Studying Metes and Bounds with Laptop at Desk

Metes and Bounds

Like it or not, metes and bounds descriptions lie at the heart of Ontario legal descriptions. As a British colony, we inherited a bunch of weird terms from Jolly Olde England; e.g., fee simple, fee tail, freehold, and metes and bounds. (Fortunately, it didn’t extend to driving on the left side of the road). Technically, all this started in medieval England with the development of common law, but let’s leave that for another time. Here’s a metes and bounds quick review.

Metes: In medieval English, it meant ‘measurement’. 

Bounds: Just think in terms of ‘boundaries’ (the bounds of the property).

In combination, ‘metes and bounds’ has come to mean the boundaries or limits of a particular parcel of land set out in terms of terminal points and angles. More precisely, it describes the land by setting out compass directions and distances. The key things to remember are:

  1. there must be a point of commencement;
  2. the description must enclose the property with no gaps,
  3. compass bearings (degrees, minutes and seconds) must be used based on true north; and
  4. the bearings must always be referred to on a survey based on their northerly orientation.

Item (4) messes up some students. While the bearings on a survey will always show northerly orientation (statutory law requires it), the actual description (the words) include both northerly and southerly directions. Think of the description in the physical sense of walking around the property. For example, if the property is square, I might start at the south east corner, then walk north east to a point, then turn 90 degrees north west to a point, then 90 degrees south west to a point and finally 90 degrees south east back to where I started. Try it on a blank piece of paper and you’ll get the point.