Answers to Questions That an Ontario Land Surveyor Is Often Asked

As a home owner or property developer, you likely have many questions about surveys, road allowances and what constitutes an up-to-date survey. With a long history as land surveyors we have the experience to answer your questions about land surveys, plans and our products. Contact us if you have any questions that aren't answered on this page.

Who can survey boundaries of land?

For land falling under Provincial jurisdiction, section 11 of the Surveyors Act provides that only a licensed Ontario Land Surveyor may undertake cadastral (legal boundary) surveys in the province of Ontario.


Prohibitions relating to cadastral surveying

11. (1) No individual shall engage in the practice of cadastral surveying or hold himself or herself out as engaging in such a practice unless he or she holds a licence under this Act. 2009, c. 33, Sched. 22, s. 11 (14).
Exception


(2) Despite subsection (1), an individual who does not hold a licence under this Act may perform an act that is within the practice of cadastral surveying if he or she does so at the direction of and under the supervision of a licensed member. 2009, c. 33, Sched. 22, s. 11 (14).


For land falling under Federal jurisdiction, section Canada Lands Surveyors Act, 1998 provides that a similar Canada Lands Surveyor license is required.

What are the components of a land (legal) survey and why does it cost so much?

All legal surveys consist of the following components:


1. Research of registered title documents is a requirement – for subject property and abutting lands to ensure descriptions are not in conflict and that relevant registered rights are understood. There are statutory costs associated with the research fees that are set by the Land Registry Offices in Ontario.
2. Review of title and plans research by Ontario Land Surveyor (OLS) for the preparation of instructions for field staff.
3. Completion of field observations and field notes by a crew consisting of at least a technician and party chief. On complex projects, the professional will be on site. On large projects more staff may be required.
4. Office review of field observations and field notes by office technician. Audit of field measurements and methods with adjustments for final publishing of data to be reviewed by the OLS.
5. Drafting of plan if plan is required. (Some boundary surveys do not require a plan to be produced, such as in circumstances where boundary confirmation on the ground is the only task).
6. Review of drafted plan by OLS.
7. Amendments to plan by technician (if any required).
8. Final review of amendments by OLS, preparation of report and preliminary plots for client approval and planning authority approval (in the event of severances). For deposited or registered plans, pre-approval by Land Registry Office staff and/or planning authority.
9. Plotting of final plan for signature by OLS.
10. If required, deposit of description reference plan at Land Registry Office – there is a fixed fee for deposit set out by Land Registry Office.
11. Copies of prints of the final plan submitted to client.

When do I need a Professional Surveyor?

A licensed Ontario Land Surveyor is trained to gather and analyze facts and use established legal principles to interpret the information in order to prepare a professional opinion. Before preparing an opinion, a surveyor examines the documentary evidence related to both the subject and the adjoining land. This would include documents obtained by searching their own files, those of professional colleagues, and those of the Land Registry Office. An Ontario Land Surveyor will carry out a thorough field investigation for the best available evidence of all boundaries, lines and corners, and give priority to the evidence in accordance with statute and case law.

The advice of an Ontario Land Surveyor is often critical during any real estate transaction (buy/sell/mortgage), planning application (severance/re-zoning) and land development (subdivide).

Ontario Land Surveyors are also professional measurers and have experience to undertake projects to gather measurements of the horizontal and vertical relationships of fixed features. Professional advice of the nature of data to be captured and the means to display it can be critical in topographic surveys, structure deformation surveys and construction layout.

What is a road allowance?

Road Allowances are strips of land created in the first (original) Crown surveys or subsequent property subdivisions that are for road purposes. Under the Municipal Act, this includes all road allowances made by the Crown surveyors that are located in the municipalities and all road allowances, highways, streets and lanes shown on a registered plan of subdivision.

What is a shore road allowance?

Road allowances may have been created along the shore of water bodies during original Crown township surveys. The shore road allowances were typically created to connect the Side Road and Concession Road Allowances that followed a grid pattern but intersected lakes and rivers. Occasionally these allowances were not created in the original survey but in subsequent Crown grants.

What is a colonization road?

Colonization roads were built, often before land settlement, under Crown instruction to provide access for settlers. In Muskoka and Parry Sound they often did not follow surveyed straight road allowances because of the rugged terrain and lakes and rivers encountered. Some colonization roads were surveyed while others were not. Colonization roads exist as public highways under the law until closed by municipal by-law even though they may have been physically abandoned. The Colonization Roads Act came into force a few decades after many of the Muskoka and Parry Sound colonization roads were built and some had already been abandoned by this time.

What is a public highway?

Public highways are defined by the Municipal Act as original road allowances, open or closed, under the jurisdiction of the Crown or a municipality; shore road allowances, open or closed, that are under the jurisdiction of the Crown or a municipality; all roads, streets or lanes depicted on registered plans and any other road on which public money was spent.

Can GNSS (GPS) be used for Cadastral Surveying?

Most property boundaries in Ontario do not have related precise world coordinate values.


GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) is a measurement tool that utilizes radio signals from earth-orbiting satellites to compute your position on the earth. A typical handheld recreational GPS unit, though sufficient for approximating your position within 3-10m of true world coordinates, is not sufficiently accurate for legal boundary surveying. Expensive Geodetic dual frequency receivers are suitable for land survey measurements in open areas as long as the proper pre-planning is undertaken to ensure appropriate satellite coverage is available. Environmental factors impact the quality of the satellite signal obtained at the receiver in Muskoka. These factors include: hard surfaces such as rocks, buildings, roads; reflective soft surfaces like water and snow; trees block signal paths completely and make it difficult to obtain true positions to survey grade accuracies. In order to evaluate the GPS observations, multiple observations on the same point using different satellite configurations (often on different days) are important. The use of the technology for accurate surveys is typically only cost effective on larger or wide-open sites.

Title Insurance versus SRPR (Surveyor’s Real Property Report)

A Legal Survey

Full disclosure of the extent of ownership title can be obtained through the purchase of a Surveyor’s Real Property Report. This is comprised of both a plan of survey and written report based on a current field survey of the property which includes research into the title records for the existence of any easements, right-of-way or restrictions that might affect the property. The survey plan shows the position of the building(s) on the site, occupational features such as fences and hedges and any structures such as outbuildings, driveways, decks, service poles and retaining walls. Encroachments of features across the boundary lines are identified. The written report draws attention to any issues or potential problems discovered during the survey. The integrity of a print of the Surveyor’s Real Property Report is assured through the use by the surveyor of an embossing seal on the issued documents to substantiate their origin. Members of the Association of Ontario Land Surveyors are required to carry professional liability insurance.


The Surveyor’s Real Property Report can be used to ensure that the buildings and improvements are sited in accordance with municipal by-laws. In combination with the lawyer’s opinion of title, this report can be used to satisfy a lender that the property is marketable and suitable for mortgaging.

If the Surveyor’s Real Property Report reveals problems with the title of the property or with the position of improvements such as fences or outbuildings, a purchaser could require the vendor to rectify the problems before closing the purchase or might be able to negotiate a reduction in the purchase price to provide for the potential costs of rectifying the problem.


Title Insurance

A Title Insurance policy can be purchased, as an alternative to a Surveyor’s Real Property Report, to provide compensation to a lender or a purchaser against a loss occasioned by a defect in title or an adverse claim. Most of the properties in Ontario have been administratively “converted” to the Land Titles Act where ownership, but not extent, is guaranteed by the Province with compensation claims made to the Land Titles Assurance Fund.

The lender’s coverage is generally only exercised if a property is foreclosed and the lender is unable to market the property for the amount owing on the mortgage, due to a flaw in the quality or extent of title.

The Property owner, if included as an insured party, may be protected against loss if there is a claim against the property as a result of a flaw in title or an encroachment or similar circumstance. If there is a problem it generally remains undisclosed until a claim or action is begun, at which time the insured must demonstrate a financial loss in order to be compensated. Loss of enjoyment is not normally compensated as there may be no monetary value associated with such a loss.

For more information – download A Survey or Title Insurance – produced by The Association of Ontario Land Surveyors.

Surveyors Right of Entry

Section 6 of the Surveys Act, R.S.O. 1990, confers the right to a surveyor, or a person in the professional surveyor’s employ, while making a survey, to enter and pass over the land of any person at any time, or to enter into a building, at a time suitable to the occupant. Licensed members of the Association of Ontario Land Surveyors have this right of entry.

Is a Surveyor’s product copyrighted?

Cadastral survey plans are an illustration of a Professional Surveyor’s opinion of the extent of title, and they clearly fall within the definition of an artistic work under Section 2 of the Copyright Act R.S.C. 1985 c. C-42.


The Association of Ontario Land Surveyors’ Standards for Surveys require non-deposited or non-registered plans to indicate the retention of copyright, and the use of the universal copyright symbol “©” is recommended. Although copyright is automatically acquired with the creation of all plans, this approach places both the naïve and the malicious mis-user on notice that the Professional Surveyor retains copyright.

Supported by the provisions of the Canadian Copyright Act, there is direction on the use and mis-use of survey products. A client does not have the right to unlimited use of the plan in subsequent dealings. The client does not have the right to re-use the plan for some other purpose than was originally intended. No one other than the surveyor, who prepared the plan, has the right to alter the plan. No third party has the right to use a plan for a use not intended in the original application.

Release of old plans (see What is an up-to-date survey?)

What is an up-to-date survey?

The Practice Manual of the Association of Ontario Land Surveyors states “an existing plan of survey may be deemed to be up-to-date if,

(a) both the plan and the survey on which it is based comply with the applicable requirements of the statutes & regulations of Ontario.
(b) Upon a field inspection, it can be determined that no changes have taken place to the property or to the monumentation since the plan was signed that would necessitate a change in the plan; and
(c) An up-to-date search for documentary evidence has been made, as required by clause 8(a) of the Performance Standards Regulation, O.Reg 216/10, and no changes have occurred that would necessitate a change in the plan.”

There are specific plan products, such as the Surveyors Real Property Report and non-registered and non-deposited Plans of Survey, which may illustrate man-made features in relation to the parcel boundaries, and as such are representative at the date of survey. In all cases a field inspection is required and in most cases a new survey is required in order to bring the past survey up-to-date.

Registered Plan versus Deposited Plan?

Both types of these plans are available at the Land Registry Office. The difference between a Registered Plan and a Deposited Plan is as follows:

Registered Plans – on registration they create new property entities such as Lots, Blocks, Roads. These are Plans of Subdivision and Plans of Condominium. For example, a Plan of Subdivision which subdivides an original 100 acre township lot into various lots creates new geographic entities, the new lots on the Registered Plan. If the entire 100 acre Township Lot is subdivided, the Township Lot no longer exists as a geographic entity description.

Deposited Plans – typically used to describe portions of property entities and land interests. Three examples:
1. With the appropriate planning approval, a lot on a registered plan is divided into two pieces. A Description Reference Plan is prepared to describe one or both pieces of the divided lot (severance) and deposited at the Land Registry Office (i.e. Parts 1 and 2 on deposited plan 35R-12345, each Part being Part of Lot 1 on Registered Plan 35M-123). The new properties are created only by a registration on title of a transfer document, not the deposit of the plan.
2. A second scenario for a Description Reference Plan is to describe some particular interest in land. Examples of such interests could be easements for utility infrastructure, rights of ways for access etc. The plan does not create a new parcel and typically would only cover a portion of a geographic entity.
3. A third use of the Description Reference Plan is to correct any errors in the description of the boundaries of the property so that the document in the Registry Office system reflects the actual circumstances on the ground. This does not create a new parcel.

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