When researching your Manitoba ancestors, you will often find references to a rural municipality (RM) which is often accompanied by a series of numbers known as section-township-range. Add into the mix the fact that by 2015 almost all municipalities with a population less than 1,000 amalgamated with other municipalities, and the task for the genealogist gets even more interesting. Knowing the section-township-range of a homestead does not mean you need to know the Rural Municipality to find it on a map, but knowing the Rural Municipality will help you use the Census Records for that section-township-range. Having a clear record of the RM (past and present), as well as the section-township-range will make further searches for family history easier for you.
The Archives of Manitoba hold many records, but for our purposes here the homestead records, tax assessment records, and other land records are a great place to start to help you find the homestead of your ancestors.
Rural Municipalities in Manitoba
In 1997, the Government of Manitoba established a minimum population threshold of 1,000 in order to incorporate a municipality. The 2011 census showed 93 of the 197 municipalities in Manitoba had a population of less than 1,000. In 2013, the Government of Manitoba mandated that municipalities would have to amalgamate in order to meet the minimum population threshold, and by 2015, with some exceptions and some new municipalities established, the process was completed.
In the 1800’s, the Dominion Land Survey developed a land map by which land plots could be identified. The Prime Meridian was at the core of this system and the first or principal meridian was established at 97E 27′ 28.4″ west longitude which is approximately twelve miles west of Winnipeg, near Headingley, Manitoba. All measurements are measured W1 (west of the prime meridian), or E1 (east of the prime meridian).
NW 26-14-15 W1
North West Quarter, Section 26, Township 14, Range 15, West of the First Meridian.
A range is established every six miles in both directions of the Prime Meridian. The first 6 miles is Range 1, the second 6 miles is Range 2, etc.
These ranges had 6 miles of land north of the US/Canada border added to them to create 6 mile x 6 mile blocks. These blocks were called Townships. Townships are numbered by each 6 mile block north of the Canada/US border. Township 1 would be the first 6 miles from the border, Township 2 would be the second 6 mile block from the border, etc.
Each Township was divided into 36 1-square mile plots of land called Sections. Each section was divided into 4 quarters: the Northwest (NW), Northeast (NE), Southeast (SE), and Southwest (SW) quarter. These two letters are the first piece of information in a section-township-range designation.
Almost all Manitoba homesteaders purchased land in quarter section blocks, and over time many added additional quarter sections to their holdings. When doing your research, looking forward for additional land purchases may bring you results.