Early Courts

The Early Courts

The records of the early courts of Upper Canada provide fascinating details on early inhabitants that are not available in any other sources.  The chart below shows the three courts that had jurisdiction at the time, and the types of crimes for which each was responsible.




Capital cases, serious crimes like treason, counterfeiting, etc.

Less serious crimes, like petit larceny, assault, etc.

Least serious crimes, like trespassing

AKA Court of Oyer and Terminer and General Gaol Delivery, Court of King's/Queen's Bench

Renamed Courts of General Sessions of the Peace in 1868

AKA magistrate's court, police court, mayor's court

Presided over by a Judge of King's/Queen's Bench, appointed by the government, who travelled to each district

Presided over by a local judge, appointed by the government, often the Judge of the District {Civil) Court

Presided over by one or two local magistrates, chosen by the government

Provided a trial by jury

Provided a trial by jury

No jury except for mayor's court

Met once per year until 1837, except twice in the Town of York, thence twice per year in each district

Met four times per year in each district until 1868.  Also met at other times in "special" or "adjourned" sessions

Met whenever necessary

Met at the courthouse in the town which was the administrative centre of the district

Met at the courthouse in the town which was the administrative centre of the district, and, in early times, possibly a second location

Convened at magistrate's home, or in a local building

Met into the 1990's

Met into early 1900's

Still in effect

Heir & Devisee Commissions

Heir and Devisee Commissions were set up to determine the ownership of lands in Upper Canada for the purpose of issuing the first (or patent) deeds. The papers of the Commissions contain tickets of location, transfers & any other evidence useful to prove ownership, judge's minute books, etc. These constitute a record of the settlers before the first deed was issued, and before the first entry in the abstract deed books.  The first Commission operated from 1797 to 1804.  The second Commission, set up in 1805, was in existence until close to the end of the 19thcentury.

These publications cover the entire Province of Upper Canada and the series for the First Commissions is now complete.

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