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Braving the complexities of Toronto land records: Part 1

Plan 43, registered 26 Oct 1852. This certified copy from the Toronto LRO was made 15 Jan 1953. I’ve added the red box to show area covered by the later Plan 356.

Toronto land records are not for the faint of heart. In the city, Upper Canada’s standard 200-acre farm lots were replaced by generous town lots with space for a big garden, a few fruit trees, and a stable for the horse. Times changed and the population grew, the town lots were divided into smaller holdings and new subdivisions reflected the trend. Enterprising landowners laid out developments, registered plans, and advertised their benefits to potential buyers. Sometimes they offered what the market wanted, but sometimes the lots didn’t sell and the subdivision had to be redesigned. Or perhaps the development did hit the mark, but after a time the design was less appealing.

New plans were devised, buildings were demolished, and rebuilt in a new configuration.

All this activity resulted in hundreds of registered plans of subdivision, some overlapping, some that became obsolete, but any of them might delineate your ancestor’s lot at a particular point in time. More about registered plans another time. We’ll start with “abstract indexes”.

Abstract Indexes
Each lot on a registered plan of subdivision had a corresponding record in an abstract index book. The record was a chronological list or an “abstract” of the transactions involving the lot. The abstract index book system was implemented in 1865, so transactions before that date were reconstructed from less-than-perfect records. You may discover gaps in the story.

Plan 356, registered 8 July 1881. This certified copy from the Toronto LRO was made 8 Jan 1952.

Rather than starting with the grant from the Crown, as with most farm lots in Ontario, the list begins with the first sale after the plan of subdivision was registered. In most cases, each lot’s record was started at the top of a dedicated page. Each line in the abstract represents a transaction and lists a number that connects with a document—or “instrument” in abstract index parlance.

The abstract index books were very much working documents—used frequently and not handled with kid gloves. The thick paper is sometimes chipped or rubbed at the corners so the page numbers are missing. In the chart below, I’ve shown missing numbers in square brackets. When viewing the microfilm or digitized images, be sure you’re not looking at a page number peeking through from a previous or subsequent page. You may need to count back or forward to a page with an intact number.

The clerks that created and added to the abstract index books endeavored to keep all the information about a particular lot in the same book. (And I appreciate their efforts.) Since transactions were added as they happened and at different rates, sometimes they couldn’t continue the story on the next page. So the clerk found space on another blank page, sometimes earlier in the book where there had been fewer transactions. For example, in Volume 1, indexed below, page 441 is continued by the clerk on page 6!

LEFT: A section of the 1884 insurance map showing the minimal development some 30 years after Plan 43 was registered. RIGHT: A current map from Toronto Open Data. I have added a red box to show the approximate area covered by Plan 43.

Why am I writing about this now?
The Genealogical Society of Utah, now known as FamilySearch, microfilmed these records way back in 1959. The Archives of Ontario (AO) has also had a copy of those microfilms for many years. The AO microfilms and finding aid are only available in the Reading Room. While the records for rural areas get a lot of use—Toronto records have been a struggle.

But good news. FamilySearch has now begun to digitize the records and make them available online at no cost. The abstract index described below is one of two digitized films for Toronto abstract indexes at the time of writing.

I’ve always meant to create an easier way to access these records—but now seems like the ideal time to make an attempt. Consider the description of “Volume 1”, below, a test. I’d very much like your feedback as to whether it is helpful and how it could be more so. Please leave a comment at the end of this post.


Toronto, Volume 1 (digitized film 197251 or 8199936)

This abstract index book shows part of the 100-acre Park Lot 21 that was subdivided in 1852 by the Registered Plan of Subdivision 43, and Plan 356, which in 1881 superseded and reorganized a centre portion of Plan 43. Plan 43 covered the area bounded by today’s Plymouth Avenue (on the south), the laneway south of Clinton Street Public School (on the north), Manning Avenue (on the east), and a line projecting north from Gore Vale Avenue (on the west). The lots are designated by a number and whether they lie east, west, north or south of a street—including Clinton Street, Bellevue Place which was renamed Treford Place, and Conway Street which was renamed Mansfield Avenue. Lot numbers do not correspond to house numbers. Plan 356 replaces numbers with letters.

Notes: The initial page for each lot is shown in boldface. Page numbers noted in this table are handwritten in the top corners of the pages. You may need to adjust the contrast of the digital or film image to see them. Page numbers shown in square brackets indicate that the actual number is missing. You’ll need to count forward or back to find it.

Film Plan Street, etc. page
197251 43 Park Lot 21 (instruments before the filing of Plan 43) 1
43 Bellevue Place, north side, lot 1 4
43 Clinton St, east side, lots 3, 4, 5 (continued from page 441) 6
43 Bellevue Place, north side, lot 2 7
43 Bellevue Place, north side, lot 3 10
43 Clinton St, west side, lot 5 (continued from page 393) 12
43 Bellevue Place, south side, lot 4 13
43 Bellevue Place, south side, lot 5 41
43 Bellevue Place, south side, lot 6 44
43 Conway St, north side, lot 1 59
43 Clinton St, west side, lot 2 (continued from page 342) 62
43 Conway St, north side, lot 2 63
356 Conway St, north side, Block D 69
43 Conway St, north side, lot 3 71
356 Conway St, north side, Block D 76
356 Conway St, north side, Block E or C (continued from page 394) 92
43 Conway St, north side, lot 4 93
43 Conway St, north side, lot 5 97
43 Conway St, north side, lot 6 102
43 Conway St, north side, lot 4 (continued from page 96) 107
43 Conway St, north side, lot 5 (continued from page 101) 109
43 Conway St, north side, lot 6 111
43 Bellevue Place, south side, lot 6 (continued from page 381) 112
356 Conway St, north side, Block F 113
356 Conway St, north side, Block G 134
43 Clinton St, west side, lot 1 153
356 Clinton St, west side, Block C [160]
43 Clinton St, west side, lot 2 [177]
356 Conway St, north side, Block F (continued from page 133) 181
356 Clinton St, west side, Block B 182
43 Clinton St, west side, lot 3 (continued on page 216 and 182) [208]
43 Clinton St, west side, lot 4 214
356 Clinton St, west side, Block A 216
43 Clinton St, west side, lot 5 222
43 Clinton St, west side, lot 6 228
43 Clinton St, west side, lot 7 232
356 Clinton St, west side, Block A (continued from page 346) 234
43 Clinton St, west side, lot 8 235
43 Clinton St, east side, lot 1 236
356 Clinton St, east side, Block H 241
43 Clinton St, east side, lot 2 265
43 Clinton St, east side, lots 3, 4, 5 [283]
43 Clinton St, east side, lots 6, 7, 8 311
43 Clinton St, east side, lots 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 336
356 Clinton St, west side, Block G (continued from page 383) 338
356 Bellevue Place, south side, lot 4 (continued from page 377) 339
356 Conway St, north side, Block D (continued from page 396) 340
356 Clinton St, west side, Block B (continued from page 390) 342
43 Clinton St, east side, lots 6, 7, 8 (continued from page 387) 343
356 Clinton St, west side, Block A (continued from page 395) 344
43 Clinton St, east side, lots 3, 4, 5 (continued from page 385) 347
356 Clinton St, west side, Block A (continued from page 221) 348
356 Map showing right of way in Block A, north of Gore St. 349
43 Clinton St, west side, lot 5 (continued from page 227) 350
43 Bellevue Place, south side, lot 6 (continued from page 58) 354
356 Clinton St, east side, Block H (continued from page 264) 356
43 Clinton St, east side, lots 3, 4, 5 362
356 Clinton St, west side, Block A (continued from page 349) 364
356 Clinton St, west side, Block B (continued from page 207) 366
356 Conway St, north side, Block D (continued from page 91) 370
356 Clinton St, west side, Block A (continued from page 365) 374
43 Bellevue Place, south side, lot 4 (continued from page 40) 376
43 Bellevue Place, south side, lot 6 (continued from page 355) 378
43 Bellevue Place, south side, lot 5 (continued from page 43) 380
43 Bellevue Place, south side, lot 6 (continued from page 379) 381
356 Conway St, north side, Block G (continued from page 152) 382
43 Clinton St, east side, lots 3, 4, 5 (continued from page 363) 384
43 Clinton St, east side, lots 6, 7, 8 386
356 Clinton St, west side, Block A (continued from page 375) 388
356 Clinton St, west side, Block B (continued from page 369) 390
356 Clinton St, west side, Block A (continued from page 389) 391
43 Clinton St, west side, lot 5 (continued from page 353) 392
356 Clinton St, west side, Block C (continued from page 176) 394
356 Clinton St, west side, Block A (continued from page 391) 395
356 Conway St, north side, Block D (continued from page 373) 396
43 Bellevue Place, south side, lot 6 (continued from page 412) 397
43 Clinton St, east side, lots 6, 7, 8 (continued from page 343) 398
356 Clinton St, west side, Block A (continued from page 234) 400
43 Clinton St, east side, lots 3, 4, 5 (continued from page 347) 404
356 Clinton St, east side, Block H (continued from page 361) 406
356 Clinton St, west side, Block G (continued from page 338) 408
43 Bellevue Place, south side, lot 6 (continued from page 112) 410
43 Bellevue Place, south side, lot 4 (continued from page 339) 413
43 Clinton St, west side, lot 5 (continued from page 12) 414
356 Clinton St, west side, Block B (continued from page 62) 416
356 Conway St, north side, Block C (continued from page 92) 418
356 Conway St, north side, Block D (continued from page 341) 420
43 Clinton St, east side, lot 2 (continued from page 282) 422
356 Clinton St, west side, Block G (continued from page 409) 423
43 Clinton St, east side, lots 3, 4, 5 (continued from page 405) 424
356 Clinton St, west side, Block A (continued from page 403) 426
43 Bellevue Place, south side, lot 5 (continued from page 380) 428
356 Clinton St, west side, Block A (continued from page 403) 429
356 Conway St, Block F (continued from page 181) 430
356 Conway St, north side, Block C (continued from page 419) 431
43 Clinton St, east side, lots 6, 7, 8 (continued from page 399) 432
43 Bellevue Place, south side, lot 4 (continued from page 413) 434
43 Clinton St, east side, lots 6, 7, 8 (continued from page 433) 435
43 Bellevue Place, south side, lot 4 (continued from page 434) 435
43 Clinton St, east side, lots 3, 4, 5 (continued from page 425) 436
43 Clinton St, west side, lot 5 (continued from page 415) 438
356 Clinton St, west side, Block B (continued from page 417) 440
43 Clinton St, east side, lots 3, 4, 5 (continued from page 437) 441
356 Clinton St, west side, Block A (continued from page 427) 442
356 Conway St, north side, Block D (continued from page 421) 443
356 Clinton St, east side, Block H (continued from page 407) 444
43 Bellevue Place, south side, lot 5 (continued from page 428) 444

2 comments to Braving the complexities of Toronto land records: Part 1

  • Robin

    What I found really useful was your ‘online finding aid’, which made it easy to find my relatives’ real estate transactions on the second digitized film.

    It includes Park Lot 16 (plans 27 & 64), which from your Simcoe’s Gentry site was just west of Spadina. From the 1884 fire insurance plans I found that my relatives’ address was part of plan 27. Using the index at the front of the volume, I found their lots quickly (but the page numbers were hard to read). I have experience with Township land records, but none with properties in Toronto.

    From looking at just those two volumes, it would be useful to know which plans/streets are on each film (some of the film notes are better than others). So just indexing the index to each volume – essentially what you put in boldface – would be helpful.

    But if you still wanted to do the full index it would be more helpful if it referenced the online image numbers to get around the hard-to-read page numbers.

    • Jane E. MacNamara

      Thanks, Robin. Aren’t you lucky to have relatives on one of the first films to be digitized! Did you see that the FamilySearch image viewer has adjustments for lightness/darkness and contrast that will help with page numbers? I considered using the digital page numbers, but the “continued on…” numbers would also have to be converted. Bound to create confusion and errors. I can also say with certainty that the handwritten numbers on the images will never change. Hey, and I’m a believer that a little paging back and forth reminds researchers that they are using real documents that humans created and many hands have touched. That tangible contact with history is the exciting part for me.

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