Series GR-4123 - Nelson Land Commissioner records

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Nelson Land Commissioner records

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  • textual record

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  • Source of title proper: Title based on contents of series.

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  • 1892-1980 (Creation)
    British Columbia. Government Agent (Nelson)

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90 cm of textual records

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Biographical history

A government agent was first officially stationed at Nelson in 1900. However, there had been a government representative in the Kootenay region since at least 1864. The Nelson Agency was part of the West Kootenay district from 1900 to approximately 1920. There was a government agent in Nelson until at least 2004.

The government agency system of British Columbia has its origins in the two colonial offices of Gold Commissioners and Stipendiary Magistrates. Over time, the title "Gold Commissioner" became restricted to those officials performing the administrative and judicial duties laid out in mining legislation (Gold Commissioners held their judicial responsibilities until they were repealed by the Mineral Act of 1897). The more general title "Government Agent" was increasingly used for those officials with broader responsibilities and was consistently used to describe these multifunctional roles by the 1880s.

The several functions of a Government Agent are legally separate powers and appointments, which were often, but not always, held concurrently by the same individual. After confederation, Government Agents continued to fulfill a multitude of roles. By the turn of the century, a single agent’s duties could include:

Government Agent, Supreme Court Registrar, County Court Registrar, Sheriff, Gold Commissioner, Mining Recorder, Water recorder, Welfare Officer, Vital Statistics Recorder, Meteorological Recorder, Provincial Registrar of Voters, Federal Registrar of Voters, Game Warden, Land Commissioner, Assessor, Collector of Revenue Taxes, Financial Officer, Marriage Commissioner, Local Board of Health Sanitary Inspector, Cattle Brand Recorder, Maintainer of Government Buildings, Coroner, Gaoler, Constable, and Court clerk.

New functions were added as government services were created. For example, during prohibition, agents issued permits to purchase liquor. They also became involved with the administration of the Motor Vehicle Act by registering vehicles and licensing drivers. By 1900 policing functions were formally removed from Government Agents and transferred to police forces, though they continued to work closely with some police constables, particularly in rural areas, until the BC Police force was replaced by the RCMP in 1950.

Into the twentieth century, the staff in government agencies was growing substantially from one person who fulfilled all government functions, to offices with multiple staff supervised by the Agent.

The location of agencies and the headquarters of each agency where an Agent was located changed over time, based on the movement of population. There were often sub-offices or other outposts throughout a district with other government officials, such as Mining Recorders, who reported to the Government Agent at the district's headquarters.

Agents reported directly to the Provincial Secretary in Victoria until 1917 when they were became part of the Department of Finance, as one of their primary roles was tax collection. Starting in 1920 and increasingly after 1945, the role of the Government Agent was reduced and eroded by the growth of other more specialized and centralized branches of government. For example, Agents provided social services and acted as informal Social Workers by dispensing income assistance and child welfare responsibilities until they were replaced by trained Social Workers in the 1930s.

Into the 1950s the Government Agent in some small communities continued to act as Magistrate, Gold Commissioner, Mining Recorder, Maintainer of voters lists, Recorder of vital statistics and many other duties. However, these roles were increasingly done by representatives of different government branches. The role of Government Agent continues to exist in 2022 as an administrator with limited authority in several communities across the province.

Custodial history

The province was divided into several districts or agencies, each led by a Government Agent, who also often held the title of Land Commissioner. The boundaries of these districts changed over time. Records in this series were created by government representatives in the Nelson, Revelstoke and West Kootenay land districts. Ultimately, all of these records ended up in the office of the Nelson Government Agent / Land Commissioner (part of the Ministry of Lands, Parks and Housing) and were transferred to the Archives from there in 1980.

Some of the land in the Revelstoke Land District was part of the “Railway Belt”, a 40 mile wide strip of land used for the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and under control and management of the Dominion (Canadian) government from the 1880s to 1930. However, it appears that these records were all created by representatives of the Provincial government.

Scope and content

This series consists of records related to land use, management and alienation in the Nelson, Revelstoke and Kootenay land districts. The records date from 1892-1980. Records include certificates of purchase and various land registers.

There are two survey systems used in the land registers: the district lot system and the township section system. Registers may also be arranged by plan number. The registers record the alienation of land from the Crown by purchase, pre-emption, lease, mineral claims, timber use, etc. Information may include the name of the purchaser, dates and numbers of certificates issued (including Crown Grants), dates and amounts of payments, and reference numbers to correspondence files and field books.

The series also includes several paper subject files and correspondence files with settlers discussing the pre-emption, lease and purchase of specific parcels of land with Government Agents in Nelson, Kaslo and Revelstoke. Most of these files have "O" file numbers assigned to them.

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Physical condition

Records in container 880057-1448 were removed from their bindings and placed in acid free folders.

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There are no access restrictions.

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Associated materials

GR-2079 - Certificates of improvement
GR-0502 - Revelstoke Government Agent correspondence

Associated materials and resources at other institutions include:

Library and Archives Canada has a database for searching Western Land Grants, including digitized copies of maps and Letters Patent. Letters Patent were issued by the federal government to grant or confirm title to a piece of land. Letters Patent are searchable by legal description, name, or keywords. The database can be accessed here:

BC Crown Grants from the completion of the pre-emption process or purchase from the BC government can be searched through GATOR “Historic Crown Grants” search. The database can be searched by grantee’s name and will provide the lot number for the land (the provincial legal description). If the legal description is known, additional information can be found through the GATOR “Legal Description” search. GATOR can be accessed here:

Related materials


General note

Accession number(s): G83-060, G83-057

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