Office. To this body he now turned for
guidance. He very well knew that he was without any legal
authority to make regulations designed to protect British interests
on the mainland, but as the only official in the region, he felt
constrained to do all in his power to reduce to some order the
chaotic conditions resulting from the influx of the hordes of miners
and adventurers going up "Fraser's River" to the gold fields.5
Because he felt that "the country will be filled with lawless crowds,
the public lands unlawfully occupied by squatters of every description, and the authority of the Government will ultimately be set
at naught," he recommended that as "a measure of obvious necessity" the whole country should immediately be thrown open for
settlement, and that "the land be surveyed, and sold at a fixed
rate, not to exceed twenty shillings an acre."6 From these measures
4 The Company did release some of its reserved land to encourage its retired
servants to become settlers, but this was a special concession and was confined to its employees. Bancroft, History of British Columbia, p. 313.
5 On November 19, 1858, the day that he was invested as governor of the
mainland colony of British Columbia, Douglas's previous administrative acts
were announced "to have been valid in Law." "Proclamation ... to indemnify the Governor ... for Acts done before the Establishment of any Legitimate Authority in British Columbia," in B.C., [Proclamations and Ordinances, 1858-1864].
6 Douglas to Edward Henry Stanley, 15th earl of Derby, secretary of state for
the colonies, June 10, 1858, no. 2, Great Britain, Colonial Office, Papers
Relative to the Affairs of British Columbia, presented to both Houses of
Parliament by command of Her Majesty, 1859-1862, 4 pts. (London:
Printed by George Edward Eyre and William Spottiswoode ... for Her
Majesty's Stationery Office, 1859-62), 1:14.
he hoped both to secure order and to acquire a large revenue for
the service of the government.
Before this despatch of June 10 had reached the Colonial Office,
Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, colonial secretary, had written cautioning Douglas to make the colony self-supporting as soon as possible
and suggesting that this could be done by the disposal of public
lands, especially of town lots, "for which I am led to believe there
will be a great demand." Lytton wrote that "many of our early
Colonial Settlements" possessed lands which had "afforded" them
"safe though not very immediate sources of prosperity," but he
believed British Columbia possessed "in a remarkable degree, the
advantage of fertile lands, fine timber, adjacent harbours, rivers,
together with rich mineral products." These would "furnish the
Government with the means of raising a Revenue which will at
once defray the necessary expenses of an establishment."7
When Lytton received Douglas's despatch of June 10, he again
warned him that he must manage the colony without any financial
assistance from the home government. He spoke of the colony's
"immense resources" which gave him confidence that the mother
country would be freed "from those expenses which are adverse to
the policy of all healthful colonization."8
In a second despatch of August 14, 1858, Lytton laid down five
principles regarding public lands which, had they been followed,
would have prevented much speculation and the consequent
retardation of settlement and dissatisfaction of the settlers. But a
lack of a sufficient revenue from those "immense resources"
rendered his and Douglas's efforts fruitless.
In his despatch, Lytton authorized Douglas to sell land solely
for agricultural purposes whenever the demand for it arose. It was
to be many years before the wisdom of this principle was appreciated in British Columbia. Secondly, he advised that the land be
sold at an upset price determined by Douglas after taking into
consideration the price charged in neighbouring American territories. An upset price of at least one pound per acre was considered
by Lytton to be necessary if the government were to profit from
sales and "mere land jobbing ... be in some degree checked."
With regard to land for "town purposes (to which speculation is
almost certain to direct itself in the first instance), I cannot caution
Lytton to Douglas, July 31, 1858, no. 6, ibid., p. 45.
Lytton to Douglas, August 14, 1858, no. 8, ibid., p. 48.
you too strongly against allowing it to be disposed of at too low
a sum."
Thirdly, Douglas was directed to open lands for settlement
gradually, to sell only what was surveyed or ready for immediate
survey, and to prevent, "as far as in you lies," squatting on unsold
land. Next, he was to keep a separate account of all revenue from
land sales. These revenues were to be used for the time being for
the dual purposes of survey and communication, the first charges
on all land revenue.
Finally, recognizing the presence in the colony of a great many
aliens, Lytton directed that while foreigners as such were not
entitled to grants of waste crown lands, "it is the strong desire of
Her Majesty's Government to attract to this territory all peaceful
settlers, without regard to nation. For this reason, naturalization
should first be granted to all who asked for it, and then the right
to acquire public land be accorded."9 This precedent established by
Lytton and incorporated by Douglas into the land ordinances, has
been followed ever since.
These were most statesmanlike proposals and Douglas did his
utmost to follow them. Immediately upon receipt of the despatch,
Douglas sent Surveyor General Joseph D. Pemberton to lay out
townsites at Fort Langley, Fort Hope, and Fort Yale. On October
ii, 1858, he was able to tell Lytton that a public sale of lots at
Fort Langley would be held in the near future, such lots to be 64
by 120 feet and to be sold at an upset price of "100 dollars."
(There is no explanation as to why Douglas quoted the price in
dollars other than that the Americans in Victoria dealt in dollars.
British Columbia used the British system of pounds, shillings, and
pence until 1866.) Douglas permitted himself to hope that the
disposal of these lots and the sale of public lands would, besides
opening the country for settlement, "prove a prolific source of
revenue." He took the opportunity to remind the Colonial Office
that he had been called upon to act without legal authority while
at Yale and Hope, although he had doubtless at the time hoped
that such actions would be subsequently legalized. He said that the
9 Lytton to Douglas, August 14, 1858, no. 9, ibid., p. 50. Naturalization was
granted by Proclamation, May 14, 1859. B.C., Revised Statutes, Appendix
. . . 1871, Containing Certain Repealed Colonial Laws Useful for Reference,
Imperial Statutes Affecting British Columbia, Proclamations, Etc. (Victoria,
B.C.: Printed by Richard Wolfenden ... at the Government Printing Office,
n.d.), pp. 57-59, 1859, 22 Vict., no. 14.
most urgent appeals had been made to him by potential settlers
for the purchase of town lots and that, because of the approaching
winter, he had granted continuation of monthly leases with preemption rights until the lands could be legally sold.10 He had
evidently taken Lytton's advice to charge a high enough price for
his losses. He granted them at forty-one shillings a month. At that
rental, speculators would have been taking a dangerous chance.
Following the first public auction of lands held in British Columbia on November 25, 1858, Douglas could report that the result
had been "highly satisfactory." It showed public confidence in the
resources of the colony and, more important, provided a needed
supply of money for defraying current heavy expenses. From the
sale of a portion of the 3,294 lots at Fort Langley which had been
carved from 900 surveyed acres at the townsite, over £ 13,000 had
been realized. Although the upset price had been £20.16.8 sterling,
or $100, the keen competition from the large gathering had resulted
in prices going as high as $725. Ten per cent of the price had to
be paid down, while the remainder was to be paid within one
month. Failing this, the lots were to be forfeit and resold.11
Two precedents were set here which were to affect land policy
after 1871; the first was sale by public auction and the second,
deferred payment. These became the subject of Lytton's next despatch. Referring to sale by public auction as opposed to a fixed
price, Lytton found two advantages; namely, it formed the best
available precaution against disposing of lands at an inadequate
price, and secondly, it prevented "both the occurrence and even
the suspicion or imputation of any favouritism or irregularity in
the disposal of the public property." Lytton need not have concerned himself on that score; throughout all the correspondence
and official records there is not the slightest evidence that Douglas
ever displayed any favouritism towards the Hudson's Bay Company
although there are numerous references to the opportunities that
he had to do so. The only objections Lytton could find to the sale
10 Douglas to Lytton, October 11, 1858, no. 14, Gt. Brit., Papers Relative to
British Columbia, 1:38. After receiving authorization for his actions, Douglas
issued a proclamation on December 2, 1858, stating that henceforth the
governor could "grant to any person or persons any Land belonging to the
Crown" and that such grants were valid. B.C., Revised Statutes, Appendix,
187j, p. 53, 1858, 22 Vict., no. 11.
11 Douglas to Lytton, November 29, 1858, no. 28, Gt. Brit., Papers Relative to
British Columbia, 2:37; Joseph D. Pemberton, acting colonial surveyor, to
Douglas, November 30, 1858, "Enclosure 1 in No. 28," ibid., p. 38.
by auction were that it might have served to "discourage enterprise by exposing the discoverer of eligible lands to be outbid at
their sale," and that such a method might have caused some delay
in effecting transfer of title. In summary, however, Lytton found
the advantages outweighed the drawbacks by far, particularly as
auctions afforded "the inestimable advantage of perfect confidence
in the purity of the land administration." Any objections to auctioning lands could be met by adopting the system common to other
colonies and permitting an applicant to purchase country lands at
the upset price once the land had been unsuccessfully offered for
sale. Thus, there would always be an adequate "common land
ready for appropriation by any settler .. . unwilling to wait for a
periodical auction."12
Had such a policy been followed after 1871, thousands of acres
bought for speculative purposes at the very low prices established
by statute, might have been retained by the government for purposes of bona fide settlement. Like many governments which came
after, Douglas's administration suffered from chronic poverty, and
not even he could refrain from letting large acreages go at nominal
prices in order to secure revenue. Having assumed the responsibility
for administering the country from the proceeds of its own resources,
and having been refused financial aid from England to supplement
the very meagre colonial revenue, Douglas had no alternative but
to abandon the auction system before it was well started. To supply
the pressing needs of government, land — the readiest asset upon
which to draw — was sold on terms that were the most likely to
prove attractive to investors. Had the home government seen fit to
lend its credit to the colony, the land might have been more wisely
conserved, and settlement more systematically directed, to ensure
compact and gradual expansion. In this way, provision might have
been made for improvements that would have been a boon to the
settler and a manageable burden to the government. Although
Lytton had a remarkably clear grasp of the numerous problems
involved in developing and settling a new colony, he seems to have
been unduly influenced by reports reaching him of British Columbia's wealth, overlooking the fact that very little of that wealth had
found its way into the colonial government's treasury.
In the matter of payments, Lytton also gave sound advice, but
again he did not recognize the exigencies of colonial life in British
12 Lytton to Douglas, February 7, 1859, no. 9, ibid., p. 78.
Columbia. He wrote that for three reasons he had "not a doubt
... that prompt payment is the proper rule." It would serve as the
best indication of a purchaser's having adequate means to cultivate
his land; it would avoid harassing the government with the existence of a whole population of small debtors from whom it would
be next to impossible to collect; and, finally, it would maintain "a
sounder state of society by not encouraging the premature conversion into petty and impoverished landowners of those who ought
to be labourers."
When he read that two partial payments had been permitted at
the auction of the Fort Langley lots, and saw Douglas's Land
Proclamation of February 14, 1859, Lytton again drew Douglas's
attention to the difficulties which might arise:
Under the present rules, if payment of the second moiety should
be resisted, it would be extremely difficult to eject persons who
by the very conditions of the case would have been in occupation
of their lands for a period of two years. And again, if some of
the landowners do pay their obligation, whilst others do not, a
grievance arises out of the distinction.
For these reasons, Douglas was asked to give further consideration
to the matter of prompt payments.13
On February 19, 1859, Douglas had forwarded to Lytton a copy
of this first proclamation concerning public lands. The preamble,
issued five days before, stated that "it is expedient to publish for
general information, the method to be pursued with respect to the
alienation and possession of agricultural lands, and of lands proposed for the sites of towns in British Columbia." The first nine of
the provisions were as follows:
1. All the lands of British Columbia, and all the mines and
minerals therein, belong to the Crown in fee.
2. The price of lands, not being intended for the sites of towns,
and not reputed to be mineral lands, shall be ten shillings per
acre, payable one-half in cash at the time of sale, and the
other half at the end of two years from such sale. Provided,
that under special circumstances, some other price, or some
other terms of payment, may from time to time be specially
announced for particular localities.
3. It shall be competent to the Executive, at any time, to reserve
such portions of the unoccupied Crown Lands, and for such
purposes as the Executive shall deem advisable.
13 Lytton to Douglas, May 7, 1859, no. 24, ibid., p. 86.
Except as aforesaid, all the lands in British Columbia will be
exposed in lots for sale, by public competition, at the upset
price above mentioned, as soon as the same shall have been
surveyed and made ready for sale. Due notice will be given
of all such sales. Notice, at the same time, will be given of
the upset price and terms of payment when they vary from
those above stated, and also of the rights reserved (if any)
for public convenience.
All lands which shall remain unsold at any such auction
may be sold by private contract, at the upset price, and on the
terms and conditions herein mentioned, on application to the
Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works.
Unless otherwise specially notified at the time of sale, all such
sales of Crown Land shall be subject to such public rights of
way as may at any time after such sale, and to such private
rights of way, and of leading or using water for animals, and
for mining and engineering purposes, as may at the time of
such sale be specified by the Chief Conunissioner of Lands
and Works.
Unless otherwise specially announced at the time of sale, the
conveyance of the land shall include all trees and all mines
and minerals within and under the same, except mines of
gold and silver.
When any "Ditch Privilege" shall be granted, there shall be
included (unless excluded by express words) the right to lop,
dress, or fell any trees standing on unoccupied Crown Lands
which, in the opinion of the proprietors of the ditch, might
by their accidental fall, or otherwise, endanger the safety of
the ditch or any part thereof.
Until further notice, gold claims and mines shall continue to
be worked subject to the existing regulations.
No words were wasted in the proclamation; the principles were
clearly defined. The constitutional right of the Crown to all lands
and all mines and minerals was stated; lands were to be divided
into town, general country, and special settlement, and offered for
sale by public auction subject to a previously announced upset
price. In his covering despatch, Douglas drew Lytton's attention
to the fact that all known mineral lands, as well as those reputed
to contain minerals, would be reserved. He expressed his intention
of also reserving large tracts for roads, churches, schools, and other
public purposes, as well as for towns and villages, but not to the
point of retarding the progress, improvement, or settlement of the
colony. He said that, as a general rule, no land was to be offered
for sale without first having been surveyed and mapped under
government authority. To calm any fears the Colonial Office may
have had about the low upset price established in the proclamation,
Douglas said that there were many reasons for departing from
Lytton's advice. The first reason (expressed in an oblique manner)
was Douglas's distrust of the many Americans within British
We think it a matter of the greatest importance to encourage
emigration from England, in order to supply the want now so
much felt of an English element in the population, a want
which, in fact, lies at the root of all the difficulties which now
so much embarrass all attempts at legislation for the country.
We are, therefore, especially desirous of placing before the English public the attraction of cheap land.
He also feared that the establishment of a higher price for land
would drive "the sturdy yeomen expected this year from Canada,
Australia, and other British Colonies" across the frontier "in hundreds" to seek homes on American territory where it was the custom
to grant free land. Finally, however, Douglas hoped that a low
upset price would "guard the land operations of the Colony, as
much as in the nature of things is practicable, from the designs of
speculators who make purchases of land not for actual settlement
but merely for profitable resale."
To amplify the "special circumstances" mentioned in his proclamation (item 2), Douglas explained his plan for a special settlement along the American border. There he proposed to create a
military reserve on behalf of the Royal Engineers, "and if possible
also otherwise to settle it with a population composed exclusively of
English subjects."14 Douglas had lived through the i84o's in
Oregon, and he would have still remembered the spirit that had
been abroad in a land where the president-elect had chanted with
conviction: "Fifty-four forty or fight!"
The last two clauses of the proclamation dealt with laying out
and selling lands in the colony's capital, New Westminster, the
name bestowed on the city by the Queen. Three-quarters of the
lots were to be sold at public auction, but the remaining quarter
was to be reserved for purchasers in the United Kingdom and in
the British colonies. So objectionable did Lytton find this reservation that no government in British Columbia was to have the
"Proclamation,  Enclosure  in  No.   51,"   ibid.,  p.   65;  Douglas  to  Lytton,
February 19, 1859, no. 51, ibid., pp. 64-65.
temerity to embark on a similar scheme until 1896. Lytton could
hardly find words strong enough to condemn the measure. Besides
being "decidedly objectionable," it could serve no purpose but to
"stimulate the acquisition of property by non-residents." Pointing
to this as one of the worst evils to which any new community could
be subjected, he continued, "the lots [would be] bought by speculators who [would] hold them on a chance of a rise in value, with
the effect in the meanwhile of obstructing the progress of the town,
interrupting its communications, and creating a nuisance to the
holders of adjoining lots." This objectionable measure was ordered
to be rescinded at once.15
Douglas had no alternative in the face of this order but to
abandon the plan, but he held out temporarily on other points. He
accepted Lytton's advice of one general upset price and of all sales
by auction, but he did not give in at once to the requirement of
all-cash sales. He wished to make it easier for settlers with little
capital — the bulk of the population of that time — to acquire
land. He might have abandoned this plan also had he not been in
dire need of the money which such sales could provide. In order
to assure a sufficient quantity of surveyed lands for immediate
requirements, Pemberton had been sent to "Fraser's River" with
instructions to survey as quickly as possible all open districts "so
that the Country may be laid out for immediate settlement and
The Colonial Office persisted, however, and by the end of the year
Douglas agreed to require prompt payment for land.17 But the
attempt was unsuccessful. On January 4, i860, the Land Ordinance for the mainland made provision for payment by instalments,
and this practice continued for twenty-five years. The new ordinance incorporated all Douglas had learned from experience in the
past year, his first in land operations. Among other things he had
discovered that the Royal Engineers, sent out by Lytton in 1858
and charged with surveying among other tasks, could not keep
pace with the demand for land. In addition, the cost of transporting the Engineers to localities where surveys were required would
have exceeded the price of the land. Lytton's recommendation that
15 Lytton to Douglas, May 7, 1859, no. 24, ibid., pp. 86-87.
16 Douglas to Lytton, May 23, 1859, no. 11, ibid., 3:  12.
17 Douglas to Henry Pelham Clinton, 5th duke of Newcastle, colonial secretary,
November 10, 1859, no. 27, ibid., p. 69.
the cost of the actual survey be added to the price of the land did
not solve the problem of insufficient surveyors.
In order to remove "so pregnant a cause of complaint," and to
hasten settlement by promoting the acquisition of unsurveyed agricultural land, the new ordinance authorized the occupation of such
land to the extent of 160 acres, with a pre-emptive right, by any
person immediately occupying and improving the land, provided
the settler paid the price of ten shillings an acre when the survey
was completed and when the title was granted. Thus, for the first
time in either colony, provision was made for the pre-emption of
crown land. At the same time, Douglas provided for the purchase
"of larger tracts of unsurveyed country land ... as [might] be
desired by persons of larger means, [but] in order to guard against
the speculative holding of land ... 5s an acre [was] to be paid
down, and the residue at the time of survey." As the object of the
new ordinance was "solely to encourage and induce the settlement
of the country," occupation of the land was "made the test of
title, and no pre-emption title [could] be perfected without compliance with that imperative condition."18
Douglas discussed the land problem with his council in March,
i860. It was recorded in the minutes that " 'the council are unanimously of the opinion that a low price ... combined with occupation and improvement, would conduce to the general settlement of
the country.' " From this sound observation it is apparent that
Douglas and his advisers, although constantly short of money for
administrative purposes, had already abandoned the idea of enriching the treasury from the sale of public lands. Instead, the real
problem — that of encouraging settlement — was squarely met.
The council went on record to say that if the price were to be
reduced, then conditions should be imposed to prevent any large-
scale alienation of land for speculative purposes prejudicial to
those settlers of more limited means who wished to cultivate it;
that further provisions should be made for the pre-emption of
unsurveyed land; that pre-emptions must be limited to 160 acres;
and, finally, that all waste land should not be tied up in preemptions. Some waste land should be available to the capitalist
wishing " 'extensive quantities of land ... for laudable ... purposes,5 " at a higher price and such a grant should be circumscribed
Douglas to Newcastle, January 12, i860, no. 35, ibid., p. 90; "Proclamation,
Enclosure in no. 35," ibid., pp. 91-92.
by " 'conditions that would prevent abuse.' "lfl In devising this
last clause, the council surely must have realized it was trying to
do the impossible. Not one of Douglas's later ordinances was to
contain any such provision, although every other suggestion was to
be enacted by February, 1861.
Particularly important was a provision giving pre-emptors of 160
acres the right to acquire further land at the price of ten shillings
per acre.20 This principle was to be embodied in future land ordinances and proclamations, but neither then, nor at any future date,
did such additional purchase exempt the settler from the necessity
of improving his pre-emption. He was under no obligation to
improve his more recently purchased land and might do as he
wished with it, but, as of January, i860, he had to either better
his first claim or forfeit it to another who would put the land to
beneficial use. It should be noted in passing that this principle of
"beneficial use" came to be applied to any type of claim — land,
mineral, or timber — and to water rights and coal leases. It was
designed not only to prevent speculation in public lands, but also
to offer every possible encouragement to the settler, prospector,
free miner, or farmer, whose intentions were honest. By holding
out such inducements, successive governments hoped to settle the
country with people who would develop the natural resources to
benefit themselves and to contribute indirectly to the government's
income through duties, taxes, and royalties. Had Douglas achieved
nothing else by 1864, he would still deserve a place of honour in
British Columbia's history for implementing this principle.
As will become evident, not all later governments were to insist
upon strict conformity with the statutory provisions respecting
improvements, but the principle had been established and was
never to be questioned officially. It would appear, however, that
fortunes both great and small were made, in defiance of the
statute. From the 1860's until at least 1910 there was scarcely a
public figure in British Columbia who did not acquire large holdings of agricultural, pastoral, or mineral lands. As far as it is possible to trace transactions through official sources, these acquisitions appear legal, but, undoubtedly, information acquired as a
member of the government, or as a confidant of such a member,
would have had potential value.
19 Quoted in Gosnell, "Colonial History, 1849-1871," pp. 109, no.
20 B.C. Revised Statutes, Appendix, 1871, p. 63, i860, 23 Vict., no. 15, s. 7.
In February, 1861, conditions on Vancouver Island necessitated
a new ordinance to lower the upset price of country lands to four
shillings and twopence per acre, and to legislate other conditions
for the acquiring of land. Douglas had been so preoccupied in
guiding the development of the mainland colony that he had
found little time to consider the state of affairs closer to home/The
1861 Ordinance was the first to give detailed regulations in either
colony for pre-empting crown land. It stipulated that all British
male subjects (and aliens who had taken the oath of allegiance)
over eighteen years of age could pre-empt waste crown land,
excepting Indian reserves or settlements, to the extent of 150 acres
for a single man, 200 acres for a married man whose wife was
resident in the colony, and 10 acres for each child under eighteen
years. Having selected his land the settler had to record his claim
with the surveyor general in Victoria and pay the required fee. If
the land were unsurveyed, as it usually was, his application had to
be accompanied by the "best possible description thereof in writing," and a map. As soon as the land was surveyed, he had to pay
the required four shillings and twopence per acre. Should the
pre-emption be on land already surveyed, however, three years
were allowed in which to make full payment. Two years after
securing his certificate of record, and upon the satisfactory evidence
of third parties that he had continued in permanent occupation
for the two years and had effected improvement amounting to two
shillings per acre, the settler was entitled to a certificate of improvement. The land could not be transferred until this certificate had
been issued. When all requirements had been fulfilled and all payments made, a crown grant was issued, but the right to repossess
any part of the land for roads or other public purposes and the
right to work any precious minerals were reserved to the Crown.
Once the settler received a crown grant to his pre-emption, he
could buy any additional amount of land at the current price. This
land had to be, of course, surveyed land. The settler was allowed
to be absent from his claim for only two months; longer than that
and the claim was forfeit to the surveyor general.21
Following the report of the Select Committee set up in 1863
by the House of Assembly to investigate the condition of crown
21 Ibid., pp. 25-28, 1861, 24 Vict., no. 4.
lands,22 it was ruled that the most land a pre-emptor could purchase in addition to his pre-emption was 480 acres at four shillings
and twopence an acre. Any quantity of land could be leased, however, for agricultural purposes and water could be diverted for the
same purpose.23/
Douglas probably appointed the Select Committee of 1863 as a
result of a memorial presented to him in April, 1861, by J. A. R.
Homer and other citizens of New Westminster. Homer criticized
the absence of a land tax, the careless administration of public
lands, and the failure to establish a Land Registry Office.24 What
perhaps the memorialists overlooked and what the Colonial Office
never seemed to have understood was that Douglas was hampered
constantly in his plans for the two colonies by a lack of revenue.
His only sources of income on the mainland were land sales, a
customs import of 10 per cent, and liquor and miners' licences. To
levy miners' fees and to collect them were two quite different
matters. Although millions of dollars in gold were taken from the
Cariboo gold fields, the royalty owed the colonial administration
was generally evaded. Thus, rich as some miners became, their
wealth added little to the colonial treasury other than indirectly
through the volume of general business. To open the country and
to meet the requirements of the population meant large annual
expenditures for public works. Douglas had to ask the Colonial
Office for financial relief and cut down drastically on public spending in the two colonies in order to avoid bankruptcy. He referred
the complaint that public lands had been wrongly administered to
Colonel Richard Moody, commander of the Royal Engineers and
chief commissioner of lands and works. Douglas forwarded both
his own and Moody's reports on the matter to the Colonial Office
on April 22, 1861.25 No action was taken by the Colonial Office,
22 Vancouver Island, House of Assembly, Committee on Crown Lands, Vancouver Island, Report, June 14th, 1864, 3d Pari., ist sess., 1863-64, [committee print]; later published with the evidence of witnesses, idem, Minutes
of Proceedings of a Select Committee of the House of Assembly Appointed
to^ Inquire into the Present Condition of the Crown Lands of the Colony,
with Reference to the Proposal of Her Majesty's Secretary of State for the
Colonies Dated 15th June, 1863, to Hand Over the Crown Lands to the
Legislature (Victoria: Printed by Harries ... for Her Majesty's Government, 1864).
23 B.C. Revised Statutes, Appendix, 1871, pp. 85-93,  1865, 28 Vict, no. 23.
24 "A Memorial from the British Columbian Convention to the Imperial
Government," British Columbian (New Westminster), February 28, 1861.
25 Douglas to Newcastle, April 22, 1861, Great Britain, Colonial Office, "CO
60, British Columbia Original Correspondence, 1858-1871: Despatches from
but Douglas did take steps to establish a Registry Office in New
Just before his retirement Douglas was forced to confess to the
commencing session of the first Legislative Council at Sapperton
that the results of his land policy had been disappointing. His
policy, he said, had been to advance public works as quickly as
possible in order to give the waste lands of the colony a value they
had not until then possessed. With a view solely to increasing
population by encouraging settlement, he had thrown open the
public lands to settlers on the most liberal terms, but the results
had not fulfilled his expectations./No doubt Douglas was disappointed at the slow pace development had taken, but he could
hardly be held responsible. With Lytton's despatches to guide him
and his own keen sense of what was needed, he had met realistically
the requirements of the two colonies, and in so doing he had displayed an advanced and liberal conception of the philosophy necessary to a public land policy in a new country. With 254 pre-emptions
recorded between 1858 and 1862 on the mainland and encompassing 50,000 acres, Douglas need not have been so pessimistic.26
Essentially, it was the legislation formulated by Douglas that was
still in effect when the province joined Confederation in 1871.
The Land Ordinance of 1870, effective in 1871, closely resembled
those written by Douglas before his retirement in 1864. Certain
details, however, were changed. Pre-emptions of unsurveyed land
were restricted to 320 acres east of the Cascades and 160 acres
west; pre-emptors were forbidden to hold two claims simultaneously; and improvements were to be made to the value of two
dollars and fifty cents an acre. Under section 16 there was to be
"continuous bona fide personal residence of the pre-emptor," a
restriction added to prevent the practice of constructing a shanty
on the claim and rurming cattle on the land, but living elsewhere.
This personal residence clause, however, was to become inoperative
after four years of "continuous occupation," presumably on the
assumption that within that time the government would have sur-
the Governors of British Columbia, Draft Replies, Interdepartmental and
Miscellaneous," microfilmed (London: microfilm made on behalf of the
Public Archives of Canada from the Public Record Office, London, n.d.),
pp. 168-89, 5 * 66 British Columbia.
D. Borthwick, "Settlement in British Columbia," Transactions of the Eighth
British Columbia Natural Resources Conference ... 1955 (British Columbia
Natural Resources Conference, 1955), p. 100.
veyed the claim. After being surveyed, the land might be bought
at one dollar an acre, payable in four equal annual instalments. A
crown grant conveying the land in fee simple was obtainable once
all payments were made.
No restriction was placed on the quantity of surveyed land that
might be purchased at the upset price of one dollar an acre. Lands
reputed to contain minerals, townsites and their suburbs, were
reserved from sale. Provision was made for the governor to set the
upset price of town lots as circumstances dictated, a wise stipulation which secured to the government any advance in current land
prices. The Crown reserved the right to enter any land for the
purpose of obtaining road-building materials, but, save for this
provision or unless otherwise specially announced, all trees, mines,
and minerals except gold and silver were to be conveyed by the
terms of sale. The only other reservations made were rights-of-way
for leading animals to water, for mining, or for engineering purposes, but only if these reservations were already in existence at the
time of sale.
For the purpose of pasturing cattle or horses, section 26 permitted
the leasing of any amount of un-pre-empted and unsurveyed waste
crown land, but only to genuine pre-emptors or buyers in the
immediate vicinity and at such rent as the Governor in Council
might specify. The only restriction placed on such leases was that
within six months the lessee was required to stock his land with the
number of animals per 100 acres required by the land commissioner. Leased land was subject at any time to pre-emption, government reserve, or purchase. As a benefit to the cattlemen who were
unlikely to sit idly by while their range land was pre-empted, only
500 acres of waste land could be leased for cutting hay and, then,
only for five years.27
27 Because this ordinance will be used extensively as the standard by which to
gauge subsequent progress, it is included as Appendix A.
Provincial Land Policy to 1880
The land legislation prevailing at the time the united colony of
Vancouver Island and British Columbia entered Confederation in
1871 has been briefly presented. Since the history of land laws during the next forty years was to be the history of the expansion of
the 1870 Ordinance, the principles of this law merit study. Those
sections pertaining to timber leases, mining claims, free miners'
privileges, and water rights are treated in later chapters.
By 1871 the first and most important principle underlying land
legislation was that of beneficial use. The fact is inescapable that
the 1870 Ordinance was unwise legislation despite its restrictions
because it did not recognize that good agricultural land was severely
limited. To this day, only 1,600,000 acres in the province have
been developed as agricultural land, although 6,500,000 acres are
classified as arable or potentially so. It would have been in the
better interests of both the province and conservation had the agricultural land been surveyed and divided into smaller holdings to
benefit a greater number. Douglas had done his utmost to retain
the land for the Crown until it had been surveyed, but lack of
money, resulting in the recall of the Royal Engineers in 1863,
frustrated his plans. Further, it was to be forty years before systematic surveys of the province were undertaken to determine precisely the extent of cultivable land. Until the results of these surveys
were known, the land had appeared to be limitless; to have
restricted sales to 160 acres would have seemed miserly indeed.
The second principle to be found in the Ordinance of 1870 was
sale by public auction with a previously established upset price.
This principle was based on the premise that arable land would be
eagerly sought by a confidently expected annual flood of immigrants. When the flood turned out to be a mere trickle, and when
buyers realized that it would be foolish to bid one another up at
auction, it became the practice to wait until after the sale in order
to obtain the land at the upset price. The provision for sale by
auction became a dead issue.
More realistic was the third principle, that of payment by instalments. Under section 21 pre-emptors were given four years after
their claims had been surveyed within which to make payment.
Before 1870, full payment had been required upon survey. Since
government surveys were frequently delayed, the pre-emptor often
paid for his own private survey and bought the land in the usual
way. Only one pre-emption claim could be held at any one time,
and the residence requirement called for continuous bona fide
personal occupation of four-years' duration. Both these last stipulations were designed to prevent speculation.
Fourthly, it was firmly established that no crown grant to any
land could be secured until the land had been surveyed. This
requirement was rigidly enforced, as indeed it had to be, lest Land
Office records become hopelessly confused. Finally, the Crown
reserved to itself certain rights and privileges: namely, the right to
repossess a portion of granted lands for public purposes, and the
rights to gold and silver wherever found, unless these were specifically exempted in the conveyance.
These were the principles formulated by Douglas and they have
been altered only slightly by subsequent land acts. On occasion
one or more of these principles was to be dropped, only to be
shortly reinserted and, today, they still form an integral part of the
provincial land legislation./
But what of agriculture itself in 1871? It was estimated that
13,384 acres were being cultivated, almost entirely in the New
Westminster and Victoria districts. In that year 125,000 bushels
of potatoes, 140,000 bushels of turnips, and 215,000 bushels of
grain, were grown. On pastoral land 28,737 head of cattle were
run, and 2,373 tons °f naY were cut. The faith of the settlers in
the future of their province was high although they realized that
until the railway connecting them with Canada was built, development must be slow. Until that railway link became a reality in
1885, the major market for the province's exports had to be found
in San Francisco. Exports in 1872, confined almost entirely to
gold, coal, and furs, amounted to $1,792,347;  "miscellaneous"
items, including agricultural produce, amounted to only $59,231.
These figures show how extensive was the market within the province itself for farm produce.
And what of population in the year of union? The population
of 9,092 whites, 459 coloureds and 1,319 Chinese, was found
chiefly in the Victoria and New Westminster areas, with only
scattered settlements throughout the interior.1 The future of these
settlers — closely dependent on the land laws — looked secure and
Beyond the 13,000 acres under cultivation, the fort property,
town lots, and several thousand acres of farming lands retained by
the Hudson's Bay Company around Victoria, there was still a vast
area to be settled, mining resources to be developed, timber lands
to be exploited. Consequently, a more specific legal code had to
be established. Although by 1871 Hudson's Bay officials, and prospectors, miners, hunters, trappers, and travellers, had explored
much of the province, no one had any idea of the total area of
the land surface, much less what proportion was arable. It has
since been determined that the province contains a total land area
of 359,279 square miles and a fresh water area of 6,976 square
miles, or a total of approximately 230,000,000 acres of land, of
which about 3 per cent is now considered to be arable agricultural
In his speech from the throne to the second session of the first
provincial Legislative Assembly on December 17, 1872, Lieutenant-
Governor Joseph Trutch stated:
A bill will be submitted to you substituting for the existing Land
Laws a measure on a sounder and more liberal basis, which it
is believed will be more satisfactory to the Public and more conducive to the speedy settlement of the Province. Provision will
also be made for accurate and extensive Surveys of those Districts in the Province most available for settlement.2
As chief commissioner of lands and works in the colony from 1864
to 1871, Trutch must have found it bitter to read the speech written
for him on this occasion. Amor De Cosmos no doubt had had a
hand in this as it was he who had successfully proposed a motion
1 E.O.S. Scholefield and R. E. Gosnell, A History of British Columbia, 2 pts.
in 1 vol. (Vancouver: British Columbia Historical Association, 1913),
a: 1, 3.
2 B.C., Legislative Assembly, Journals, 1st Pari., ad sess., 1873-73, p. a.
at the Yale Convention in 1868 condemning the Land and Works
Department and its land policy. His resolution asking for "free
grants of at least 320 acres to actual settlers upon public lands"
was not to receive consideration, but, doubtless, he had many
remarks to make in the assembly amplifying his condemnatory
That the Office of Lands and Works is maintained at a great
annual expense, amounting in 1868, for a Chief Commissioner
and three clerks, to 8,490 dollars, and in former years to a far
larger sum. That the greatest ignorance prevails in the department as to the lands in Vancouver Island and on the mainland,
although a land office has been kept open in the former place
17 years, and in the latter for 10 years. That nothing is done
by the department to assist in the sale and settlement of the
public lands, except recording a few pre-emptions on Vancouver
Island, and on the mainland the pre-emptions are recorded by
the magistrates. That a few parcels of public lands are leased
for the purpose of trade, agriculture, lumbering, and mining,
and the rents collected for the same. That instalments on lands
sold or pre-empted are collected. That a few maps are made or
extended occasionally. That the above includes the total services
performed by this department pertaining to land, and could all
be transacted by one clerk. That the public works carried on by
the department are confined to repairing roads, constructing
some small bridges, cutting out or keeping open a trail, or repairing or enlarging a public building, and are either performed by
contract or by temporary service. That the entire public works,
including map-making, could be well attended to by one competent civil engineer.3
Such a forthright denunciation of the department which he had
headed must have incensed Trutch, and the aspersions cast on his
ability as an engineer must have caused him to regard De Cosmos
and his associates with active hostility. Since De Cosmos headed
the second provincial ministry as premier after John Foster
McCreight's defeat on December 23, 1872, this personal animosity was to have serious consequences for the province.
3 [Confederation League], "Minutes of a Preliminary Meeting of the Delegates, Elected by the Various Districts of British Columbia, Convened at
Yale [September 14-16, 1868], Pursuant to the Following Call: Yale Convention," Enclosure i in no. 6, Frederick Seymour to Richard Chandos
Grenville, 3d duke of Buckingham and Chandos, colonial secretary, November 30,^ 1868, no. 6, in Papers on the Union of British Columbia with the
Dominion of Canada ... ordered by the House of Commons to be printed,
3 August 1869 (n.p.,n.d.), p. 22, in [Great Britain, Colonial Office], Miscellaneous Papers Relating to British Columbia, 1859-1869, 5 papers in 1 vol.
([London, 1859-69]).
Leaving aside temporarily the consideration of free lands as
proposed by De Cosmos, the assembly gave its attention to other
changes which might be made in the 1870 Ordinance. To accomplish these changes, a select committee was appointed in 1872.
Chief among its recommendations were simplification of the process
of granting pre-emption records, and the easing of the occupation
requirement so that it might be met by either the pre-emptor or his
agent "provided no such agent shall be an Indian or a Chinaman."
Instead of having to wait until after the land had been surveyed,
a pre-emptor could now secure a certificate of improvement which
entitled him to a crown grant after four-years' continuous occupation. /To protect pre-emptors of lands located among pastoral
leases from the wrath of the cattlemen, pre-emptors were granted
"the right of passing and re-passing over such leased lands without
being deemed trespassers," and the pre-emptor who cultivated at
least ten acres of his pre-emption was allowed to run up to fifty
head of his stock on a lessee's range during the winter months and
subject to an annual payment, finally, under section 16 dealing
with the sale of land, no mention of a required survey was made,
a complete reversal of former policy. The provision for the sale of
lands at public auction was set aside, in a clause reading that land
would be auctioned only "whenever so ordered by the Lieutenant-
Governor in Council ... as may be deemed by him expedient."4^
In the same speech from the throne Trutch intimated that some
provision would be made for free grants of land. The select committee recommended in 1873, the following year, that limited free
grants of land be made, at the governor's discretion, to any settler
who made the requisite improvements, and the grant be issued at
any time after the improvements had been made.5 Clauses 21 to
31, inclusive, of the Amendment of February 21, 1873 dealt with
such free grants. Any land suitable for cultivation and settlement,
■■ B.C., Legislative Assembly, Select Committee On Land Ordinance, 1870,
"Report," B.C., Journals, 1st Pari., 2d sess., 1872-73, appendix, Sessional
Papers; B.C., Statutes, 1873, 36 Vict., no. 1.
' The Select Committee had, undoubtedly, been greatly influenced by the
dominion statute which had thrown the prairies open to settlement at one
dollar an acre with a 640-acre limit, or, for homesteaders, 160 acres free on
the sole condition of three-years' occupancy and cultivation, Canada,
Statutes, 1872, 35 Vict., c. 23. In 1874, the pre-emption of a further quarter-
section was allowed. The dominion statutes closely followed the American
example and, by this indirect route, British Columbia's land laws were influenced by the American precedent. O. D. Skelton, "General Economic History," in Canada and Its Provinces, Shortt and Doughty, eds., 21:   112.
whether surveyed or not, could be used for these free grants to a
maximum of 250 acres. This was 90 acres in excess of what the
Dominion was granting in the Northwest under its Homestead Act
of 1872. No one could receive a free grant who had already
obtained land by any other means. To prevent speculation, any
applicant for a free grant had to sign an affidavit declaring that
the land sought was solely for his personal use for settlement and
cultivation and not for any other purpose. Provided that twenty
acres were brought under cultivation within three years of the
application, and a habitable house built, a crown grant could be
secured. An indication of how anxious the government was to
obtain settlers and of how willing it was to relax previous attitudes,
was the new regulation that the "locatee" of such a free grant, who
was supposed to reside on his "location," could still be absent more
than six months a year "provided such land be cultivated as aforesaid." This provision enabled settlers to work elsewhere part of the
year for the cash to finance their land venture. Under section 29
these favoured "locatees" were guarded against attachment of the
land for any debt or liability before the initial three-year period
had expired. After the crown grant was issued, provided the
original settler and his family still occupied the land and excepting
"any debt secured by a valid mortgage ... subsequently to the
issuing," the guarantee was extended for another twenty years.6
Such was British Columbia's first tentative venture into the
competitive race to attract immigrants by offering free land. During
the session of 1873, a land return was tabled by Robert Beaven,
then chief commissioner of land and works, later to be premier,
showing that only 8,284 acres of land had been sold by auction at
an average price of $1.21 49/100 an acre, 20 per cent higher
than the upset price of $1.00, for a total of $io,o64.50.7 This
acreage, in a province the size of British Columbia, was negligible.
Hence the De Cosmos ministry, dissatisfied with the land policy,
decided to offer free land to all comers. The United States had
been offering free land since 1862 and Canada had followed suit
ten years later. Now that the railway reserve imposed on all provin-
6 B.C., Statutes, 1873, 36 Vict., no. 1.
7 B.C., Department of Lands and Works, "Return Showing Results of Land
Sales by Auction," in "Report of the Chief Commissioner of Lands and
Works ... 1873," B.C., Journals, 1st Pari., 3d sess., 1873-74, appendix,
Sessional Papers, p. 64. The reports of the chief commissioner were also
separately published during the years covered by this study.
cial lands under article n of the Terms of Union was about to
lapse because of the Dominion's failure to begin railway construction, British Columbia was free for the first time to compete with
Canada and with the United States for Europe's land-hungry
An illustration of how completely another of Lytton's principles
— that of prompt and full payment — had been abandoned, is
shown in a further return tabled by Beaven, giving both the number
of acres sold and the price received for lands on the mainland for
the years 1870, 1871, and 1872. This return showed that 75 per
cent of the land was bought by deferred payment. Of 27,880 acres
sold, only 6,955 were P^ f°r m ^uu; of the $16,919.82 received,
only $1,224.01 or 14 per cent, represented full payment.
A third conclusion can be drawn from Beaven's returns. Figures
tabled by him show 11,134 acres sold in the last six months of
1870, 13,512 acres in 1871, but only 3,234 acres in 1872. Obviously
the delay of the railway was beginning to have its effect in
demoralizing public business in the province.
Still another return indicated that the government had placed
under reserve 190,857.8 acres throughout the province for purposes
of Indian settlements, and for schools, parks, military and naval
establishments, and townsites; 78,520 acres of coal lands, and
39,100 acres of timber. Pre-emption claims had been recorded for
44,827.5 acres, at an average of 210 acres per claim.8
Finally, Beaven included in his report a list of all the holders of
pastoral leases, showing name of lessee, the district, acreage, rental,
and a comment indicating that certain leases had not as yet been
issued. At the rate of 3^ to 6^ an acre charged for the 80,342.9
acres under lease, the government was to receive $3,393.68 a year
in rent. Because it reveals the cattle-raising regions of the province,
and because it gives the names of several men who later became
figures of some importance in the province, the complete return is
reproduced below.
On March 2, 1874, the provincial legislature passed the first
land act since union with Canada, a complete revision of the 1870
Ordinance and its amendments. Fortunately, the last section provided that the new act should not come into force until published
"... Return of Government Reserves," B.C. Journals, 1st. Pari., 2d sess.,
1872-73, appendix, Sessional Papers; "Return ... of Pre-emptions in ...
British Columbia, from 1st January to 30th November, 1872," ibid.
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in the British Columbia Gazette. The second, or interpretation
clause, defined crown lands as "all lands of this Province held by
the Grown in fee and common socage."10 When the act reached
Ottawa, Telesphore Fournier, minister of justice, drew attention to
this definition as one which applied only to lands of the Crown
acquired from some previous owner. Were this definition intentional, he said, it could only mean that the province was recognizing the original Indian sovereignty over its lands and thus the
Grown as tenant by freehold. Although the province had no intention of giving such recognition, the minister of justice had no
quarrel with the definition on constitutional grounds. He did find it
objectionable that the act made no provision for Indian reservations, and that Indians were not accorded any rights or privileges
in respect to lands, reserves, or settlements. On the contrary, he
found sections 3 and 24 specifically exempted the Indians from any
rights of recording unsurveyed land or of pre-empting surveyed
land if they had not previously obtained written permission from
the Lieutenant-Governor in Council. Fournier also pointed out that
there was no provision in the act for reserving land for railway
purposes as required under article 11 of the Terms of Union. He
noted that the dominion government had not lived up to those
terms which required construction to begin by 1873, and he drew
to the cabinet's attention the great embarrassment which might
result later should it be found that the provincial government had
unknowingly granted pre-emptions in the forty-mile strip yet to
be definitely located. He recommended disallowance.11 The act
was disallowed by an Order in Council, March 16, 1875.
After communication with the British Columbia government, it
was agreed that the act should not be proclaimed and that a new
bill should be introduced at the next provincial legislative session.
Trutch assented to this new land act on April 22, 1875. There were
only two important changes from the 1874 version. The definition
of crown lands now read, "all lands of this Province held by the
Crown in fee simple," and section 60, dealing with reserves, was
10 B.C., Statutes, 1874, 37 Vict., no. 2.
11 William Egerton Hodgins, comp., Correspondence, Reports of the Ministers
of Justice and Orders in Council upon the Subject of Dominion and Provincial Legislation, i867-[i92o], compiled under the direction of the ...
minister of justice, 2 vols. (Ottawa: Government Printing Bureau, 1896-1922),
1:1024, 1028, 1029.
The Lieutenant-Governor shall, at any time, by notice, signed by
the Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works, and published in
the British Columbia Gazette, reserve any lands not lawfully held
by record, pre-emption, purchase, lease, or Crown Grant, for the
purpose of conveying the same to the Dominion Government, in
trust, for the use and benefit of the Indians, or for railway purposes, as mentioned in Article 11 of the Terms of Union, or for
such other purposes as may be deemed advisable.
While these two were the most significant additions to the provincial land laws, there were others of a less radical nature. Although
pre-emptions on surveyed land still could not exceed the 320-acre
limit east of the Cascades and 160 acres west, the new act did
provide for claims of 40, 80, and 120 acres, thereby permitting
pre-emptions where the topography precluded a larger acreage.
Still only one claim could be held under pre-emption, but in order
to legalize the existing conditions within the province, section 15
provided that any settler could have his claim surveyed at his own
expense. Under section 24 settlers, designated now as "homestead
settlers," might pre-empt surveyed lands as defined in section 23.
This definition of surveyed lands was a departure from past procedure. Since the only surveyed lands in the province were near
Victoria and New Westminster, surveyed ten years before by the
Royal Engineers and long since settled, the provision was largely
meaningless. After two years' continuous occupation and permanent improvements of $2.50 an acre, a certificate of improvement
could be obtained. Then, upon payment of the five dollar fee, the
homestead settler was entitled to a crown grant. Under section 66,
such land was free. Steps in this direction had been previously taken
by the amendments of 1873, and now, with no restrictions, all land
under pre-emption was granted free of charge. For this reason, the
act of 1875 was known as the "Free Grant Act."
The rules governing unlimited pastoral leases and 500-acre hay
leases were retained. Anyone wishing to buy surveyed land could
do so for one dollar an acre, but unsurveyed land could only be
bought after the land had been surveyed at the buyer's expense.
Lytton's concern that deferred payment would lead to default was
proving legitimate and section 79 authorized the chief commissioner to give notice in the British Columbia Gazette to those from
whom the balance of purchase money was overdue that, unless the
money was paid, their records or agreements would be cancelled.12
12 B.C., Statutes, 1875, 38 Vict., no. 5.
A return tabled on April 25, 1876, showed that in the six land
divisions established in the province, $56,596.38 was owing.
Twenty-two persons in New Westminster alone owed $7,906.46.
As there were still no specific reservations for Indian lands,
Edward Blake, now minister of justice in Ottawa, was no more
satisfied with this act than his predecessor had been with the act
of 1874, but because the Indian land problem had been temporarily
solved by the agreement to appoint a Joint Reserve Commission,
and because "great inconvenience and confusion might result from
its disallowance," he decided to leave the act in operation.13
In the session of 1875, returns were tabled listing all lands taken
up in the New Westminster district between 1872 and April 14,
1875. These informative records list the name, the location of land,
the acreage, the type of land, the price, and the section of the land
act under which the land was acquired. For instance, there were
380 pre-emption records, all of which were for 160 acres, plus
3,860 acres of irregular size, including a claim by Charley Brew, an
Indian of Langley. Purchased outright were 22,761.5 acres —
nearly all in 160-acre blocks — at one dollar an acre, and, purchased by deferred payment, were a further 15,884 acres at fifty
cents an acre at a public auction on September 30, 1873.14
In his report for the year, Beaven assessed the worth of the "free
grant system" introduced two years before:
/The liberality of the Province in dealing with its lands far
exceeds that of any other Province or State on this continent, as
settlers now coming in can record 160 acres West of the Cascades and 320 acres East of the same mountain range, in any
part of the Mainland portion of the Province, and can eventually
obtain the land as a "Free Grant" simply by residence and
improvement. The question, therefore, as to whether indiscriminate "Free Grants" have a tendency to quickly settle up the
Province has had, for the last two years, a practical test. Many
settlers, and others who have given the subject consideration, are
strongly of the opinion that it would eventually be more beneficial to the Province if the "Free Grant" system was confined to
certain surveyed Townships, instead of virtually giving away the
Crown Lands throughout the Province, and having subsequently,
in all probability, to resort to a direct tax to make up the loss
13 Hodgins, Dominion and Provincial Legislation, 1:1039.
14 "... Return of Lands Taken Up by Purchase, by Pre-emption, by Timber
Lease ... with the Names of Parties Holding or Applying for the Same, in the
New Westminster District ... 1872, Inclusive, to the Present Time," B.C.,
Journals, 1st Pari., 4th sess., 1875, appendix, Sessional Papers, pp. 705-23.
to the Provincial revenue. The machinery of the present Land
Act, in reference to the adjustment and "proving up" of claims,
has worked admirably, and saved the Province a considerable
expenditure in ascertaining the exact locality of the different
claimants, who, in many instances, are absent, and the improvements under which they have obtained their certificates, years
ago, having become obliterated.15
Since the act granting free land had been Beaven's creation, his
enthusiasm over what he chose to consider its success is pardonable.
It is highly doubtful, however, that he had any real conception of
the country to which he expected settlers to flock to take up 320-
acre pre-emptions under the act's inducements. Only in regard
to the size of the free pre-emptions did the act differ from either
the dominion or the American homestead acts.
Despite free pre-emptions, some settlers continued to buy land
outright in order to circumvent the residence and improvement
requirements for free grants. In 1877, a return gave details of all
lands sold in the province from July 31, 1871 to December 31,
1876. A comparison of the following figures with the ones given
earlier for New Westminster will show that at this time — as for
thirty-five years to come — government statistics were at least two
years in arrears, but they are revealing nevertheless. Of the 195
individual sales totalling 33,507.49 acres, 78 were on Vancouver
Island (7,701.38 acres at a total price of $7,395.38); 71 in New
Westminster (9,900 acres; $8,465.86); 3 in the Cariboo District
(acreage not given; $162.00); 11 in Yale (3,087.41 acres;
$2,897.41); and 32 in Lillooet (12,818.90 acres; $12,875.50).
These statistics show that land sales had not been large — a
mere 6,700 acres a year, mostly sold at the statutory price of one
dollar an acre. They indicate that lands on Vancouver Island were
still being sold in 100-acre blocks, following the practice established
twenty-five years before by the Hudson's Bay Company. In the
New Westminster district the average size of each purchase was
140 acres, suggesting that there was still a good supply of farming
land available along the Fraser River flats. In the Cariboo, however, assuming the standard price of one dollar per acre, the three
sales made were more than likely for mineral claims as fifty acres
was the size later allowed for such claims, and the law generally
15 B.C., Department of Lands and Works, "Report of the Chief Commissioner
of Lands and Works ... 1875," B.C., Sessional Papers, 2d Pari., 1st sess.,
1876, p. 531.
followed the precedent of established practice. The Yale average
of 280 acres and the Lillooet of 400 reflect the predominant occupation of the settlers in cattle raising. In Yale District Cornelius
O'Keefe was able to buy 480 acres at Okanagan Lake in October
1871 and 162 more the following March, all at one dollar an acre.16
By the time the next land returns had been tabled in the Legislature, covering the period from April, 1875, to February, 1878,
there were 279 applicants to purchase 86,942.5 acres of unsurveyed
land. Five of these applications were refused with no reason stated.
During 1877 there were 31,282 acres of every other classification
sold, and town lots, nearly all in Hastings and Granville,17 were
sold to 41 buyers. For the same year there were only 127 preemptions recorded for free grants under the 1875 Free Grant Act,
indicating either that British Columbia's pioneers were an independent breed, or that the lands available to them as free grants
were so far removed from the settled districts that few settlers
wanted them.
An 1878 return showing the arrears in rent on pastoral leases
since 1870 indicated that few lessees were paying their rent and
that the government was not taking action. Twenty-one lessees,
including the Cornwalls and C. A. Semlin, were in arrears to the
extent of $7,114.63 on land of which the annual rental amounted
to $2,300.06. A note at the bottom of the return said that "the
apparently large amounts of rent due are caused by the difficulty
of collection, on account of the additional charge of Road Tax;
disputes respecting boundaries, and pre-emptions, etc.; many of the
above Leases, though not formally cancelled, being regarded by
16 "Approximate Statement of Land Sold in British Columbia from 31st July,
1871, to 31st December, 1876 ...," B.C., Sessional Papers, 2d Pari., 2d
sess., 1877, pp. 481-87.
See Appendix B, Table 3, "Certificates of Purchase, 1873-1913, Inclusive,"
for further statistics on land sales in British Columbia. The discrepancy
between the figures given in Table 3 and those given in the text above
demonstrates the troublesome fact that statistics taken from different sources
published during the province's early years, seldom agree. The 400-acre
average purchase in the Lillooet district given in the text is calculated on
the basis of the thirty-five individual sales listed for the years 1871-76 ("Land
Sold 1871-1876," pp. 486-87), but the figure for individual sales during the
same years based on statistics given in the annual reports of officials of the
Land Department and compiled in Table 3, is only twenty-three.
17 "... Return Showing ... All Applications to Purchase Unsurveyed Lands
since 1st April, 1875; All Lands Sold since 31st December, 1876; and All
Town Lots Sold since 31st December, 1872," B.C., Sessional Papers, 2nd
Pari., 3d sess., and 3d Pari., 1st sess., 1878, pp. 581-93.
the Lessees as surrendered."18 Probably this explanation meant
simply that the lessees had no intention of paying their rent and
the government chose to do very little about it. Here is evidence
that lack of supervision was already rendering many clauses of the
land act inoperative.
By this year, 1878, the Land Office had brought its records
slightly more up to date. The returns for lands sold since July 31,
1871, now showed in Vancouver Island Districts, 17,601.38 acres;
Cariboo District, 3,087.41 acres; and Lillooet District, 12,818.70
acres. At the 1878 session of the legislature there was a renewed
determination to collect rental or purchase money from those in
arrears. Lytton had warned Douglas about instalment purchases,
saying that just such a contingency as that now confronting the
province could arise. An amendment to the act was passed imposing no less than 24 per cent interest per annum on all unpaid
purchase money for surveyed crown land, and on all arrears in
rentals for leases. If these payments were not made after a notice
had appeared in the British Columbia Gazette, any records or
agreements were to be cancelled at once.
When the act reached Ottawa, there was a mild flurry in the
Justice Department. In reporting to the minister of justice, then
Sir John A. Macdonald, Z. A. Lash, deputy minister, opened with
the comment that "the provisions of this statute are of a startling
nature." After outlining the provisions, he said the amendment cast
upon persons who had purchased or leased crown lands, "a liability
never contemplated by them when the purchases or leases were
made." He added that had the subject matter of the act been
entirely within the competence of the province to enact, he would
feel some difficulty in recommending disallowance "merely because
its provisions did not accord with my views of justice." But because
it dealt with interest, a subject assigned exclusively to the Dominion,
and because of the difficulty any individual would experience in
testing the validity of the act in court, he had no hesitation in
recommending its disallowance.19 This was done by Order in Council, August 15, 1879.
After this disallowance, a further amendment in the following
year insisted on immediate payment for land bought outright;
18 "....   Return  of  All  Rents Due  on  Pastoral  Leases   since   1870,"   B.C.,
Sessional Papers, 2d Pari., 3d sess., and 3d Pari., 1st sess., 1878, p. 628.
19 Hodgins, Dominion and Provincial Legislation, 1:   1066.
wiped out the provision for free grant pre-emptions, but extended
the time for payment of the dollar an acre now once again to be
charged pre-emptors. Prior to the Free Grant Act of 1875, two
years had been allowed for these pre-emption payments, but now
four years were given to complete payment in equal annual instalments, although the last instalment was not payable on unsurveyed
land until it had been surveyed. Default on any one of those instalments might result in forfeiture. Section 5 again required public
auction of all surveyed lands "which are not the sites of towns or
the suburbs thereof, and not Indian settlements" at the upset price
of one dollar.20 These provisions clearly indicate that the government hoped to end the former laxity in administration of public
lands. R. E. Gosnell, an historian of the province's history of this
period, sweepingly denounces the public lands policy both before
and after union with Canada:
Without any system of surveys except those made by the owners
of land and without practically any conditions attaching to the
sale, vast areas could be alienated. As a matter of fact, wide
tracts of the best and most available land were parted with in
large blocks, to the detriment of bona fide settlement, and, consequently, of the development of agriculture.... This unwise
legislation appears all the more deplorable when it is considered
that arable land was extremely limited, and that it was obviously
in the best interests of the province that it should be carefully
conserved and surveyed into small holdings for the benefit of the
greatest number.21
The reforms of 1879 showed swift results. The number of preemption records dropped from 245 in 1878 to 100 in 1879, while,
in the same year, the certificates of purchase reached the highest
point they were to reach between 1870 and 1884. Victoria residents
seem to have been the worst offenders in letting payments lapse. In
1879 the certificates of purchase in Victoria jumped 290 per cent,
whereas in New Westminster there was an increase of one purchase
only from the previous year's total of 198, a mere .5 per cent.22
Cash received for the year's land transactions doubled, going from
$21,100 in 1878 to $40,100 in 1879, so there was little doubt the
20 B.C., Statutes, 1879, 42 Vict, c. 21.
21 R. E. Gosnell, "History of Farming," in Canada and Its Provinces, Shortt
and Doughty, eds., 22: 544.
22 Appendix B, Table 3. Four hundred and four purchases were recorded in
1879 as compared to 317 in 1878 and 236 in 1880. Ibid.
legislature was getting results. Having spent two years in the
Opposition ranks, George A. Walkem was once again premier and
was making his strength felt.
As part of the general tightening-up process, section 6 of the
1879 Amendment required every intending purchaser to give two
months' notice of his intention in both the British Columbia Gazette
and in a local newspaper at his own expense. He was to list his
name, locality, the boundaries, and the extent of the land applied
for, as well as its distance from any mining or mineral claims. The
notice was to be dated and a copy of it posted in a conspicuous
spot on the land itself and in the neighbouring local government
office, should there be one. This provision was to prevent the many
conflicting claims which rendered the work of the local assistant
commissioners, as well as that of the head office, exceedingly difficult.
In the same section it was specified that land could be neither surveyed nor sold in such a manner as to dispose of less than 160
acres. Moreover, any application for land still pending could not
be given complete title under the statute relevant at the time it
was entered. "Every applicant for land ... to whom a Crown
Grant has not been issued, shall comply with the provisions of
Section 6 of this Act." Nor could any applicant hope to remain
anonymous so far as the public was concerned. Any notice of survey inserted in the Gazette on any purchaser's behalf was to contain
the applicant's name.23
It is interesting to speculate why the free grant system was abandoned so unceremoniously. During the years 1874 to 1879 while
the Free Grant Act was in effect, only 437 grants were made under
its provisions and only 349 certificates of improvement were issued.
It was undoubtedly the correspondingly high number of certificates
of purchase, 1498, that moved the government to cancel free
grants. Four out of five persons acquiring land for any purpose,
were paying for it outright, and the government reasoned that if
four could pay, the fifth could do so also. Walkem was convinced
that the free grant system had outlived its usefulness in British
Columbia although it was still retained both in the Northwest
Territories to the east and in Washington Territory to the south.
Free grants of land to the settlers in British Columbia, except under
unusual circumstances, were never heard of again.
The totals for 1879 indicate that the usefulness of the free home-
23 B.C. Statutes, 1879, 42 Vict., c. 21.
stead legislation had, apparently, passed; those for New Westminster indicate it to be the area profiting most from the legislation.24 It should be remembered, however, that New Westminster
district then included the entire lower Fraser Valley from Hope to
what is now the city of Vancouver.
Homestead Pre-emptions under the 1874 and 18J5 Land Acts
24 Appendix B, Table 3.
Provincial Land Policy 1880-1913
A possible reason that the free grant system was abandoned is that
the districts in which land was most sought after by settlers had by
then been placed under reserve for railway purposes. By Order in
Council of August 3, 1878, a forty-mile belt of land from the
Yellowhead Pass to tidewater on Burrard Inlet had been reserved,
as had a similar belt from Esquimalt to Seymour Narrows. Since
extensive areas had also been withdrawn from settlement for use as
Indian reserve lands, it seems obvious that insufficient land was
available to make the free grant system practicable.
The Chinese problem which was causing so much public agitation in the province found its way into a special act concerning
crown lands in 1884. The act made it unlawful for any commissioner of lands or any other person "to issue a pre-emption record
of any Crown land, or sell any portion thereof, to any Chinese,
[or] grant authority ... to any Chinese to record or divert any
water from the natural channel of any stream, lake or river in this
Province."1 The secretary of state for Canada, J. A. Chapleau,
wrote to John Robson, provincial secretary, to say that although the
act was within the competence of the local legislature, he wondered
if perhaps such an act, applying as it did to only one segment of
the population, was constitutional, but he was willing to let the
courts decide the issue should a case arise.2
1 B.C., Statutes, 1884, 47 Vict., c. 2, s.i.
2 Chapleau to Robson, April 8, 1885, "Correspondence Respecting the Acts
Passed by the Legislature ... British Columbia ... 1884," B.C., Sessional
Papers, 4th Pari., 3d sess., 1885, p. 464.
This same year— 1884 — saw a new land act. Its major provision raised the price of both surveyed and unsurveyed agricultural
land from $1.00 to $2.50 an acre. The provision for pastoral leases
was removed, but the act provided that "mountainous tracts of
land, which are unfit for cultivation and valueless for lumbering
purposes, may be purchased at the rate of $1 an acre." To ensure
that it was truly waste land, the applicant had to make a statutory
declaration to that effect. The chief commissioner of lands and
works reserved the right to refuse any such application should he
have any reason to doubt the declaration. One dollar remained the
price of pre-empted land, and the provision for four equal annual
instalments also stood, but the first payment was not due for two
years from the date of recording. As formerly, the last payment was
not due until the land had been surveyed. Of much greater significance was the provision stating that no more than 640 acres of
unsurveyed land might be bought.
Fortunately for those whose applications were already being processed, section 76 of the 1884 Act provided that titles to land
applied for under any previous act, although now repealed, could
be acquired as if the present act were not passed.3 A return tabled
March 5, 1885, shows that title to 109,959.25 acres was acquired
under that clause by 101 applicants. Among these were Thomas
Greenhow who secured 3,460 acres, F. G. Vernon who obtained
4>739 acres, T. Harper who profited the most with 12,146 acres,
and G. B. Wright who acquired 1,800 acres.4 Instead of receiving
from these four, the $55,362 to which the government would have
been entitled under the new rate of $2.50, the treasury was enriched
only to the extent of $22,145 at the former rate of $1.00 an acre.
The provisions raising the price of good land and limiting the
amount of unsurveyed land that might be purchased show the
government's realization that agricultural land was not abundant
and was therefore to be conserved. Land transactions had doubled
in 1883, largely as a result of the influx of population attendant
upon the building of the Canadian Pacific and the Esquimalt and
Nanaimo railways. Since the figures issued by the Land Office for
1884 show that land transactions had again doubled in spite of the
B.C., Statutes, 1884, 47 Vict., c.16.
"Return ... Showing ... All persons Who ... Applied ... to Purchase Lands
... Prior to the Passing of the Land Act, 1884, ... Section 76 of the Last-
Named Act, and the Number of Acres Obtained by Each Person," B.C.,
Sessional Papers, 4th Pari., 3d sess., 1885, pp. 573-74.
increased price per acre, the wisdom of the new statute becomes
obvious. Total land transactions for the two years had increased
from 436 in 1882, to 1,847 i*1 J 884, and the total amount deeded
increased from 23,609 to 146,197 acres.
The established statutory price of $2.50 an acre was, of course,
the minimum price of good land. Desirable lands were still being
sold by auction at many times the upset price. For example, a
return in 1885 lists all those persons who had bought town lots at
auction that November at English Bay. None of the lots was more
than one mile from the water; and a total of ninety-eight acres was
sold at a net price of $145.84 per acre. Sale expenses amounted to
$805.96, and the cost of the survey was estimated at $3,ooo.5 This
sale was held on the eve of the completion of the Canadian Pacific
Railway and this, no doubt, contributed to the advanced price of
the lots. Even so, the buyers must have considered a price of $145
an acre extravagant for heavily timbered lots at least fifteen miles
from the terminus of the railway at Port Moody.
Two incidents occurred in 1886 and 1887 which well illustrate
the great difficulty involved in satisfying everyone claiming favourably situated lands. In the first case, four different settlers wanted
to buy the same eighty acres on Lulu Island. Each of these — Hugh
Youdall, D. S. Milligan, Hugh Boyd, and James G. Jaques —
thought he had a prior claim to the land. Numerous situations of
this kind undoubtedly arose each year, but because this involved the
integrity of John Robson, provincial secretary and minister of finance and agriculture, questions were asked in the House which
resulted in the tabling of an interesting correspondence. Boyd based
his claim on a previous conversation ("the Lot I was talking to
you about") with his friend, John Robson, in a letter to Robson on
July 8, 1886, in which he also wrote, "I would ask you as a great
favour to try and get it for me." Youdall based his claim on prior
notice given to the local government agent, C. Warwick, of his
intention to buy the land as soon as the government reserve on it
was removed. His intention, which he had previously discussed with
William Smithe, both premier and chief commissioner of lands and
works, was to settle on the land five or six families of Newfoundland
fisherfolk. Milligan contended that the land should be his by virtue
"Return ... of all Orders in Council and Correspondence Respecting the
Land at English Bay and Vicinity, Recently Offered for Sale at Auction by
the Government ...," B.C., Sessional Papers, 4th Pari., 4th sess., 1886, pp.
of the letter he had written to Smithe in September making application for the land, adding that "I am prepared to pay for same at
once." Jaques, who had been quietly waiting until December i
when the government reserve was cancelled, appeared, money in
hand, at the government office when it opened at nine that morning. His money was refused. He sent a telegram to Smithe at once.
"He [Warwick] refused ... saying land already disposed of, and
declines to say how. Instruct at once, as I am first purchaser, and
I consider I am alone entitled to Crown Grant of such land."
On September i, however, W. S. Gore, the surveyor general,
had notified Warwick that the next issue of the British Columbia
Gazette would contain a notice cancelling the reserve on the land,
subject to the three months' notice required by law, and that after
December i the land would be open to purchase. "You will, however," he added, "please make a note that a sale is not to be made
before you are more particularly instructed from this office." There
was no legal basis for Gore's instructions, as Jaques, Youdall, and
Boyd well know and which led them to the conclusion that here
was nepotism at its worst. W. Norman Bole, solicitor for Jaques,
arrived at the same conclusion. It was Bole, elected in 1886 as one
of the members from New Westminster district, who asked that all
the pertinent correspondence be tabled.
Smithe telegraphed back the same day that he received Jaques's
wire to say that the land would be sold at public auction in conformity with the statutory requirement. But this was not to be the
easy way out that Robson and Smithe had hoped. Within a week
Youdall wrote to Smithe that he could not believe the land was to
be auctioned as he was quite prepared to fulfil all the conditions
previously agreed upon with regard to his colonization scheme. He
said that he had several Newfoundland fishermen already making
preparations to come to British Columbia in the spring. With commendable caution he added that "I have been told — what truth
there is in it I do not know — that Mr. Robson has been working
tooth and nail to get this lot put up at auction, so as to fill some
obligations to a Mr. Milligan, who owns 900 acres adjoining, and
who dyked in some 30 acres of the lot and used it for a number
of years."
A week later Smithe assured Youdall that if indeed he had not
dropped his plan for bringing out the fishermen, the government
would certainly honour its agreement, but warned Youdall that he
would have to pay Milligan $500 for his improvements.6 Should
the Robson papers ever be located, it will be interesting to see if
there is not a letter from Robson to Milligan sometime in the week
of December 7 to 13, 1886, asking Milligan to set a price on his
improvements and to withdraw his claim to the land.
Not to be outmanoeuvered, Bole drew up and presented to
Lieutenant Governor Cornwall on December 28 a petition headed
"Let right be done," outlining his client's case. But the appeal to
the foot of the throne was made in vain. As it was a cash transaction, no further record of the land is found in the Gazette. On
March 8, 1887, Youdall acquired the land. His certificate of purchase was endorsed as follows:
This Certificate of Purchase issued pursuant of Mr. Youdall's
Agreement to settle five or six families of Newfoundland fishermen upon the land (Sec. 4, B 4 N, R 7 W) and upon the express
condition that a Crown Grant will not be issued until Mr.
Youdall's said obligation is fulfilled.
That obligation, written into the endorsation on the certificate
of purchase, was fulfilled. On January 21, 1890, the five fishermen
— James Millis, Joshua Parsons, Thomas William Home, Robert
Gordon, and George Waugh — as well as Youdall himself, wrote
to the chief commissioner as follows:
We the undersigned residents of "Terra Nova" being anxious to
secure a Title to our respective homes. The same being parts of
Sec. 4, Block 4 North Range Seven West are desirous that a
Crown grant of the said Section be issued to Mr. Hugh Youdall.
Less than one month later, the crown grant was issued from the
Land Office.7
The following letter, concerning a similar case shortly afterward,
illustrates not only the complications which arose continually with
6 Boyd to Robson, July 8, 1886, "Return ... for Copies of All Correspondence
. M Respecting Section 4, Block 4 North, Range 7 West, New Westminster
District ...," B.C., Sessional Papers, 5th Pari, 1st sess., 1887, p. 339; Warwick to Smithe, August 31, 1886, and enclosure, Youdall to Warwick, August
31, 1886, ibid., pp. 339, 340; Milligan to Smithe, September 24, 1886, ibid.,
p. 340; Jacques, per Bole, to Smithe, December 1, 1.886, ibid., p. 341; Gore
to Warwick, September 1, 1886, ibid., p. 340; Smithe to Bole, December 1,
1886, ibid., p. 341; Youdall to Smithe, December 7, 1886, ibid., p. 342;
Smithe to Youdall, December 13, 1886, ibid.
7 The information and quotations pursuant to the certificate of purchase and
the crown grant (no. 849, dated February 24, 1890) were supplied by the
provincial Lands Department, Victoria, to the author.
regard to lands, but also something of the spirit in which public
business was occasionally carried on. Neither of the protagonists in
the dispute warrants any sympathy, nor does the client; it must be
reserved for Warwick, the same government agent from New Westminster whose task it was to administer the land laws in an impartial manner. An error on his part might have led to serious political
difficulties, and it is quite likely that errors both of execution and
of judgment were made throughout the province in those early
years. Neither nepotism nor patronage was unknown, as Bole's
letter to Smithe suggests:
I beg to call your attention to a most extraordinary circumstance
which occurred, as I am informed by Mr. Kelly, in the Land
Office here, today. Mr. Philip Kelly, a client of mine, who has
pre-empted a piece of land on Burrard Inlet, north of Lot 204,
Group 1, New Westminster District, inadvertently placed on the
counter of the office a document, referring to said land, signed
by one Stalker, and which Mr. Kelly had no intention of parting
with, or using. Mr. Warwick's name appeared in the document,
and that gentleman seeing the document took it up, and insisted
on keeping it, notwithstanding Mr. Kelly's formal demand for
the return thereof; Mr. Warwick further remarking "that"
(referring to the document in question) "will be sufficient to
prove Henderson's claim." Mr. Kelly is, as you are already aware,
the bona fide pre-emptor of the land in question, while Mr.
Henderson is but a speculative purchaser, representing, probably,
much bigger individuals in a convenient background. May I
trust that you, officially entertain as strong a repugnance to
speculative land purchasers as Mr. Robson, on behalf of himself
and his colleagues from his place in the House, when discussing
the Jaques' claim, as if that gentleman, which I doubt, honestly
meant what he said, his Government now has an opportunity of
proving their sincerity, and preferring the claim of the bona fide
settler to the speculative purchaser. I am, therefore, to request
that you will direct Mr. Warwick forthwith to return to me, on
behalf of Mr. Kelly, the document above referred to. Your
refusal to do so I must deem conclusive evidence that your
Government are siding with Mr. Henderson against Mr. Kelly,
who is determined, however, to exhaust every legal remedy before
he surrenders his just rights. May I venture the hope that in
expecting an answer of some kind to this letter, that I am not
imposing too severe a strain on your official courtesy.
No, Bole could not be counted among Smithe's supporters, nor
had he forgiven Robson for having bested him in the Lulu Island
land affair. If this was the tenor of official correspondence between
one member of the legislature and another, it may well be imagined
that in the House there were verbal altercations which, had they
been, and were they still, preserved verbatim, would indeed make
interesting reading now.
Three days later Surveyor General Gore wrote to Warwick asking
for details of the complaint, and Warwick replied the same day,
explaining that he had received three separate applications for the
land all within a week. On Monday, February 14, J. B. Henderson
had applied for the 160 acres in question; by the afternoon mail
of the same day Hugh Stalker of Moodyville had applied; and on
Friday, February 18, Kelly had applied in person. "I, as a matter
of course, informed Mr. Kelly that there were already two applications in for the land in question, and that his application could
not be granted." Warwick then explained how at that point Kelly
had become "quite hostile," insisting that as he had been occupying and improving the land for the last six months, he was going
to have it at whatever cost. At this point Kelly drew from his
pocket a letter from Stalker, dated February 7, and addressed to
Warwick, in which Stalker had abandoned all claim to the land,
saying that he had had no idea Kelly had made permanent
improvements on the land. (Warwick did not explain how Kelly
had come by the letter, but the logical answer would seem to be
that Kelly had gone to Stalker, explained the situation, and
received the letter from Stalker for transmission to the government
agent.) As Kelly was about to leave the Land Office with the letter,
Warwick said that he asked for it on the grounds that it belonged,
not to Kelly, but to the office files. After an argument, Kelly agreed
to leave it, and Warwick then offered to see Henderson when he
returned to town in a few days' time and to ask him to withdraw
his application in favour of Kelly. At this, Kelly had seemed satisfied, but in a few minutes he returned to the office accompanied
by one of Bole's clerks and made an unsuccessful attempt to retrieve
the letter. Warwick did, however, permit the clerk to make a copy.
Finally, Warwick could report to Gore than on the next day he
had seen Henderson, who had agreed to withdraw, and that a
record for the land had then been issued to Kelly. This had cleared
up the entire difficulty to everyone's satisfaction.
Apparently this long and diplomatic letter from Warwick containing all the details had been intended to be the official answer,
and for that reason confirmed itself to a bare recital of the facts.
In a separate letter of the same date, Warwick briefly outlined
what had led to the difficulty:
The whole trouble in connection with the land ... originated in
Mr. Bole's office.
It appears Kelly left instructions with Mr. Bole some months
ago to file his application when the land in question came into
market, that is, on the expiration of the timber lease within which
the land was situated.
Previous to the land coming into market Mr. Kelly had occasion to go up the coast, and on his return, about the 17th inst.,
found that his instructions had not received any attention. Hence
the trouble.
Armed with the facts as reported by his official in New Westminster, Smithe answered Bole's letter.
Having received the report ... I find that the occurrence to
which you are pleased to allude as a "most extraordinary circumstance" consisted simply in Mr. Warwick's most commendable
determination to retain possession of a letter which, though
addressed to himself, was not his personal property, but belonged
to the archives of the office of which he is in charge.
I also find that Mr. Warwick showed very proper courtesy in
allowing your clerk to take a copy ... in the interest of your
client, Mr. Kelly; but it seems to have been convenient to you to
omit mention of that circumstance when preferring your complaint.
In view of the fact that Mr. Warwick did nothing more than
his duty in retaining possession of the letter in question, that he
went beyond the requirements of official duty and succceeded in
arranging the matter in the interest of your client, I can only
characterize the charge brought by you against that officer as
frivolous, if not something worse.
It is more difficult to find words in which to convey adequate
censure of the tone of discourtesy — perhaps insolence would be
the more appropriate expression — which pervades your letter;
and this appears all the more inexcusable in the light of Mr.
Warwick's explanatory note, to the effect that Mr. Kelly's troubles were the result of your own professional lackes [sic] in not
having attended to his instructions at the proper time.
This is not the first time I have received a letter from you of
a character undeserving of a reply; and I have to request that
in any future correspondence with this Department you will
endeavour, as far as may be in your power, to observe those
rules of politeness common among gentlemen.8
8 Bole to Smithe, February 18, 1887, "Return ... for ... All Correspondence
... Having Reference to a Piece of Land on the North Side of Burrard
Inlet and ... North of Lot 204, Group 1, New Westminister District," B.C.
Sessional Papers, 5th Pari., 1st sess., 1887, p. 423; Gore to Warwick,
February 21,  1887, ibid.; Warwick to Gore, February 23,  1887, ibid., p.
A discreet silence should now have fallen over the entire affair,
but an election was in the offing. Without awaiting a reply, Smithe
published his own letter. This action was later characterized by
Bole as a "mean and spiteful way by which Mr. Robson, through
you, is trying to get even on me for my part in the debate of the
ioth March, 1887, when, in the discharge of my public duty, I had
occasion to make some severe remarks on the conduct of the Provincial Secretary." Bole denied the charge that he had been neglecting
his professional duties, and told Smithe that he, as neither a slave nor
follower of the government, intended to exercise his own judgment
as to the best method by which official correspondence should be
conducted, "even with so high and mighty an individual as the
Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works," because "whatever
other claims you may have to distinction, I was unaware that
you claimed to be considered the Government Chesterfield."9
When the public accounts were submitted to the legislature late
in the fall of 1887, Bole voted in favour of James Orr's motion of
censure against Robson for having dispensed patronage with a
lavish hand in the New Westminster riding the previous summer.
The contention was that, while travelling through the district
soliciting votes, Robson had given orders for the expenditure of
large sums on public works, and that while he was provincial
secretary, and minister of mines, agriculture, and finance, he had
acted as if he were also the chief commissioner of lands and works,
and that the accounts showed his orders had been honoured by the
Lands Department. Robson's accusers appear to have put together
424; the letter produced by Kelly, Stalker to Warwick, February 7, 1887,
ibid.; Warwick to Gore, February 23, 1887, ibid., p. 425; Smithe to Bole,
March 5, 1887, ibid.
Robson presented this correspondence to the House, March 15, 1887.
B.C., Journals, 5th Pari., 1st sess., 1887, p. 46.
9 Bole to Smithe, March 24, 1887, "Return to an Order ... Directing the
Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works to Send Down ... a Copy of a
Letter ... Respecting Philip Kelly's Claim to Certain Land ...," B.C.,
Sessional Papers, 5th Pari., 1st sess., 1887, p. 489. (This order was granted
on a motion by W. M. D. Ladner, senior MLA for New Westminster, April
6, 1887, and Robson complied by presenting the letter to the House that
same day. B.C., Journals, 5th Pari., 1st sess., 1887, p. 89.)
In this same letter, Bole made the charge that Robson was the real writer
of the letter of March 5, 1887 (see note 8, Smithe to Bole), although the
signature was Smithe's. This may well be the truth as Smithe, re-elected in
July, 1886, was too ill to take his seat during the 1887 session and, indeed,
died in March of that year.
a good case but when the vote was taken, the motion was defeated
fifteen to eight.10
However much indignation Bole could show at patronage, he
was quite willing to avail himself of the liberal land law in order
to acquire extensive tracts of public land. In 1889 he made application to purchase one block of 8,400 and another of 1,600 acres of
pastoral land in the Osoyoos district.11 Land of this type, providing
it were "mountainous" and unfit either for cultivation or lumbering, could still be had in unlimited quantities for one dollar an
acre, and there was no requirement other than that it should be
surveyed. As chairman of a select committee in 1887 on tne sale
of timber lands, Bole had introduced some sweeping changes with
regard to limiting the size of timber leases, but the assembly did
not consider it necessary to alter the requirements under which
surveyed agricultural or pastoral land could be obtained.
No further significant changes were made in the land act until
1888 when a further amendment was enacted and an extensive
consolidation made. Land was now classified as first or second
class. The former was land suitable for cultivation, lumbering, or
hay meadows and was priced as formerly at $2.50 an acre; the
latter, land unsuitable for any of these purposes and also priced as
previously at $1.00 an acre.
The second important change concerned hay leases and indicated
the growing importance of the cattle industry. Whereas animals and
and their produce had not merited inclusion in the export statistics
of 1872, by 1891 the value of such produce had increased to
$346,159, third only to mines and fisheries, and ahead of timber
products by $20,000. By 1891 there were 251,367 head of livestock in the province for which 102,146 tons of hay were cut.
Cattle raising in the interior had become big business. The change
in the land act in 1888 with regard to hay leases was made in order
to reflect the actual situation. It provided that if there were two or
more applicants for the same hay lease, then bids must be tendered
and the bidder who submitted the highest cash bonus was to receive
the lease.12 As amendments to the act were not added until after
circumstances had made them necessary, this change reveals clearly
10 B.C., Journals, 5th Pari., 1st sess., 1887, p. 43.
11 British Columbia Gazette, January 3, 1887, p. 4.
12 B.C., Statutes, 1888, 51 Vict., c. 16, s. 9.
that cattle raising was one of the major industries of the province
by this time.
A glance at the application for land in the British Columbia
Gazette for the years 1888 to 1891 shows that it was during this
period that many of the "landed" families of the province acquired
most of their holdings. Although at the time some of the land was
good only for pasturage, subsequent irrigation developments have
increased the value of the land many times over. In the 1889
Gazette the name of Judge Bole is not the only one to appear more
than once as acquiring surveyed acreages. Cornelius O'Keefe was
applying for a further 808 acres at the head of Okanagan Lake;
Samuel L. Robins of the Vancouver Coal Company at Nanaimo
was applying for 30,000 acres on the west coast of Vancouver
Island, as was also Judge M. W. Tyrwhitt Drake; and J. S. Chase
and others were asking for 20,480 acres in the Kootenay district.
The application for the greatest acreage came from John Irving,
R. P. Rithet, James A. Laidlaw, and James Carrall, all of Victoria,
who together applied for 65,920 acres in Rupert district, in northern
British Columbia. The pages listing these names throughout the
year read like a Who's Who for the province. Among others, D. M.
Eberts, J. C. MacLure, Thomas Earle, and John Bryden were, or
were to become, prominent in provincial affairs. Certificates of
purchase for 1889 increased 63 per cent from the year before, and
the total acreage deeded increased 42 per cent, but both the number
of pre-emption records and certificates of improvement decreased.13
These figures suggest that in the alienation of public lands, new
settlers were running a poor second to established residents bent on
acquiring more land, possibly for personal use but more probably,
for speculative purposes. No doubt many of these shrewd men,
influential in the affairs of the province, foresaw the imminent end
to unrestricted buying of large acreages at cheap prices.
Restrictions and price increases came into effect, in fact, in the
Land Act of 1891. To reduce the amount of speculation, a limit
was placed on the amount of surveyed land that might be purchased. Henceforth 640 acres was to be the limit of land that might
be bought, whether surveyed or unsurveyed. As was true since 1884,
no land was to be bought before it had been surveyed and the survey had been approved. From now on, however, the provincial land
surveyor was to classify land as first, second, or third class. Agricul-
13 See Appendix B, Table 5.
tural, hay, and timber lands, as before, were to be designated first-
class land, but now they were worth five dollars an acre. Agricultural
lands requiring irrigation or drainage were to be sold as second-
class land at $2.50 an acre. "Mountainous and rocky tracts wholly
unfit for agricultural purposes" which could not "under any reasonable conditions" be brought under cultivation were now classed as
third-class land and still priced at one dollar an acre. Neither second-
nor third-class land was to contain more than 5,000 feet of timber
per acre. Only when the chief commissioner of lands and works was
satisfied that the land had been correctly classified and the applicant had paid the cost of surveying plus the full purchase price,
was the sale to be allowed. Even then, the proceedings were to be
cancelled if the applicant had not completed all requirements within
six months after making his original application accompanied by
10 per cent of the purchase price. To make doubly sure that
speculation was halted, this section specified that no person might
secure any other land until he had been in occupation of his first
purchase for two years and had effected permanent improvements
thereon of $5.00, $2.50, or $1.00 an acre for first-, second-, and
third-class land, respectively. Land which was actually cultivated
was to be considered as improved, and it came to be generally
accepted that the running of a specified number of cattle per acre
on the land constituted improvement.14 Although the increase in
deeded acreage appeared to have reached a high point in 1892 —
309,878 acres — and was not to be so high again until 1897, this
figure was actually a reflection of the fact that many applications
made the previous fall under the former act were only then being
processed in Victoria. Not until 1894 did the drastic reductions
effected in deeded acreage under the Amendment of 1891 show up
in official records. In 1894 only 47,167 acres were alienated, but
this decrease was, in part, also a reflection of the severe depression
then prevailing throughout America and Europe. Land sales in
1894 accounted for only $33,917 of the provincial income, whereas
in 1890, $244,529 had been received from this source. It seems
clear from this sharp drop in revenue that the 1891 Amendment
did satisfactorily achieve its purpose of reducing speculation.
By a further amendment in 1892 pre-emptions of forty- and
eighty-acre lots were once again authorized. This figure was reduced
again in 1894 to permit the leasing of twenty-acre lots on land
14 B.C., Statutes, 1891, 54 Vict., c. 15, s. 4.
surveyed and subdivided for the sole purpose of personal occupation and cultivation. The lease was good for five years, but if the
annual rental of the value of the land as determined by the chief
commissioner were paid regularly for those five years, and if a
house were built on the lot the first year and all other residence
and improvement qualifications fulfilled, the lessee was then to
receive a crown grant to the lot.15
In January of 1895 an accounting of all crown grants issued in
the province, for whatever reason, from January 1, 1880, to the
end of 1894, was called for by the Legislative Assembly. It was to
show the name of the grantee, the acreage, the method by which
the land had been obtained, and the district in which the grant was
situated. The reply tabled on February 5 by G. B. Martin, chief
commissioner, is interesting:
The Return called for covers a period of 15 years, during which
time some 5,400 Crown grants have been issued.
To prepare such a Return will necessitate repeated reference
to all the numerous Land Registers in the office of Lands and
Works, and will involve considerable expense.
The Return will cover over 350 pages of foolscap and will
form a volume nearly as large as the Sessional Papers.
It is not apparent that such a Return is a matter of public
interest or value. Any Member wishing for particular information as to the issue of Crown grants can always ascertain what
he desires by applying at the Land Office.16
Getting down to more manageable business, Beaven introduced
an amendment to the land act in the 1895 session which reduced
the size of pre-emptions east of the Cascades from 320 to 160 acres.
Hoping to capitalize on the rapidly increasing activities apparent in
the Kootenays, the government now permitted settlers east of the
Cascades to buy 320 acres of waste crown land adjoining their
locations at one dollar an acre.17
In view of the numerous changes which had been made in the
land act since its consolidation in 1888, another consolidation was
made in 1896, but there was only one important change having to
do with agricultural land. As land subsidies were being granted to
many of the railway companies who applied for them, the prov-
15 B.C., Statutes, 1892, 55 Vict., c. 25, s. 2; B.C., Statutes, 1894, 57 Vict., c.
24, s. 2.
16 "Memorandum," B.C., Sessional Papers, 7th Pari., 1st sess., 1894-95, P- 667.
17 B.C., Statutes, 1895, 58 Vict., c. 27, s. 9.
ince determined to reap some benefit from this development by
returning to the principle of reserving one-quarter of the lots in
any crown-granted land subdivided into town lots. When Douglas
had reported a similar procedure to Lytton in connection with lots
in New Westminster, he had been ordered to rescind the provision
immediately. Now, however, the province was to reap a rich harvest
from its share of these town lots. At the same time, the deposit
accompanying applications to purchase lands was increased to 25
per cent, and prospective pre-emptors were warned that no preemptions would be granted for other than agricultural purposes
and that neither certificates of improvement, nor crown grants,
would be issued until ten acres, at least, had been brought under
From 1896 until the end of the century all types of land transactions showed a marked increase as a result, particularly, of railway construction and mining activity in the Kootenays. Throughout
the entire decade preceding 1900, however, the Okanagan Valley
regularly accounted for from 25 to 50 per cent of all pre-emption
records in the province, and — an indication of the serious intentions of the residents of the Okanagan — more certificates of
improvement were issued for that area than for any other district
in the province. In 1900, of the 113 certificates issued, 58 went to
Osoyoos land district which embraced the whole of the Okanagan
Valley from the border to Enderby. But in the entire province for
any one of the years during the 1890's, five or six times as many
certificates of purchase were issued as were certificates of improvement. The Kootenays showed by far the greatest number both of
certificates of purchase and of crown grants. Six hundred and
twenty of the 1,101 certificates of purchase issued in 1900 were for
lands in the Kootenays.
Although an extensive consolidation of the land act was made in
1897, no significant changes were made until 1908, when a completely new act was written, designed to incorporate changes in
the industrial pattern of the province. One such change, for
instance, is reflected in a return for 1903 which shows that of the
10,032,700 acres under government reserve, every tenth acre was
being reserved for applicants for pulp leases.19 Since the 1908 Act
18 B.C., Statutes, 1896, 59 Vict, c. 28, s. 13.
19 "Return ... for ... Every Reserve ... of Provincial Lands Now in Force,
Stating the Purpose for Which Each Reserve is Made ...," B.C., Sessional
Papers, 9th Pari., 4th sess., 1903, p. J23.
found its way with very few changes into the revised edition of the
statutes in 1911, the edition in effect in 1913, its major provisions
are significant.
First of all, since the work of the chief commissioner of lands
and works had become exceedingly onerous, a separation of his
duties was effected. Since 1871, the work of the chief commissioner
had increased to the point where he found himself responsible for
such diverse matters as roads, bridges, government buildings, water
rights, drainage and irrigation works, maps and surveys, and
government lands — agricultural, timber, mineral, and coal. On
all of these he was required to make a yearly report. From 1908
on there were to be both a minister of lands and a minister of
public works. Thomas Taylor became the first minister of public
works and Price Ellison became the first minister of lands.
Under the 1908 Act an innovation to permit the pre-emption of
surveyed and subdivided lots not exceeding forty acres for bona
fide personal occupation and cultivation was introduced.20 This
provision was made as a result of repeated complaints from J. H.
Turner, agent general for British Columbia in London, that he
had had to discourage a good many of those intending to emigrate
who wanted a smaller allotment than was allowed under the existing pre-emption regulations. In his 1904 report to Premier McBride
he had said that:
A large proportion of the inquirers from the agricultural parts
of Britain are very desirous for information as to the possibility
of obtaining small holdings in British Columbia on easy terms,
and if there was any provision of that nature hundreds would
emigrate and take advantage of it.21
Apparently the 1894 arrangement for five-year leases of twenty-
acre lots did not satisfy these would-be immigrants.
Pre-emptions of surveyed or unsurveyed crown land were still
not to exceed 160 acres, and were to be obtained at one dollar an
acre. After two years of continuous personal occupation and after
making improvements of $2.50 an acre, the pre-emptor was to
receive his crown grant. The restriction to one claim at one time
was still to hold good. In this year, 1908, the category "third-class
20 B.C., Statutes, 1908, 8 Edw. 7, c. 30, s. 10.
21 British Columbia, Office of the Agent General for British Columbia, London,
Eng., "First and Second Reports ... 1902-03," B.C., Sessional Papers, 10th
Pari., 1 st sess., 1903-1904, p. G45.
land" was abolished, but the other two classifications were retained.
First-class land, suitable for agricultural purposes, now cost ten
dollars an acre — a doubling of land prices since 1891—and
second-class land, five. In addition, the minister reserved the right
to increase the price on either class should he so decide.
Timber lands were now defined as lands containing 5,000 feet
of milling timber per acre east of the Cascades and 8,000 feet
west, and they were no longer for sale for agricultural purposes. No
purchase of any land might exceed 640 acres nor be below 40
acres. No second purchase was to be permitted until the previous
one had been completed and improvements to the extent of three
dollars an acre made. Cultivation constituted improvement. Hay
leases were still available, and Chinese were still not allowed to
pre-empt or buy land.22
In 1908, the year this act was passed, 1,535 pre-emptions were
filed, and the surveys amounted to 66,788 acres. The 2,438 certificates of purchase accounted for another 147,980 acres, an average
of 60 acres per purchase. Only 1,667 crown grants were issued,
and, as usual, the number of certificates of improvement lagged far
behind at 256. Cash received for purchased land, due to go up
400 per cent in the next two years, amounted to $548,036.23
A radical departure from established practice was made in 1911
when all unsurveyed lands along the rights of way of the Canadian
Northern and Grand Trunk Pacific railroads were reserved but with
the requirement that any land taken out of these reserves after it
had been surveyed by the government must be disposed of by
public auction. In this way the government secured to itself some
of the increase in price caused by the inflation resulting from railway construction and escaped having to sell the land at the minimum prices provided for in the act. The second reason for the
reserving of these lands was to make some belated attempt to
regulate settlement throughout the districts served by the railways.
By forcing settlement into those areas already surveyed, it was felt
that the new settler could establish himself more easily. For many
years the scattered settlements had constituted a grave communications problem for the government. In placing the reservation on
22 B.C., Statutes, 1908, 8 Edw. 7, c. 30.
23 B.C., Department of Lands and Works, "Report of the Chief Commissioner
... 1907-08," B.C., Sessional Papers, nth Pari., 3d sess., 1909, p. H58. The
figures relating to acreage surveyed may be found in Appendix B, Table 7.
these lands, the government realized that temporarily its revenue
would drop, but hoped to be able to recoup its losses within a very
short time as land within the reserve was surveyed and released for
sale by auction. It was anticipated that within two years at most,
1,500,000 acres of reasonably good land would be available for sale.
In the same report, hope was derived from the fact that 624
certificates of improvement had been issued for 1911, as against
439 for 1910. The remark that "these figures are interesting in that
they disclose the bona fides of the pre-emptor rather than the issuance of the certificate of pre-emption record"24 pin-points the weakness of the entire pre-emption system. Without government inspectors it was easy to exploit the land for the two, three, or four years
allowed and then to acquire it by purchase at the lower pre-emption
price without making the required improvements. For the period
1871 to 1913 there were 34,216 pre-emption records, but only 7,811
certificates of improvement were issued.25 Part of the discrepancy
can be accounted for by the fact that a good many pre-emptors
chose to pay for their survey and for the land without waiting the
full period allowed under the statute and, in this case they would
have received a certificate of purchase, not one of improvement. No
doubt a large number of pre-emptions were simply abandoned and
many others were never "proved-up."
To provide some check on claims, authority was provided at
the next legislative session to appoint pre-emption inspectors whose
job it was to examine, and report on, the compliance of the pre-
emptors with residence and improvement requirements under the
land act.26 By 1913 Robert A. Renwick, deputy minister, was able
to report to William R. Ross, minister of lands, that:
The Department has taken up the closer supervision of pre-
emptors and pre-emptions with a view to securing due performance, on the part of the pre-emptor, of the requirements of the
24 B.C., Department of Lands, "Report of the Minister of Lands ... 1911,"
B.C., Sessional Papers, 12th Pari., 3d sess., 1912, pp. G5-6. Land sales had
fallen from 2,000,000 acres in 1910 to 900,000 in 1911 (ibid., p. G5) but
this drop is not reflected in Tables 5 and 6, Appendix B, because it is not
possible to determine what mineral, railway, or coal sales are included in
the minister's total figure.
25 See Appendix B, Tables 1 and 2. Note that statistics for 1871 and 1872 are
not given in the tables because they were not presented in sufficient detail to
tabulate with the more detailed figures of later years, but they are included
in the totals in the text above.
26 B.C., Statutes, 1912, 2 Geo. 5, c. 16, s. 12.
"Land Act" as to residence. On this work, one Inspector of Preemptions was in the field for several months, effecting a fairly
complete examination of the pre-emptions throughout two
agencies. His reports justify his employment, as in a great number
of instances it was found pre-emptors were availing themselves
of the privileges conferred by this part of the "Land Act" for the
sole purpose of securing title by cash payment at the rate of $i.
per acre with scant regard to the Statute requirement as to
occupation. It is the intention to have a number of Pre-emption
Inspectors in the field during the present year.27
As was to be expected, the innovation was welcomed by those
who were honestly trying to comply with the requirements of the
law and whole-heartedly resented by those whose efforts were
directed toward holding the land under pre-emption record with
complete disregard for the residence and improvement requirements. H. Cathcart, superintendent of the inspection branch, and
his five inspectors visited 1,497 pre-emptions during 1913, of which
819 were found occupied and in the course of improvement; 660
pre-emptors were notified that they must conform more closely to
the statutory provisions, and 222 pre-emptions were cancelled and
reopened to settlement. The inspections undoubtedly encouraged
the genuine settlers and served to convince the delinquents that
they must either conform or make way for settlers who were prepared to do so. In his first report, Cathcart expressed the hope that
by the end of 1914 his branch would have covered the entire province. He was furnishing the department with a formal report on
every pre-emption claim in the province in which the details of
occupation, of improvement or improvements, and the value of
these, were to be listed. As each report was to be attached to each
individual file, the long-standing confusion over the exact status
of such pre-emption claims would be terminated. Where inspection
indicated that the settler was delinquent, he was to be given sixty
days in which to show cause why his record should not be cancelled. Failure to do so would result in immediate cancellation of
the claim. Whenever it was apparent that the settlers were making
a genuine attempt to live up to the spirit of the law even though
seeking employment off their claims in order to earn a living,
Cathcart instructed his men to be as lenient as possible by confining
27 B.C., Department of Lands,  "Report of the Deputy Minister of Lands
[1912]," B.C., Sessional Papers, 13th Pari., 1st sess., 1913, p. D8.
their admonitions to a reminder to live up more closely to the contracted obligations.28
As a special condition written into the agreement with the railway company gave the province a half interest in many of the
townsites being developed along the Grand Trunk Pacific, these
inspectors were called upon to select the government lots in them.
Squatters presented their greatest difficulty. In addition to these
tasks, it also fell to them to clear and dispose of government lots
by public auction in Point Grey, Kitsilano, and Hastings. After
paying $380 an acre to have the 9.6 acres in Kitsilano cleared, the
inspectors sold the 96 lots at an average price of $914. In Hastings,
59.4 acres were cleared at $225 an acre; for the 128 lots sold, the
average price obtained was $1,162. These lots were sold by auction
on May 20, 1913. During the summer, the 122 acres in Point Grey
bounded by English Bay, Alma Road, Tenth Avenue and Crown
Street were cleared, but only 10 blocks of 16 lots each were sold at
the auction held November 3. Although the returns were not then
all in, Cathcart reported that thus far $240,000 had been received
from the sale, indicating that even then a house in Point Grey was
likely to prove expensive.
The previous year the second sale of government townsite lots
along the Grand Trunk Pacific had been held at Prince Rupert.
A most successful sale it had been, completely vindicating the 1896
decision to incorporate in the Land Act provision for the reservation of one-quarter of all such lots to the government. In 1909 at
the first sale, 1,346 lots had sold for $765,191, an average of $570
a lot; but at the 1912 sale, at which only 282 lots were sold,
$1,192,475 was realized, an average price per lot of $4,228.
With three railroads being built — the Grand Trunk Pacific to
Prince Rupert, the Canadian Northern down from the Yellowhead
Pass to Vancouver, and the Pacific Great Eastern northward to
Quesnel — the government might well have taken some comfort
in contemplation of its holdings of town lots and might have looked
for a material increase in the provincial revenue. Unfortunately, a
depression intervened in 1913, and the war began the next year.
Land purchases fell off from a total of over 1,000,000 acres in 1912
to less than half that amount in 1913, with a decrease in revenue
for the same two years of over $1,500,000. But having embarked
28 B.C., Department of Lands,  "Report of the  Inspection Branch   [1912],"
B.C., Sessional Papers, 13th Pari., 2d sess., 1914, pp. D15-16.
on an ambitious plan for assisting and directing settlement, the
government was pleased that, despite falling sales, pre-emptions
had increased over 50 per cent for the year. The outstanding
increase from 2,383 pre-emptions in 1911 to 3,655 in 1912 was
largely accounted for by settlers having been enticed into the areas
served by the two new transcontinental railroads, but the government was now fully prepared for these settlers.
Having kept abreast of the requirements in the way of adequate
surveys of lands previously set aside for pre-emption entry, the
government was securing data on the adaptability of various sections of the province to different agricultural pursuits. By means
of pamphlets and adequate maps the Department of Lands could
inform any settler of the type of land to be found where he proposed
to locate. For those who wanted to buy land, its average selling
price, including the cost of survey, was now $6.00 an acre, which
compared very favourably with the average price of $12.68 an
acre being charged by the Canadian Pacific and by large land-
holding companies throughout the rest of Canada.29
For the final year before the war there was a marked falling off
in land revenues. Much of the drop was accounted for by the transference of $1,000,000 to the newly established Forestry Department
in 1912. Because of the "financial stringency prevailing," there was
a noticeable decrease in land activities. Sales fell off rapidly because
of the department's decision to hold no further auctions during the
period of depression. It was expected that the deficit would be
overcome when the Grand Trunk Pacific was completed later in
the year. In the spring lots had been sold in Prince George for
about $1,000 cash.80
Thus at the end of 1913 provincial land legislation was such
that it had the effect Lytton had envisaged for it in 1858. Town lots
were being sold by public auction in order to capitalize on local
land booms, and at such prices that even if the lots were being
bought for speculation, the government had no cause for complaint.
Land for settlement by pre-emptors was being surveyed before it
was made available to settlers. Immediate cash payment in full
was being required from purchasers. Speculation in country lands
was being forestalled by the upper limit of 640 acres placed on sale
29 "Report of the Deputy Minister of Lands [1912]," pp. D7-8.
30 B.C., Department  of Lands,   "Report  of the Deputy  Minister  of  Lands
[I9I3]»" B.C., Sessional Papers, 13th Pari., 2d sess., 1914, p. D7.
of crown lands. No unreasonable impediment to pre-emption was
placed in the way of settlers whose desire to fulfil their pre-emption
obligations was sincere. Better still, although no systematic classification for agricultural purposes was being made during the survey
of land held under government reserves, the Department of Lands
was now fairly launched on a program of directing settlement into
areas where the settler would at least have the benefit of railway
outlets for what produce he might grow.
For its programme to have been of maximum benefit, however, the
Department of Lands should have insisted that its surveyors carefully classify the land surveyed with a view to its agricultural potential. Paid as they were on an acreage basis, and in all probability
not too well qualified to make such classifications in any event, the
surveyors were not inclined to differentiate between good and bad
farm land. In British Columbia, where soil conditions are so variable, a much more detailed examination of the land should have
been required by surveyors than was given in any field notes sent
to the Land Office. The result was that in many instances settlers
took up lands totally unsuited for agriculture. Because pre-emptors
were usually men of limited financial means and frequently of
equally limited experience in the selection of lands, it should have
been manifest that it was the government's responsibility to safeguard them from wasting their time, money, and energy on marginal land. The sincere settler who was willing to spend his life in
turning the wilderness into a productive farm might reasonably
have felt entitled at least to good land. Rather than leave the
choice of location to the settler himself, with his limited knowledge
of the country, the government should have accepted the responsibility. But since it did not, anyone who cares to look may find
the ruins of hundreds of abandoned homesteads in any one of a
number of valleys in British Columbia, some perched on mountainsides, others on benches, and still others beside small creeks, all
deserted because the cost of clearing was excessive, the soil was
unproductive, or no market was available.
Between 1859 and 1913 then, the wheel had gone full circle in
certain aspects of land legislation. The pre-emption price of four
shillings twopence established on Vancouver Island in 1861 by
Douglas was not far removed from the one dollar per acre charged
pre-emptors from 1870 to 1913. Deferred payments, allowed by
Douglas, were still allowed in 1913. Douglas, too, had restricted
pre-emptions to  160 acres, a provision to which the provincial
government returned in 1908. Thus it can be seen that though
changes in the act from i860 to 1913 in regard to pre-emptions
were numerous, comparatively few had any significance.
Changes in the act with respect to purchasing government land
outright were perhaps more significant. From 1871 an almost
steady increase in price per acre is apparent. By 1871 the original
price of ten shillings had been reduced to four shillings twopence
and then to one dollar an acre. But in 1884 it was raised to $2.50
for all except "mountainous tracts," which still cost only $1.00. In
1891 price of first class land became $5.00, with second class at
$2.50, and third class at $1.00 an acre. Finally in 1908 the best
land was selling at $10.00, second class at $5.00, and the category
of third class was abandoned altogether. At this time it was specified that the minister of lands could increase the price of any land
if he so wished. The many changes in the act from year to year
chiefly regulated whether payments were to be cash or deferred,
and whether land must be surveyed or not before payment was
made. If the settler had the money, the amount of Crown land
that could be bought outright in 1871 was unlimited. In 1884 the
first limits were imposed when the amount of unsurveyed government land that could be bought was limited to 640 acres. In 1891
came the one big restriction on outright purchase — no more than
640 acres could be purchased, whether surveyed or not, nor could
a second purchase be made until the first had been occupied for
two years and improvements made equal to the original cost of the
land. These limits were still in effect in 1913.
Certain motives become clear at each stage of provincial policy
in the disposal of agricultural lands. When Douglas realized in
i860 that his ordinance of the previous year dealing only with the
sale of land could not meet the requirements of miners who had
been unsuccessful in their search for gold, he instituted the preemption system. With minor alterations, the privilege of preemption remained permanently in effect, its purpose being to make
land readily available at a nominal charge to bona fide settlers.
The charge of one dollar an acre was levied in an attempt to forestall speculation only, never as a means of raising revenue.
By 1875, when government morale was at its lowest point owing
to the non-fulfilment of article 11 of the Terms of Union, and
when the province was competing for immigrants with eastern
Canada and the United States, free grants were instituted, only to
be abandoned in 1879 when the actual construction of the Cana-
dian Pacific was well under way. The year before its completion
in 1885, when immigrants became more numerous, and there was
a sharp increase in the demand for land, the upset price was raised
to $2.50, although no change was made in the pre-emption price.
In 1891 the further rise in price to five dollars and the 640-acre
limitation placed on any type of land that could be bought showed
the continuing trend. After the turn of the century, as a result of
the promotional activities of the agent general in London, the
provincial Bureau of Information in Victoria, and the numerous
land companies, the demand for public lands rose to its highest
point,31 and the price of land was raised again, this time to ten
dollars for good farming land, and more severe limitations were
placed on the quantity that could either be bought or pre-empted.
By 1913 the government had realized finally that good farm land
in British Columbia was not inexhaustible and that it had an obligation to settlers to direct them away from isolated areas and onto
land which would be served at least by railway communication.
Thus the problem confronting the government by the end of 1913
was not the increased alienation of agricultural land, but the
development of the lands already granted.
31 Some indication of the increasing interest in lands in the province can be
gained from the fact that in 1890 the Department of Lands received 4,168
letters; by 1900, the figure was 12,943, and in 1910, a total of 37,188
queries was received — an average of 100 letters a day for every day of the
year. Appendix B, Table 5.
Land Surveys
Many of the problems of land disposal in British Columbia before
1913 arose from the ever-present difficulty of having the land surveyed before pre-emption or settlement. Although Douglas's intentions with regard to surveying the vacant lands of the colony were
of the best, he was unsuccessful in practice. It was his intention —
indicated in a letter to Lord Stanley of the Colonial Office — to
survey the land before opening it for settlement. This survey he
considered to be a "measure of obvious necessity."1 To facilitate
this operation, Lytton informed Douglas on July 31, 1858, that
he was sending out a detachment of the Royal Engineers, whose
most important task was "to survey those parts of the country which
may be considered most suitable for settlement." At the same time,
Lytton said that it would only be "reasonable and proper" to
expect private individuals buying land to pay for the cost of survey.2
This practice differed from that in other Canadian provinces. In
discussing the most urgent demands upon the public revenue of
the colony, Lytton listed police, absolutely necessary officials, public
works to facilitate landing and travelling, and, above all, surveying.
In citing for Douglas what he considered to be the guiding principles for the disposal of public lands, Lytton emphasized the value
of not selling land "beyond the limits of what is either surveyed
or ready for immediate survey."3 Douglas acted upon this principle
1 Douglas to Stanley, June 10, 1858, no. 2, Gt. Brit, Papers Relative to British
Columbia, 1:14.
2 Lytton to Douglas, July 31, 1858, no. 6, ibid., p. 45.
3 Lytton to Douglas, August 14, 1858, no. 8, ibid., p. 48; Lytton to Douglas,
August 14, 1858, no. 9, ibid., p. 49.
without delay by sending the Royal Engineers to the mainland to
survey "all the open districts of land on Fraser's River, so that the
country may be laid out for immediate settlement and occupation."4
The theory of requiring lands to be surveyed before sale was
excellent. In practice, Douglas soon discovered that it would not
work, for development of the colony would have been seriously
impeded and squatting on government lands would have become
widespread. On January 12, i860, Douglas was compelled to confess to the Colonial Office that since the surveys could not begin to
keep pace with the demand for land, he had authorized the preemption of 160 acres of unsurveyed crown land intended for agricultural purposes, subject to a charge of ten shillings an acre at the
time of survey.5 The same regulation with regard to surveying was
in effect in 1913:
Any pre-emptor of unsurveyed land shall have the land recorded
by him surveyed at his own expense (subject, however, to a
rectification of boundaries) within five years from the date of
the pre-emption recorded by a surveyor approved of and acting
under instructions from the Minister.6
By the end of 1858 "a few thousand acres" in the immediate
neighbourhood of Victoria had been surveyed. By the end of i860,
175,000 acres had been completed and divided into 100-acre lots
on Vancouver Island, and 41,000 acres of valuable delta lands at
the mouth of the Fraser River had been laid out in 160-acre
blocks in conformity with the system adopted in the United States.7
The surveys on Vancouver Island were not done by the Royal
Engineers, and were subsequently found to be very incomplete;
checks on those made by the Engineers on the mainland revealed
that their work required no corrections of any kind.
Between i860 and 1871 only insignificant sums were appropriated by the colonial government for surveys; most of the work
that was completed was done on Indian reserves and a few preemption claims. Large tracts of land for timber cutting and pastoral purposes were surveyed, but the cost of these surveys was
borne entirely by the lessees. The colonial government, with an
empty treasury, was confronted with the task of surveying an area
4 Douglas to Lytton, May 23, 1859, no. 11, ibid., 3:12.
6 Douglas to Newcastle, January 12, i860, no. 35, ibid., p. 90.
6 B.C., Revised Statutes, 1911, 1 Geo. 5, c. 129, s. 25.
7 "Report of the Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works ... 1873," pp. 54-55. "
considerably larger than any one of the prairie provinces. Moreover, the land was so rugged as to make a systematic survey of
the whole practically impossible, particularly as much of it was
covered with a growth of timber which rendered the country
absolutely inaccessible, even to packhorses. Members of survey
parties had to pack their own supplies. After the arrival of the
Royal Engineers, provision was made for the office of surveyor
general. Colonel Moody was the first of a succession of surveyors
general who tried to do what they could with the meagre resources
at their disposal^ but found that the annual appropriation for the
purpose was grossly inadequate to meet the demands of the developing province.
After 1871, the importance of surveying the public lands in
some uniform way was recognized by every government, but, even
in 1873, Beaven, then chief commissioner of lands and works, was
complaining that the $10,000 voted in 1872 was "totally inadequate." In addition to a lack of funds, the department was seriously
hampered in its work by the acute shortage of properly trained
surveyors. The provision contained in section 10 of the 1870 Land
Ordinance permitting the surveyor to survey lands "by such motes
and bounds [as] he may think proper" and the absence of a trained
corps of surveyors resulted in the Crown granting isolated blocks of
land of which the position was only roughly known to the Land
The confusion became even greater after 1875 when surveyors
hired by private individuals were permitted, if necessary, to depart
from the official polyconic, or township, system adopted in 1873
"as nearly as circumstances [would] permit" and even to omit
connecting the survey by a tie line with some known point established in a previous survey if it were found impracticable to do so.
A further difficulty arose after 1871 from the confusion surrounding the location of the land to be granted to the dominion
government for railway purposes. The appropriation for provincial
surveys fell from a peak of $40,000 in 1874 to a low of $500 in
1879. Beaven said in his report for 1873 tnat tne earty beginning
on a systematic survey was delayed "from the same causes which
existed last year, viz., the restriction placed upon our lands by the
Terms of Union, and the uncertainty which existed as to what
lands would be claimed by the Dominion Government for railway
purposes." He even made an attempt to get the Dominion to agree
to reimburse the province for the cost of any surveys made on lands
subsequently found to be included within the Railway Belt, but
"this, however, was unsuccessful."3
On July 21, 1873, tne day on wnicn the time limit set for the
Dominion to commence construction of the railroad expired,
Beaven sent two surveyors into the New Westminster district to
subdivide townships into sections of one square mile each. Under
this system, which had already been adopted by the dominion
government and used in Manitoba, and was currently employed in
the United States, each township contained thirty-six sections, each
section containing one square mile or 640 acres. By placing a post
in the centre of each section, four quarter-sections of 160 acres
each could be obtained. It was a simple system which had the
advantage of conforming with surveys elsewhere on the continent,
of making it easy for settlers to locate their lands, and of reducing,
by its simplicity, the cost of surveying and the possibility of mistakes.
Since many of the townships surveyed in the New Westminster area
under this plan were done on contract, the price varied, but, in
1873, Township no. 7 was surveyed by W. D. Patterson at a cost of
nineteen dollars per mile. At this rate, it would have cost $1,596 to
survey the entire township. It was the custom in eastern Canada to
adopt a fixed survey price per mile for all the different classes and
grades of survey, but such a plan was to be found impracticable in
British Columbia. There were not enough surveyors; there were too
many conflicting claims which the surveyor had to check; there were
too many old lines of previous surveys that had to be discovered,
taken up correctly, and traced through dense timber and underbrush.
Such factors rendered a fixed price out of the question for British
Columbia. Surveyors would not accept it.
It was with much pleasure that Beaven could inform the
Assembly in 1875 not only that the pre-emption claims taken up
by settlers fifteen years before in the main settlement centres had
now been surveyed, but also, that the government had at its disposal, for new settlers, a large area of surveyed land of which "the
nature and character . . . are minutely described upon the maps
in the Land Office, thus enabling intending settlers to obtain as
much reliable information in reference to the lands as it is possible
to gain without personal inspection." And indeed, the survey of
160,729   acres  throughout  the  Fraser,   Thompson,   and   Nicola
valleys was a creditable performance.9 But as the gloom deepened
over the failure of the railway from eastern Canada to materialize,
the Walkem government decided in 1876 to reduce the expense of
surveying "until the influx of population and the financial circumstances of the Province warrant the expenditure."10 Accordingly,
the appropriation was reduced from $8,000 in 1877 to $5>ooo in
1878, and the next year it went down to a mere token allotment
of $500. Not until 1907 did the amount of money expended on
surveys again begin to reflect the urgent need for extensive government surveys.
Codification of the survey system to be employed throughout the
province found its way into the land act in 1879 for the first time.
It was the township, or polyconic, system, the details of which were
exactly the same as those found in the dominion Homestead Act of
1872. At the same time, instructions were given by which surveyors
were to be guided in keeping their field notes, certified copies of
which had to be sent to the Land Office in Victoria for approval.
Approval was to be given only after the notes had been checked
in detail to see that they agreed with previous surveys and field
notes made in the same district. Seventeen different instructions
were included for the surveyor's guidance, each of which was to be
followed in detail and in sequence. Beginning with the instructions
as to the manner in which the pages of his book were to be ruled,
the act went on to tell him to place the date as the first entry each
morning; to make full notes as to the character of the country and
its soils, lakes, and timber; to make all entries in pencil and to
make no additional entries therein; to keep duplicate copies in ink;
to construct a plan on the scale of four inches to the mile; to chain
correctly; and to note the direction, width, and volume of all
rivers or streams crossed; to make a general description of each
township as it was completed; to note carefully the location of all
bearing trees; to make an especially careful record of the kinds of
timber, and the sizes of trees; to locate accurately all Indian villages,
cabins, and fields; to describe all settlers' cabins and improvements
and to give the names of the settlers; to locate all roads and trails
s "Report of the Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works ... 1875," p. 531.
10 B.C., Department of Lands and Works, "Report of the Chief Commissioner
of Lands and Works ...  1876," B.C., Sessional Papers, 2d Pari., 2d sess.,
1877, P- 350.
"with their direction whence and whither"; and then to proceed
with the survey.11
Reports submitted by all surveyors were included in the annual
report of the Lands and Works Department each year up to 1898,
but thereafter they were deleted. Not until G. H. Dawson was
appointed surveyor general to replace E. B. McKay in 1911 were
the reports published again. Under statutes which had been passed
in 1886 and 1891 to protect surveyors from action for trespassing
and to regulate the qualifications for admission to practice, the
government surveyors had been doing what they could within their
severely restricted budget to survey timber, mineral, agricultural,
and coal lands, as well as to make valuable exploratory surveys
throughout the province. But not until Dawson took over the surveyor general's office were the reports submitted to the Land Office
considered to be of sufficient interest to the public to warrant their
inclusion in the Sessional Papers where the public could have
access to them. Upon assuming office, Dawson thoroughly overhauled the entire division by increasing the staff, obtaining new and
increased office space, and establishing new branches within the
Dawson soon discovered that the system of surveys in the province, regardless of what the statutory provisions had been, or were,
was quite unlike anything he had previously encountered. To begin
with, he found that government surveys of crown lands were
lagging far behind the other western provinces. But it is to be noted
that the Dominion had been responsible for the surveying of Manitoba and the Northwest Territory lands, and the surveys carried
out there are generally considered to be among the best in the
world. Dawson recognized these facts. The lack of funds had, of
course, seriously retarded surveys, but so had the terrain with which
surveyors had had to contend. In addition, British Columbia had
a far greater variety of natural resources than the other three
western provinces, all of which had to be surveyed before development could proceed. Obviously Dawson had at hand extenuating
circumstances for the conditions he found in his department. He
did not complain of what he found; indeed, in explaining why
British Columbia could not be compared with any of the other
western regions, he said that "it is seldom that a country is so
wonderfully endowed by nature that portions of its Crown lands
11 B.C., Statutes, 1879, 42 Vict., c. 21, s. 8.
can be sold several times, and made a more or less permanent
source of revenue by taxation, under a variety of Statutes, without
serious inconvenience by the holders of any of the rights covered
by the grants in question."12
The work of the Survey Branch involved, among other duties,
making surveys under the Mineral Act and the Coal and Petroleum Act in addition to the Land Act, for no claim could be
crown-granted until it had been surveyed. By the Land Act, the
Survey Branch was called upon to survey pre-emptions, purchases,
and leases, and, until the establishment in 1911 of the Forest
Branch, it was also called upon to survey all timber leases and
limits. The Survey Branch was to regulate surveys made under all
these acts; the overseeing and regulating were not always done, but
provision had been made. Surveys made under the Land Act were
by far the most numerous; titles given under that act reserved to
the Crown all the coal and minerals to which crown grants might
be obtained separately under the appropriate acts. As the surveyor
general pointed out, it was possible, therefore, to have on the maps
of the department a piece of land to which a crown grant to the
surface had been given under the Land Act, another crown grant
under the Coal and Petroleum Act, and a third crown grant issued
under the Mineral Act. At the same time, the whole area embraced
within these three crown grants might have been included in a
timber leasehold granted before 1892. And then, to add to the
existing confusion, a fifth record might have been, or still might be,
given to another to partly divert the water contained in any stream
running b