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Survey Program

The Surveyor General is mandated through legislation and Aboriginal land claim agreements to manage property and boundary survey programs for the Government of Canada. As a centre of expertise for legal boundaries and property systems, the Surveyor General Branch is well positioned to efficiently manage the implementation of large cadastral survey programs on behalf of other government departments and Canada. The Surveyor General collaborates with various government departments in delivering their land management responsibilities, provides advice, produces cadastral maps, manages surveys and prepares legal descriptions for use in land transfer documents.


First Nations Land Management

Under First Nations Land Management (FNLM), First Nations take over the control and management of their lands and resources. A Land Code, developed by the First Nation, replaces 34 land management related provisions of the Indian Act. The First Nations Land Management Act requires legal descriptions of land that is subject to the land code. The Surveyor General Branch manages the preparation of these legal descriptions.

The number of legal descriptions completed annually is captured in the results section of the Branch’s Annual Reviews. FNLM Maps showing First Nations that are operational under FNLM or in its development phase are freely available for download.

Read this interesting article to learn more about First Nations Land Management.

Additions to Reserve

An addition to reserve (ATR) describes when a parcel of land is added to a reserve or a new reserve is created. Lands selected to be added to reserve normally fall under a provincial survey system, but transition to be part of the Canada Lands Survey System once they are added to the reserve.

The Surveyor General Branch’s role in ATRs comprises conducting research and providing advice on boundaries and land selections, managing surveys and preparing legal land descriptions for land transfers.

For additional information on ATRs, see the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada’s web site.

Treaty Land Entitlement

The Treaty Land Entitlement (TLE) program is intended to settle land debt to First Nations who did not receive land they were entitled to under historic treaties. Settlement agreements are negotiated among First Nations, the Government of Canada and provincial/territorial governments. According to the terms of the agreement, a specified amount of Crown lands is identified and/or a cash settlement is provided so that a First Nation may purchase federal, provincial/territorial, or private land to settle the land debt. Once selected or purchased, this land can be added to the First Nations' reserve under the Additions to Reserve process, thereby becoming Canada Lands. The Surveyor General Branch’s Survey Program supports transition from provincial to Canada Lands.

About 90 per cent of TLE transactions take place in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Most TLE land selections in Saskatchewan consist of sections, quarter-sections and legal subdivisions of land that formed part of the original township surveys that were conducted in the late 1800s and early 1900s. These provide clear boundaries such that field surveys are largely not required in Saskatchewan. The Surveyor General Branch’s role therefore is to review land selections and prepare parcel descriptions at the request of the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.

By contrast, in Manitoba most ATR land selections are on vacant unsurveyed provincial Crown Lands necessitating a survey of the land selection under provincial regulations. In this case the Surveyor General Branch manages the survey contract and the preparation of a legal description of the parcel.

Progress in meeting various current TLE obligations are captured in the results section of the Branch’s Annual Reviews.

For additional information on TLE, see the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada web site.

National Parks

The Surveyor General collaborates with the Canada Parks Agency in the management of surveys of lands to be designated as National Parks, Park Reserves, National Historic Sites and National Marine Conservation Areas.

Pursuant to section 25 of the Canada Lands Surveys Act, Natural Resources Canada shall cause surveys to be made of Canada Lands on the request of a minister of any department of the Government of Canada. The Surveyor General Branch has a long standing collaborative relationship with Parks Canada Agency for providing advice on boundary definition and managing land surveys required to support their land conservation and protection activities.

The Surveyor General Branch provides advice on boundary issues, contracts for survey services and cadastral mapping projects with Canada Lands Surveyors, monitors contracts, prepares legal descriptions of the lands, and maintains an official registry of all survey records to support land transactions in Canada’s National Parks. The registry contains all official survey records for all municipalities located within a National Park such as Jasper, Lake Louise and Banff in Alberta.

Inter-provincial and territorial boundaries

The Surveyor General Branch assists provinces and territories in the technical marking and maintenance of their boundaries. Between 1963 and 1973, for instance, four boundary commissions were established by Orders in Council, with mandates to maintain the surveyed boundaries between Alberta/NWT, Manitoba/Saskatchewan, British Columbia/Yukon/NWT, and Saskatchewan/NWT, respectively.

The Surveyor General is currently a member of the Alberta – British Columbia Boundary Commission, created by federal legislation in 1974. The duties of the Commission are to resolve periodic boundary issues and to establish and maintain monuments.

The Surveyor General Branch has interprovincial/territorial boundary geospatial data and makes it available for users of Geographical Information Systems through a FTP site.

Federal Electoral District Boundaries

Representation in the House of Commons is readjusted after each decennial (10-year) census to reflect changes and movements in Canada's population, in accordance with the Constitution Act, 1867, and the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act.

Readjustment of federal electoral boundaries is carried out by independent commissions. Ten federal electoral boundaries commissions are established, one for each province, to consider and report on any changes required to the boundaries of the electoral districts.

Pursuant to section 17 of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, the Surveyor General provides technical advice and recommendations for unambiguously describing electoral district boundaries to each commission, in order to enable the commission to discharge its duties under the Act.

Find out more about the readjustment process on Elections Canada’s web site.

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