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The Law of the Land: The Advent of the Torrens System in Canada.

The Law of the Land: The Advent of the Torrens System in Canada. By Greg Taylor. (Toronto, Canada: The University of Toronto Press for the Osgoode Society for Legal History, 2008. Pp. x, 221. $55.00.)

In this book, the author traces the creation and adoption of the Torrens system of land registry from its source in Australia and across mainland Canada from west to east. Greg Torrens, an Irish-born immigrant who held government positions in Australia, had no legal training, yet his simple legal solution to the problem of prior claims on land became the standard for two countries in the British Commonwealth. His system replaced several variants of English Common Law by which an exchange of land deed constituted transfer of title. In place of this tradition, Torrens's law required registration of title with a government office as the proof of legal ownership.

This reform was intended to address several problems that slowed down land sales and settlement and frequently lowered the value of land entirely. In the United States, realty sales require a title search, for which a lawyer is paid. This process establishes that no one else holds a prior claim on the land for sale. In frontier Australia, this process could take years and still overlook a claim or sale for which there was no documentation. The mere holding of a deed of title might be overridden by a third party who also had a legal claim, real or forged, on the land. It therefore became difficult to establish wealth in landholding or to use its value as a measure of the owner's worth. The Torrens reform eliminated this problem and introduced several other rules, among which was the establishment of a government insurance fund to repay those who bought land and then found out they had been bilked.

The Torrens idea leapt from Australia to Vancouver Island in the late 1850s, probably through the English Colonial Office and its appointees. Vancouver introduced the Torrens system to lower the cost of land transfers. The migration of the Torrens land registry system spread from Vancouver across to the Maritime Provinces of Canada between the 1850s and the early twentieth century. A few key political and financial figures are highlighted in a chapter-by-chapter accounting as to how the reform took hold in each province and how well the reform worked in practice. The author points to the size of each province, the population, and the age of the colonial settlement as requiring political adaptations of the original Torrens idea. Yet, he notes, the reform has survived to the present day, and its final acceptance was assured by how well the Torrens rules fit the requirements of the computer age.

Few in the field of legal history would doubt the need for studies of this kind. The English influence moves from east to west and the reforms of old English law migrate homeward from west to east. If the reader can tolerate the double and triple negatives by which oratorical style sends the eye skittering and the dependent clauses that occasionally pile up at the outset of paragraphs, this title search for the origins of Canadian land law will be absorbing and worthwhile.

Sarah H. Gordon

Quinnipiac University

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Author:Gordon, Sarah H.
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 22, 2010
Words:540
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