The Land Question in Canada

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER VII (5) start of chapter

It will be interesting to see how the Canadian Parliament dealt, not long since, with the Land Question of the Lower Province. Fortunately for the public welfare, the earnest attention of the Canadian Legislature was directed to the tenure by which the cultivators occupied the soil, and especially to the obligations and restrictions imposed by its conditions upon that most important class of the community; and in 1861 an Act was passed, which has had, and must continue to have, a marked influence on the prosperity of the Province.

The land had been originally parcelled out among a number of great proprietors, who derived their vast estates directly from the Kings of France. Without entering into the history of these grants, or the manner in which the land was gradually occupied by the cultivators, who came as settlers, it is sufficient to state that the evils with which the Legislature had to deal did not arise so much from the burden of the rent, or the duration of the tenure, as from the 'rights' which the proprietors reserved to themselves.

The rent was so small as to be merely nominal, in fact a few halfpence per acre; but the 'rights'—which restricted the liberty of the tenant, interfered with the free transfer of property, and prevented the progress of the country—were the cause of the discontent that existed, and which it was the object of the Legislature to allay. One of the so-called 'casual rights' was the exclusive mill and water-power reserved to himself by the feudal lord. Not only was the censitaire, or tenant, compelled to grind his corn at the landlord's mill, but the latter monopolised the water-power within his territory, thus hampering the industry and enterprise of the district. The other 'right' was that by which, on every sale and transfer of property, the one-twelfth of the amount of the purchase-money was paid to the landlord. Say that A bought property from B, to the value of 120l., A, in addition to paying B the sum of 120l. as the purchase-money for his interest, had also to pay another one-twelfth, or 10l. more, to the landlord; and what rendered the exercise of this 'right' more oppressive and detrimental was the fact that on every re-sale of the same property the same process of paying one-twelfth to the seignior had to be gone through. If the property were improved in value, the seller would no doubt receive a larger price for his interest; but the seignior's one-twelfth would be the greater in consequence of the increased value of the whole. This one-twelfth so reserved to the seignior was termed a 'mutation fine.'

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

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