Land Descriptions and Where They Come From

Saskatchewan’s provincial boundaries are in the shape of a trapezoid. As such, the titles to the land are ideally suited to a quadrilateral grid creating large parcels of land each consisting of 36 mile square townships. Each square parcel within the township is known as a "section" each being one mile square and consisting of 640 acres each. Title to each section may be further subdivided either into half-mile square 160-acre "quarters" and 40-acre sixteenths ("legal subdivisions" or LSD's). Urban lands and smaller parcels may then be created either by survey plans or, prior to the implementation of the new Land system in 2001, by metes and bounds description.

Western Canada’s Meridians

The first Dominion survey of the West began in 1871 and the grid system required that a Meridian be chosen. The First or Prime Meridian was established at 97 degrees 27' 28.4" west longitude. It passes just west of Winnipeg. The events surrounding the choice of the First Meridian constitute a colorful chapter of western Canadian history. The location of the First Meridian was chosen because it marked the western limit of settlement. Since 1871, surveyors established 2 new Meridians within Saskatchewan's boundaries: Part of the Prime or First Meridian, and all of the Second and Third Meridians.

Townships and Ranges

Using the principal Meridian as a reference line for East and West direction and using the 49 degree parallel of latitude as a reference line for the North and South direction, the basic grid system took its form.

The numbers that run North and South count the Township lines and the numbers that run East and West count the Range lines.

One “square” on the Saskatchewan Grid Map is called a Township.

A full Township consists of 36 Sections and is approximately thirty-six miles square in size.

The basic grid is formed by the intersection of Township lines running East and West and Range lines running North and South.

Township Grid System

Counting along the 49th parallel (which is the US Border) the first Range in the diagram is Range 30. West of Range 30 is Range 31 and so on until you reach the 2nd Meridian.

In the Second and Third Meridians the Ranges begin at 1 and continue westward to Range 30.

Township to Section

Townships are divided into Sections.

A full Township consists of 36 Sections and is approximately six miles square in size. Sections are numbered beginning with 1 in the South East corner of the Township and ending with 36 in the North East Corner.

Every Section contains 640 acres of land and is approximately 1 square mile in size.

Quarter Section

A Section is made up of 4 Quarter Sections. The Quarters in a Section are described as the North East (NE), North West (NW), South East (SE) and South West (SW) Quarters.

Each Quarter Section is approximately 160 acres (65 hectares) and is described by its compass direction. For example, North and West = NW ¼.

Legal Subdivisions

Every Section is divided into 16 Legal Subdivisions of approximately 40 acres (16 hectares) each. 4 Legal Subdivisions make up one-quarter section

The highlighted portion in the diagram below shows that the North East Quarter of Section 15, is made up of the Legal Subdivisions numbered 9, 10, 15 & 16

Quarter Legal Subdivisions

Although infrequent, legal subdivisions may be further divided into quarters that are described by compass direction. Each of these small areas is one quarter of a legal subdivision and 10 acres (4 hectares) in area.

The 1st legal subdivision in the diagram below has been divided into quarters.

The 2nd and 8th legal subdivisions have been divided into halves (2 quarters).

Exceptions to a Legal Land Description

Sections, Quarter Sections and/or Legal Subdivisions could have a Metes and Bounds, or a Railway or a Roadway crossing its surface. Prior to the implementation of the Land system in 2001, these ‘missing’ portions were called ‘exceptions’ (note ‘exceptions’ to land descriptions were eliminated under the new Land system).

No More Exceptions

During the implementation of the LAND system all the metes and bounds parcels had to be drawn into the GIS so that the respective titles could be linked and, thus, allow for parcel picture. Examples of metes and bounds descriptions are "all that portion of", "the easterly 10 feet of the Lot", "the North East quarter except the South half" and so forth. Assigning new land descriptions to these parcels was necessary as an automated system simply cannot 'read' a metes and bounds description.

Further, each parcel of land had to be able to 'stand on its own', independent of other parcels. Thus, during conversion, the same 'piece of dirt' was simply described in a different way in certain, specific circumstances. No land owner received or lost any land as a result of the conversion process. Only the means in which the land is described was changed in order to allow for parcel pictures.

Clearer is Better

The actual long worded subdivision descriptions were not entered into the LAND system during conversion. In fact, all of the thousands of metes and bounds parcels in the province were sketched onto paper plots as part of conversion. These parcels were then drawn into the GIS and matched to the Land Titles database. This meant that over 93 per cent of titles had parcel picture availability. As a result, customers now have the ability to easily determine what a given title describes. You do not need to perform any additional research or sketch the often lengthy metes and bounds descriptions yourself in order to understand what piece of land the title actually describes.

New Ways of Describing the Same Land

Amending a Plan was a lengthy process that consisted of several complex steps. There were thousands of metes and bounds parcels affecting existing plans at the time of conversion (e.g., "the most Southerly 10 feet of the Lot"). These same metes and bounds parcels had to be uniquely described in order to allow for the benefits of parcel picture.

Thus, for urban metes and bounds descriptions, a new Lot and Plan Number was assigned while the Block Number was retained to give customers the ability to associate the new land description with its origin. The next available Lot Number was chosen so if there were 20 Lots in a given Block, for example, and there was one Lot subdivided by metes and bounds, the 'parent' portion of the Lot (i.e. the Lot, except a portion) would retain its original land description while the other portion of the Lot would be assigned Lot 21. This is why a paper-based land description might have read "the South Half of Lot 2, Blk 1, Plan AB123" but would now read "Lot 21, Blk 1, Plan 123456789".

For rural metes and bounds descriptions, a new Parcel Identifier (e.g., "Parcel A") was assigned along with a new Plan Number in many cases. In order to affect Parcel Picture, any reference to the Quarter, Section, Township, Range and/or Meridian was dropped in certain situations. Thus, that yard site that was formerly described as "all that portion of the North West quarter of Section 1, Township 21, Range 1, West of the 2nd Meridian, Saskatchewan described as "Commencing at the North East corner of the quarter section; thence Westerly along the Northern boundary etc." is now described as "Parcel A, Plan 123456789".

It is important to note this process was done consistently and purposefully at the time of conversion. Land descriptions were changed on a one-time-only basis for the purposes described above. Any changes to land descriptions that customers see since conversion are typically due to error corrections, subdivisions or consolidations.

Extension Numbers

The pre-converted title (i.e., the paper title that contained the metes and bounds description) is the last official record of the worded subdivision prior to conversion. As a result, it is, in effect, the 'plan' for that specific piece of land. So when you search any plan associated with a changed land description, you will get a copy of the pre-converted title. To help you understand specifically which piece of land your new title is referring to, just match the Extension Number of the new land description with the Descriptor Number located on the pre-converted title. It's really that easy.