Where’s the Waterfront Line?

It’s very important to know where the lake ends and your property begins.

First of all, you have to begin with the water. Let’s assume that the body of water is sufficiently large that it is considered to be a navigable water. That basically means that it can accommodate boats, even very small boats. Obviously, this will include lakes, and numerous rivers, but certainly not all of the tributaries.

Second, you will have to figure out where the body of water ends. A larger lake or bay or navigable river will have fluctuations in terms of the level of water within it. However, the boundary is clearly defined. It doesn’t move or go up and down with the water level or in and out as the waves roll in. It is a permanent, fixed location.

Third, you will have to locate the first sign of permanent vegetation. That is the line is the sand. That’s the spot where the body of water ends and the land begins. Annual vegetation, being grass, weeds, and recurring growth is not a sufficient indicator. You need to find a tree, or a big bush that has been there for some reasonable period of time.

Fourth, once you have located this line of permanent vegetation, you need to mark out a continuous strip along the shoreline. This will represent the division between the body of water and the land. Basically, if you were on a beach in the Caribbean you would take a piece of tape and wrap it around all the palm trees closest to the water. This would provide you with the high water mark, and define the boundary.

Fifth, you need to measure a distance of one chain, or sixty six feet (66′) from the boundary. This new strip of property will form a “road allowance” around the perimeter of the lake, river or other navigable body of water.

Sixth, you need to mark out the lots. Let’s assume that they are two hundred feet (200′) in depth, and one hundred feet (100′) wide. Since the water body is irregular in shape, the frontages will never work out to exactly one hundred feet. The same thing will be true for the rear lot line. You may have some pie shaped lots and some reverse pies, but you will really never be able to lay out a plan of subdivision completely with the same sized lots.

Now, those 6 steps are all very nice assuming that you are the original surveyor. Most of Ontario was laid out in the middle of the 19th century, and many areas long before that. The important consideration to bear in mind is that the artificial boundary line doesn’t move. It stays put, and it’s really the first sign of permanent vegetation. The edge of the lake is not the edge of the body of water. It’s like a bathtub, sometimes it’s filled and sometimes it’s not. So, the liquid that you see is transient. It moves, it’s there, then it’s gone, but the legal boundary for the body of water (lake) will be the high water mark.

However, a very significant matter is whether the property has “riparian rights”. If it does, and there are natural changes in the topography over time, these rights will keep the property in contact with the water, without a “gap”. If there are no such riparian rights, this is indeed a risk that might materialize.

From the 1850’s to present we have about 17 decades of changes. Some of the changes are man-made and some of the changes are natural. One thing for sure, it’s not the same! Docks, breakwaters, decks, structures, buildings, reclaimed areas (filled with land) and excavated areas filled with water all change the original water’s edge as found by the first surveyor. Again, we need to be reminded of the basic principle: the lake boundary  doesn’t move. So, even after years of significant changes one still has to look back to the original survey prepared by the Province to get an idea of where to begin.

The location of the boundary could be changed by the Land Registrar or through a Court Order.

Let’s have a look at certain popular areas, and the relationship between the land and the water.

Brian Madigan LL.B., Broker

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