Old land registry office dated from County’s founding

June 21, 2018   ·   0 Comments

By Eric Carr

Heritage Orangeville

While the striking Dufferin County Courthouse at 51 Zina Street has been widely recognized around Ontario, “the little building out front” has always been in its shadow.  It is the original Dufferin County Land Registry Office.  The building is a rectangular, three-bay brick building with a side-gable slate roof.  It has round headed windows, stone detailed window sills and also has two double-shaft chimneys.

According to the registered deeds, the property that the Dufferin County Courthouse and the Dufferin County Land Registry Office was built upon was purchased for a total combined cost of $1,555.  There were four properties purchased: one from Julia McMaster on the 23rd of October, 1875 for $175, one from Margaret Riddall on the 24th of February 1880 for $600, and the final two portions from Maitland and Jennie McCarthy on the 5th and 15th of March, 1880 for $380 and $400 respectively. 

Certain requirements had to be met in 1880 for the formation of the proposed County of Dufferin.  Building a Land Registry Office was required as were the Courthouse, Gaol and County offices. The Land Registry Office was built by local builders Robert Hewitt and Hugh Haley. They adapted plans provided by the Ontario Department of Public Works to include three internal brick barrel vault ceilings. The brick walls, ceiling and stone floors made it fireproof; this was an important feature for a building housing valuable County records.

The Registry Office was completed in time for the formation of the new County in January of 1881.  An article from the Orangeville Sun dated August 12, 1880 describes the building process: “The County Buildings for Dufferin, though pushed forward with great energy, will not, we fear, be completed in time to pass inspection and warrant the Lieutenant-Governor to issue the necessary proclamation erecting the new county into a Senior County on the 1st of January, 1881.  The Registry Office is going up rapidly, and Mr. Hewitt assures us, will be completed before autumn as agreed upon. All things considered, it is not quite probable that Dufferin will take its place on the map among the senior counties of Ontario with the opening of the new year”.

Not much has changed in the building over the years.  It is a sturdy building with 2 1/2-feet thick interior walls and barred windows.  It was constructed very solidly, not as a holding cell or jail, but in order to keep land deeds protected.   Many years ago, land was more valuable than money in most instances and if you had the deed to the land, you could register it and thereby own the land. 

An article from the Orangeville Banner, dated May 23, 1912, describes the interior of the building:  “Upon entering the Registry Office, one is immediately struck with the labor saving devices which have been recently introduced.  These comprise six rows of steel fyles, 318 cases in all, all capable of holding 100,000 instruments, free from dust, dampness and vermin for all time.  There are at present 90,000 original documents on fyle, and the utmost care in their preservation is of the most vital importance to the whole community.  These fyles are located in the westerly vault of the Registry office.  At the centre room, or public office, a new steel counter has been placed, with skeleton roller shelves (fifty-six of them) underneath, together with a complete set of pigeon holes, cupboard, etc.  These Rollers will be an immense savings on the wear and tear of the books”.  The article later goes on to conclude: “We have no hesitation in saying that the Registry Office of the County of Dufferin is a model, and is in the very first rank of the best of similar institutions of Ontario”. 

After the Land Registry Office was moved inside the main Dufferin County Courthouse building at 51 Zina Street, the Land Registry Office building has served many other uses for the County over the years.  The Museum and Archives, Building Department, Public Works Department, and the Information Technology Department of Dufferin County have all been based within its walls since.  It now currently houses the Human Resources Department of Dufferin County.

The residents of Dufferin County should be proud of the legacy that “the little building out front” has left us.  The land Registry Office at 53 Zina Street, like its sibling at 51 Zina Street, is also designated under the Ontario Heritage Act.  The Ontario Heritage Act is designed to help preserve the buildings that fostered the character of communities and the people that lived within them.  For more information about Heritage Orangeville or on Heritage Designation of a home, please contact the Town of Orangeville Clerk’s Department at 519-941-0440 Ext. 2256.

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