A guide to buying and building on Crown land in Ontario

Panoramic view of a sparkling blue lake and green trees, all a part of Ontario Crown land. Photo by Jason Empey/

Location is everything for cottagers, and choosing the spot for your home away from home is a big deal. But, no need to fret–-we have a solution for you. Have you tried exploring public land? Eighty-seven per cent of the province is Crown land, managed by the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry. While there can be a lengthy process in place, it may be worth taking a peek into what Ontario has to offer. Cottagers can find Crown land location, policies, and amendments through the Crown Land Use Policy Atlas. This map represents more than 39 million hectares of land and water. 

So, you are interested in buying Crown land. Here’s everything you need to know. 

According to the ministry, it “will consider selling public land for residential and cottage development within municipal boundaries. Land is sold to the municipality or a developer working closely with the municipality.” Interested individuals would then purchase the Crown land from the municipality. 

But, wait! What’s the catch?

There may be conditions, restrictions, and prioritizations. Requests to buy Crown land are decided on a case-to-case basis. Crown land is sold at market value. Before selling, the ministry considers everything from economic advancement and environmental impact, to Indigenous consultation. Applications are subject to legislation, provincial policies, and planning direction. For those with specific questions, contact your local district office.

What is the process for buying Crown land?

A guide to cottage lot development on Crown land highlights the steps a municipality takes. It leads public consultations, often speaking with Indigenous communities, sustainable forest licensees, the public, various entities (trappers, baitfish harvesters, resources-based tourism operators, bear management area operators, etc.), government ministries, and other municipalities. An environmental assessment will follow, leading to a disposition review period, where the application will be approved or denied. 

After the municipality has acquired the land, individuals may purchase it directly from the municipality. 

What can I do with my property once I get Crown land?

You will need a Crown land-specific work permit. You’ll need one if you want to work on an erosion control structure, determine the placement of fill on shore lands, create or expand a dredge, construct a building, road, trail, or watercross, and remove native aquatic vegetation in certain areas.

There are some activities where you are not required to have a work permit. Such activities include minor road maintenance, placing a registered ice hut on ice, installing a waterline, servicing cable or heat loop for residential use, removing a dock or boat house, and constructing or placing structures that are in contact with 15 square meters or less of the shore lands.

See Crown land work permits for more information.

Let’s get to the nitty-gritty. What other regulations will I need to follow?

If a municipality chooses to sell Crown land for private use, then you’ll of course have to comply with local planning regulations, the Ontario Building Code, and potential provincial and municipal inspections.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a guaranteed timeline for these compliance measures. It’s best to speak with your local district office or municipality to better understand the process.

When you’re ready to build that cottage, don’t forget to check out Cottage Life’s Project Plans for everything from simple weekend DIYs to more detailed builds. 


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