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Manitoba from the Air
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Land Dispute on the Banks of the Assiniboine River, Southwest of Portage la Prairie, Map of Land Divisions, 1875

Figure 19.10, a 1989 photo, shows the city of Portage la Prairie 1, the Trans-Canada Highway bypassing the city to the south 2, and the Southport airfield 3. The Assiniboine River 4 flows from southwest to east across the area. As part of a flood control scheme to protect both Portage la Prairie and Winnipeg, a dam 5 has been built across the river to deflect water into the Portage Floodway 6 at times of high flow. It is noticeable that the river channel is wider behind the dam 7 than it is downstream from it 8. A dispute arose over compensation for land that was flooded as a result of the building of the dam. A dashed line bounds the area concerned.

Figure 19.11 is a map showing land divisions established in 1875 along the Assiniboine River in the area of the land dispute. A farmer bought land in this area in 1961 based on a plan filed in 1875. In the years following the survey, land was accreted by deposition on the inside of the river bend.

Figure 19.12 is an air photo that shows the situation in 1959, before the Portage Dam was built. Meander scrolls 9 are visible south of the river. Over the years the farmer brought land accreted in this area into cultivation. However, in connection with the building of the Portage Floodway, the Province of Manitoba expropriated part of his land because it was expected that it would be flooded by backwater behind the dam.

Figure 19.13 is a 1988 air photo of the area and it can be seen that flooding did indeed occur. Dark-toned areas 10 south of the main river channel are inundated. The land expropriated by the Province included 59 acres of the accreted land, but the farmer was awarded compensation for the land shown on the original title (the shaded area on figure 19.11), that is, excluding the accreted land.[i]

However, the farmer claimed compensation for the accreted land and took his case to the Manitoba Court of Appeal that decided against him. In so doing the court referred to the 1875 plan which had not been changed and observed that the accreted land had not been granted by the Crown (the Province) to anybody and therefore continued to be owned by the Crown (the Province).

He then took his case to the Supreme Court of Canada that decided in his favour, giving two reasons for its decision. First, if it is held that a person does not own land accreted on the inside of a meander bend, that person is in the anomalous position of losing land by erosion on the outside of a bend without being able to claim land added on the inside. Second, in Manitoba, if a river is considered to be navigable (which the Assiniboine is at this point), a landowner owns land to the bank of the river, and the Province owns the riverbed. By virtue of owning land to the riverbank a person has riparian rights to the river. But if accreted land is owned by the Crown, and possibly sold to somebody else, the original owner’s access to the water is blocked by a narrow strip of land owned by somebody else, which is an unreasonable situation.[ii]

The landowner won his case. Whether the compensation he eventually received covered his legal costs is not known.

Figure 19.11

Land Dispute on the Banks of the Assiniboine River, Southwest of Portage la Prairie, Map of Land Divisions, 1875