Ask a CO: are public waterbodies with private access restricted for use?

by Editorial Staff | May 23, 2024
private property sign on water

Q: What factors would cause a lake to be considered private and unavailable for fishing to the general public? For example, can access to a lake that is surrounded by multiple private properties, but is accessible through a tributary either by boat or on the ice, be restricted?

Dave Bradford, Caledon

Natural waterbodies

A: Generally speaking, natural waterbodies in Ontario are not private. If the lake is accessible by a navigable waterway, then it may be accessed for the purpose of fishing. However, if the bed of the lake is private, and entry is prohibited under the Trespass to Property Act or the Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, 2020, you will require permission to disembark or anchor.

The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, 1997 prohibits individuals from fishing or hunting in contravention of the Trespass to Property Act, meaning that generally a person can only fish or hunt on private property with permission from an occupier of that property. The ownership of the bed of waterbodies in Ontario can vary significantly, both across the province and even within different stretches of an individual river or stream.

Complications

Complicating the matter, ownership of the bed of the waterbody may be different from the adjacent (riparian) lands that flank it. If the bed of the waterbody is owned by the Crown, then a person can walk up the watercourse and angle within it regardless of the ownership of the riparian lands. If the bed of the watercourse is privately owned, then a person cannot do this unless they have permission from the occupier.

Landowners or anglers with questions about the ownership of the bed of a specific waterbody are encouraged to contact their local MNRF district office.


Answers by: David Critchlow Provincial Enforcement Specialist, MNRF

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Originally published in the April 2023 issue of Ontario OUT of DOORS

Ask a CO is also a regular feature in the print edition.

Please check the most recent Ontario hunting and fishing regulations summaries, as rules and regulations can change.

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Comments

  1. Dill wrote: So how do you find information on the bed rights? Is there a website you can find information on all the lakes in ontario ?
    • Meghan Sutherland wrote: Dill, it would be dependant on the deed of the property. From: https://www.tslawyers.ca/blog/real-estate/shoreline-law-what-can-and-cant-you-do-on-your-shoreline/#:~:text=B.,and%20only%20to%20the%20water. "A prudent first step for any waterfront property owner is to confirm whether their property comes with associated riparian rights by referencing their property deed, Reference Plan, or Plan of Subdivision to verify their property boundaries." Also: https://www.ontario.ca/page/lakes-and-rivers-improvement-act-administrative-guide#:~:text=Water%20in%20Ontario%20is%20considered,considered%20to%20be%20Crown%20land. "1.4.4 Crown land ownership and requirements under the Public Lands Act The ownership or exclusive right to use water is not vested in the Crown in right of Ontario. Water in Ontario is considered a right in common and cannot be privately owned. As per the Beds of Navigable Waters Act, the beds of most navigable waters in Ontario are considered to be Crown land. Any occupation of or over Crown land, including either permanent or periodic flooding or where potential erosion of Crown land could occur, requires occupational authority under the Public Lands Act (PLA) (i.e. a Crown lease where a dam will occupy Crown land). In addition to occupational authority, a work permit may also be required under the PLA for activities such as dredging or filling on Crown land." If you have a specific question with a specific waterbody bed in mind, best to refer to that area's municipal office.