If you are buying a rural home or vacant land in Prince Edward County, you may encounter unopened road allowances.
Crown Survey History
Before diving into unopened road allowances, a little early Loyalist history is helpful.
The British declared Prince Edward County “Indian Country” in 1763 and settlement by Europeans was, in theory at least, not allowed.
That changed in 1783 when the British were defeated in the American war of independence. The Crown needed to resettle British soldiers, Hessian (German mercenaries), Americans loyal to the King, and the Mohawks who had fought for the British.
In preparation to receive these refugee-settlers, a survey was begun in the County in 1783, with the first British and Hessian settlers following the next year.
Unlike the US where lands were surveyed after they had been settled, lands in Upper Canada were surveyed before settlement. Although different land survey systems were used as time passed, the goal was to create blocks of uniformly sized parcels along a grid of road allowances.
Reservations For Future Roads
The road allowances can be thought of as land owned by the Crown which was space reserved for future roads.
These road allowances did not all become travelled roads. The road allowances ran in orderly straight lines without regard for swamps, cliffs, etc. which sometimes got in the way and made those allowances unsuitable as roads. In other places, settlers ignored the official road allowances in favour of trails and tracks which were more convenient.
Unopened Allowances Today
Fast forward 200+ years to today, where the countryside has many of the original road allowances which are unopened, and which have never become actively used roads. In many places in the County, these 66-foot wide strips of unused land cut across properties.
Is it the “kiss of death” to find that a property that you have under consideration has an unopened road allowance crossing it? Although you should get your lawyers advice about any specific property you are considering, these unopened road allowances are usually benign and won’t interfere with your use of the land.
Municipality Has Three Options
The unopened roads allowances now belong to the municipal government which could do one of three things with an allowance that crosses your property.
They could just leave it be and let it continue as an unopened allowance. The main implication for you as a property owner is that you can’t build on it – it’s the municipality’s property.
In theory, the municipality could assume the road allowance through a Council decision, in other words, convert it into a road. In practice, this is extremely unlikely to happen. The County has too large a network of roads which is cannot afford and will be trying to reduce the number of roads, not increase them.
A final option is to close the road allowance by a vote of Council which would then permit you to buy the allowance for a nominal sum.
Special Note: Water Access
There is one specific type of road allowance which municipal policy treats differently. The County does not want to close and sell unopened allowances which lead to bodies of water. This is to protect potential waterfront access for future generations.
Locating Unopened Road Allowances
How can you find out if there’s a road allowance on the property? It will be evident when your lawyer does a title search, but the easiest way is to look at the County’s Geographic Information System (GIS). When looking at parcel boundaries, unopened road allowances are narrow strips that look like roads…with no roads beneath them in the aerial photos.
Another way to spot unopened road allowances is to look on the survey. If the survey is not included with the listing, your buyer representative can usually buy a copy through their access to Geowarehouse, the portal to Ontario’s property records. Alternatively, paper copies on County surveys can also be found at the Service Ontario office in Picton.
Unopened road allowances are not necessarily a big negative, but you owe it to yourself to be informed about any such allowances before you buy a property.