by David McClung

Haldimand County’s “Response to Cayuga Library Criticism” in the January 31 Haldimand Press (see below) is both amusing and horrifying: amusing because there seems to be no limit to senior staff’s willingness to parade their incompetence in public; and horrifying because of the millions of dollars their incompetence is costing us.

The land on which the current Cayuga library sits is patented. The patent is recorded in two places in Haldimand Registry documents and in one place at the Ontario Archives, exactly the same as the patents for every other parcel of land in Haldimand County. So if the county’s inability to produce the patent means it doesn’t own the Cayuga Market Square, then the rest of us who can’t produce a patent don’t own our properties, either. We all need to think very carefully about the consequences of adopting that point of view.

So, since this patent was unquestionably issued, why is it that neither county staff, nor their surveyor, nor their lawyer can find it? Simply because they are all looking in the wrong place: the patent is in the county’s own records!

Patents were drawn up in duplicate in the administrative centre of the colony, then sent out to the local land registry office. There the land registrar recorded them, then returned one copy to the government authority responsible for their safekeeping and delivered the other copy into the hands of the patentee. From that point on, it was the patentee’s responsibility to take care of his patent.

So, if a patent was issued for every piece of land that passed from the Crown into other hands, then why have so few Haldimand landowners ever seen the original Crown patent for their property? Simply because after that patent was issued, the land has changed hands through sale or inheritance. The deeds and wills that record those later transactions have superseded the patents as the documents that establish ownership.

Now, my guess is that most Haldimand landowners who’ve never seen a patent can still readily produce a deed for their property. However, even if they can’t, there’s still proof that they own it at the Registry Office, which keeps official copies of all deeds — just not of patents, which remained with the personal papers of the first owners of each property and were probably eventually thrown out.

Why, then, does Haldimand County not have a deed establishing its ownership of Cayuga’s Market Square? Simply because it has never changed hands. In 1861 it was patented to the Village of Cayuga, which merged into the Town of Haldimand, which merged into Haldimand County. However, the Market Square has never been bought, sold or inherited. Since 1861 it has only ever belonged to the municipal government. Therefore no other document ever superseded the Crown patent as the document that establishes ownership.

Which is why it would be nice if Haldimand County’s sunshine list senior staff — instead of pouring literally millions of dollars into wasted staff time, inept legal advice, unnecessary land acquisitions, project changes and delays, not to mention risky consultations with Six Nations — would either get it through their heads that the record of the patent is as good as the patent itself, or else get out of their comfy chairs and start digging through their own archives to find the original document.

Really, the comedy of errors that Haldimand County has treated us to over the past four years would be thoroughly amusing if it weren’t so horrifyingly expensive.