In the early 1840s, after the Canada Company had Blanshard Township surveyed and divided into lots for settlement, there was a rush of buyers for land in this fertile part of southwestern Ontario. A provincial registry office was established for Perth County in 1853 with an established and reliable system to record the numerous transactions relating to each rural and urban property, such as buying and selling, inheritance, mortgages, liens and rights of way. From 1873 to 1935, the responsibility was divided between two registry offices: North Perth and South Perth. The South Perth office was located in St. Marys in a building constructed for this purpose in 1877 at the northeast corner of Queen and Robinson Streets. It still stands today although the interior has been modified to serve different uses in its long history.
Today, Ontario’s land records are electronic; lawyers or their agents record each new transaction online. In the early years, lawyers took the documentation to the registry office or sent it by mail. Then the registrar or his clerk wrote each transaction into a large abstract book that had a separate page for each property and filed the deeds, wills or mortgage agreements appropriately. These old abstract books, now available on microfilm, are an invaluable source of information for many historic research projects.
The South Perth Registry Office was constructed following plans provided by the provincial Department of Public Works. The sketch from the Archives of Ontario in this week’s column is a prototype for county registry offices developed by provincial architect Kivas Tully in 1868. Since its purpose was to store essential records, the building was as sturdy and fireproof as possible. It had exterior brick walls tapering from 50 to 30 inches in thickness. No wood was used to finish the interior. The floors were flagstone and the partitions made of bricks and mortar. The inside space consisted of three vault-like arched rooms, separated by fireproof doors. Heating fixtures were limited to a small stove in the office section, again reducing fire risk although causing some problems with dampness for documents stored in the other areas.
The first Registrar for South Perth was Patrick Whelihan, appointed in 1873. He served in this capacity until he died in 1903. A native of Tipperary, he was one of the most interesting of this community’s early settlers and will get a column of his own next week.