British Colonial Town Planning in Canada After Charlottetown

Before Wright’s final plan of Charlottetown was approved and his grid plan with green areas began to be carved out of the wilderness set aside by Holland, there was no set of official regulations as to how things should be done, and which facilities and features should be identified as necessary for every town. The grid plan, now of considerable antiquity, first introduced in the New World by Philip II of Spain in the 1570s, was familiar to those planning future towns in the British Colonies, and may have been a source of inspiration. In 1768 Charles Morris used a grid plan with a central square reserved for the most important buildings in the colonial town, as well as providing a place for general assembly. Where did he get his idea for a regular grid with a large central square? When Thomas Wright, with or without the direct input of Governor Walter Patterson, laid out his second plan for Charlottetown in 1771, he modified the Morris plan, and inserted four green areas for the use of the people. All this was achieved without a set of British instructions of what was desired and vital to produce a plan for a new colonial town. Wright used the experiences gained in his travels, that had obviously excited him, to modify the Morris plan into its democratic vision.


The American Revolutionary War (1775-1783) brough colonisation in British North America above the Thirteen Colonies almost to a halt. Things did not go well for the British in this war and by 1778 they thought it best to move their attacks to the south, where they believed a slave population and colonists of French and Spanish origins would be sure to rebel. The first attack was the city of Savannah, Georgia, then South Carolina, and Virginia. There were small victories, but Loyalists did not materialise to support the weakened British forces which by 1781 surrendered for a second time to General Washington and the French navy. It was only by the Treaty of Paris in 1783 that things began to settle down and plans for new colonies in the Maritimes, Quebec and Ontario could be made.


Charles Morris (1711-1781)

Morris was a career army officer who served in senior administrative posts, including Chief-Justice and Surveyor-General for 32 years. Aside from these demanding city responsibilities he spent a great part of his life surveying, in grid plan format, all the new Loyalist and other settlements that followed the end of the American Revolution.

He was born in Boston and bore the mentality of such a person from the American Colonies. He fought in the Battle of Grand Pre and in the time following that adventure began to help with the formulation of the plans that led to the Acadian genocide. He did not seem to be actively involved in this event.

Morris was important as a surveyor of grid plan settlements in those years before official decrees from Upper Canada defined precisely how spots for settlements should be chosen and what the ideal plans for colonies bordering on water, or in an inland location, should be laid out. Looking at the plans Morris produced after the American Revolution, one is very desirous to assemble them all – which sadly is outside the scope of this blog post – and study them for signs of ultimate inspiration and suitability for the topography for which they were produced. But we will examine several of them, and perhaps others will be inspired to produce a catalogue of all the township maps Morris produced. In quick succession, starting in 1784, Charles Morris laid out the town of Belle Vieu in Passamaquoddy Bay. As you look at this series, keep in mind the 1768 Morris map of Charlottetown.


Charles Morris, PLAN of the TOWN of BELLE VIEU [present-day Beaver Harbour in New Brunswick] situated on the East side Beaver Harbour in the District of Passamaquoddy. Projected and laid out under the Orders and Diiections [sic]. of His Excellency Governor Parr for ye Loyalists By Charles Morris Survr. Genl. 1784. scale 20 chains to one Inch, laid out into Farm Lots. King George III Collection, British Library.

It is not a very inspiring plan, with a central core and surrounding plans for expansion set aside with no central square or any centre of focus.


In the same year of 1784 Morris laid out the town of Shelbourne with a most attractive central square opening wide to the water. It is a most attractive plan because of the wide and welcoming access to the centre of town.

[1784-5] PLAN/ of/ The TOWN of SHELBOURNE Projected and Laid out by Order of His Excel’y JOHN PARR Esq. Capt’n Gener’l Governor & Commander in Chief/ of NOVA SCOTIA. CARTOGRAPHER C Morris. British Library Collection, held by the British Archives.

The map is, unusually, oriented with North on the left. Along the harbour front are the “plats” or waterfront areas coloured red and divided to provide space for merchants and other tradesmen. The city blocks have all been grouped from top to bottom as divisions called Parr, the North Division, South Division, St. John Division and Patterson’s Division. At the lower right is an inset map showing Shelbourne in its wider geographical context, set on the south edge of a considerable harbour.

It is interesting to compare what remains of this grid plan today in this Google satellite photo of the town.

Although much of the original grid plan survives, the great central square with its wide avenue to the sea has been built over. That is very sad.


Again, in the same year of 1784, Morris produced an interesting plan for the town of Saint Andrews, that had an innovative layout of squares for government, and perhaps public use.

Charles Morris, A PLAN of the TOWN of St ANDREWS/ Situated at the Head of Passamaquoddy Bay – laid out for the Accomodation/ of Loyal Emigrants & disbanded Corps. Done under/ the Orders and directions of His Excellency Governor Parr by Charles Morris Surv’r Gen’l. British Library Collection.

The town is laid out thoughtfully in a grid system, with sections of the town in the form of city blocks controlled by Buckeley, Parr and Morris. There are three public squares called “Reserves” which implies that they are not for the people but for the administration. All the same they provide most pleasant articulation of the horizontal shape of the town with the east and west squares placed on the length and the southern one, which also spills into a gracious wharf concourse placed parallel to the water.

The grid system has survived to this day, with notable exception in the disappearance of the Public Reserves. In this Google map one can see that some of the central waterfront area is still open, but the grand square is filled up.



And incredibly Morris found the time to lay out the town of Saint George on the north side of the Bay of Fundy. It is a very simple, basic grid.

A PLAN OF THE TOWN OF ST. GEORGE/ Situated in Harbor Etang on the North side the Bay/ of Fundy, projected and laid out under the Orders and/ directions of His Excellency John Parr Esquire – /By Charles Morris Sur’y Gen’l. 1785. British Library Collection.

This small manuscript map of the town of Saint George shows the land available to the United Empire Loyalists. A note in ink at lower right, outside the map border or neatline, reads “Transmitted by Governor Parr with His Letter No. 23 of 24 June 1785”. A note within the title cartouche reads “N.N. the Town Lotts are 80 by 160 feet, all the Streets (except St George’s which is 80 feet Wide) are 60 feet Wide”. At the lower edge of the map, and accompanied by a compass rose, the scale of 4 Chans [chains] to an Inch is indicated in a note at the lower edge of the map. The scale is accompanied by a decorative compass point orienting north on the page.


These maps summarise the direction in which British Colonial town planning was heading in the years after the American Revolution. The plans produced by Morris show a sensitivity to their location, the broadness of their streets and the by now very necessary central square. It would be very desirable to prepare a catalogue of all the grid plan town maps produced by Morris in his years as Surveyor General in order to show the evolution of his thought in setting out towns and also his sensitivity and expertise in choosing exact locations for these settlements. Alas, the scope of this blog post does not permit that. Still, it would be deeply interesting to see the evolution of Morris as a cartographer from his early map of Charlottetown in 1768 to these late, post-Revolutionary maps on the eve of grander schemes being planned for the future in Upper Canada.

It was all very well for Morris to churn out little town plans in Nova Scotia, but the centre of interest was moving to Upper Canada where, inexorably, the centre of authority in the administration of the British Colonies in North America would become established.


The Birth of Toronto.

At the end of the American Revolution vast numbers of Loyalists and other disaffected settlers found Upper Canada a most attractive place to establish new homes. There was good land for farming in quite picturesque countryside, and there were so many waterways that the advantages of instant travel must have been most appealing. In 1788 things got moving as a series of plans for Toronto were drawn up by various persons, but apparently from the same matrix.


Copied after a plan by John Collins ( – 1795), Plan of the Harbour of Toronto/ with the proposed Town and/ Settlement, 1788. Baldwin Collection of Canadiana, Toronto Public Library. MAPS-R-4.

Situated on the edge of Lake Ontario the larger plan has the usual assemblage of town plan, surrounded by a Common, and going off a great distance, surveyed and projected lots for the future development of the city in the Royalty. The inscription indicates that the four corner units of the town labelled A in red are “Reserved Lots for public purposes,” and near the water, “As appearing proper to be occupied for the defence of the entrance of the Harbour.” The roads are to be one chain wide.


In another of these plans produced at the same time in 1788 is seen in this fine reproduction of the Gother Mann map in LAC which shows only the bottom part of the larger concept, with focus on the grid plan city and the articulation of the harbour.

Gother Mann Captain of Command, Royal Engineers, Plan of Torento [sic] Harbour/ with the proposed Town and/ part of the Settlement. Signed 6th Dec. 1788, Scale: One mile to two inches. Image courtesy Library and Archives Canada: NMC4434/5.

Unfortunately LAC does not do a very good job of presenting high resolution scans of the treasures in the national collection and so we are unable to decipher the very vital details of the city grid that is the heart of the larger plan. To rectify this the diagram of the grid found on page 246 of Wood was copied and append a legend that labels the various parts as planned.

What astonishes one is that the town grid, has five green squares distributed evenly, much like in Charlottetown, with a sixth open market square facing the waterfront. It would appear that the designers of Toronto were impressed by the arrangement of Charlottetown, now 17 years old, and decided to emulate it. Of course, these same cartographers may have had access to the various plans, such as those of Philadelphia or Savannah, by which Thomas Wright had been inspired.


The End of Local Creativity in Settlement Cartography

We have now come to the end of that era in British Colonial American cartography that relied on the skill, knowledge and initiative of the various mapmakers who rushed to produce grid plan towns for the great influx of immigrants from the United States. David J. Wood, in 1982, wrote a very seminal article that was published in The Canadian Geographer and called “Grand Designs on the Fringes of Empire: New Towns for British North America,” At that time, for those of us passionate about the origins of the Charlottetown plan it became an object of contemplation and a direction to further research through the listings in the fine bibliography. I consider it so important that I insert here a pdf of my own photocopy of the article, made in the 1980s, for your perusal. The quality is not great, but I cannot afford the prices asked for a fresh pdf of this by the various suppliers of scholarly articles.

Wood – Grand Designs on Fringes of Empire


1789 – Finally, Lord Dorchester produces a guidebook for new settlements.,_1st_Baron_Dorchester

Sir Guy Carleton (1724-1808) was an Anglo-Irish soldier and administrator. He was known as Sir Guy from 1776-1786 but because of his extraordinary performance during the American Revolution he was elevated to the peerage in 1786 as the First Baron Dorchester. He had a complicated career in administration, serving twice as Governor of the Province of Quebec from 1768-1778, but concurrently served as Governor General of British North America during those years, and again, after the Peace of Paris from 1785-1795.

During the Revolution he commanded British troops, defending Quebec when the rebels invaded in 1775, moving on to drive the rebels from the province. In 1782-83 he was commander-in-chief of all British troops in North America. He was conscious of the plight of slaves and freed those who followed the British during the Revolution. 3000 Black Loyalists were given land in Nova Scotia.

Carleton returned to England, wishing to get away from the troubles in America but in 1786 was appointed Governor-in-Chief of Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Saint John’s Island. There were many difficulties regarding acceptance of his position except in Quebec. By 1791 Quebec was split into two provinces, Ontario becoming Upper Canada and Quebec Lower Canada. These terms are still used by many people even today.


Anon, Guy Carleton, Lord Dorchester, oil on canvas, 18th Century, National Archives of Canada.


It was at this very moment that colonial authorities, under the direction of Lord Dorchester, decided that it was necessary to have a handbook to guide all future town planning so that the result was favourably recognised by the colonial administrators as having all the parts necessary for such a town in the wilderness.

An edition of Additional rules and regulations for the conduct of the Land-Office Department was written in 1789 by J. Williams, and this edition was published by Samuel Neilson on Mountain Street in Quebec. This is part VII of a longer document, which, because of its importance, I add below as a pdf file.

1789 Williams published by Neilson

Additional rules and regulations for the conduct of the Land-Office Department

Ajouté de réglemens pour la conduite de l’office du Départment des terres

By J. Williams

VII. As often as the complete execution of the directions, contained in the third Article of these Regulations, fhall be prevented by reafon of the neceffary fpace for that purpose being already under promises of Grants to individuals, who may be unwilling to relinquifh their claims to the same, the Boards are to observe the following order in providing fpaces for the general convenience of the Township, viz.

One or more place or places for the public worship of God.
A common burying ground.
One Parfonage houfe.
A – common School house.
A – Town park for one Minister.
A –  for one Schoolmaster, common to the Town.
A –  Glebe for one Minister.
A – Glebe for one Schoolmaster, common to the town.
The Court or Town house.
The Prison.
The Poor or Work House.
A Market place.


This set of instructions – all very detailed – was illustrated by two model plans, inspired by Toronto, of a Township on a River or a Lake, and a plan, ten miles square, of a Township for an Inland Situation.

Ts. Chamberlain, Plan of a Town and Township of Nine Miles Front by Twelve Miles in depth proposed to be situated on a Rover or Lake” Agreeable to the Tenth Article of the Rules and Regulations for the Conduct of the Land office Department of 17th Feb’r 1789. By order of His Excellency The Right Honourable Lord Dorchester. Ts. Chamberlain. Coloured manuscript, 43.0 x 29.7 cm. Library and Archives Canada, Geographic and Architectural Archives, Division (NMC 273).


The Second Model Plan, adapted for use in an inland settlement, had necessary changes to accommodate existing and future road systems. It was obviously much more difficult to insert this in the wilderness than in a situation next to water and easy transportation.


Ts. Chamberlain [?], Plan of a Town and Township of Ten Miles Square proposed for an Inland Situation Agreeable to the Tenth Article of the Rules and Regulations for the Conduct of the Land Office Department of the 17th Feby 1789. By Order of His Excellency Lord Dorchester. Coloured manuscript, dimensions approximately 43 x 30 cm, unsigned. Library and Archives Canada, Geographic and Architectural Archives, Division (NMC 273).

I have been unable to find high resolution details of the key to the various designations in the city grid and so refer you to the one (above) that I have borrowed from Wood’s article.


Covering Every Contingency

Other grid plan drawings were produced at this time perhaps as possible alternatives required by special situations. In Section X of the Additional Rules and Regulations there is a reluctant admission that the Surveyor General may for one reason, or another, depart from the official plans.

  1. Nothing contained in the foregoing Rules and Regulations, shall be construed to prevent the Surveyor General or Deputy Surveyor General from the execution of their duty and instructions, in whatever part of the Province either of them may be present; nor to extend to the abolition, relaxation, or restriction, of the accustomed chain of duty or Official intercourse between the Surveyor General’s Office and it s Agents or Deputy Surveyors respectively, in any part of the Province.

These are the alternative plans suggested, for one 9 x 12 miles area of land with no community requirements necessary in the grid, and a second, a plan for 9 townships, rather in the manner of the expansion plans for Savannah as the alternative. I have joined them together in  a single graphic.


On the left: The chequered plan for a township of nine miles in front by 12 miles in depth supposed to the situated on a river or lake laid out into farm lots of almost 200 acres each agreable to the 10th Article of the Rules & Regulations for the conduct of the Land Office Department of the 17th February 1789 so far as it relates to farm lots shewing in what manner two sevenths of the land may be rese 17 Feb 1789.


On the right: Plan of nine townships agreeable to the tenth article of the rules and regulations for the conduct of the Land office Department of Febyr. 1789 showing the reservation for the Crown A by order of his excellency the Right Honorable Guy Lord Dorchester cartographic material 1789. Library and Archives Canada.


The End of the Voyage

In this essay I have tried to clarify the use and development of the grid plan in the colonial ventures of Britain following the conquest of New France, the period that followed, and the intensification of the need for official control in setting out new colonies and towns. There was a progression towards a very complex and formal grid that reached a point bordering on absurdity in the city plan for Toronto. It was all a paper dream and so far from the real needs of colonists and administrators that it was bound to be forced into something much simpler.

Lord Dorchester’s Additional Rules from 1789 did absolutely nothing to simplify the Toronto grid. This whole approach to colonisation was doomed to failure because of its complexity and needless intricacy. Year after year, as new towns were laid out, the specific instructions were modified or ignored and the new towns of the Nineteenth Century, although still based on the grid – historically the best plan of all – were simpler. The Spaniards, following the rules set out by King Philip II as early as the 1590s – when Baroque Rome was being laid out! – used an almost identical grid system in their American colonies, but there was clearly expressed room for flexibility. How strange that the British cartographers who advised Lord Dorchester, and who must have been familiar with the Spanish practice, chose not to adapt its flexibility and simplicity.

And so Charlottetown says goodbye to these often tortuous routes to civic form and identity, secure in the knowledge that it is unique – with its democratic public spaces – in all of Canada.

Aerial photograph from Google Maps



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BDA Landscape Architects, Charlottetown Heritage Squares – Conceptual Master Plans and Design Guidelines, Riverview, New Brunswick, 2012.

Boerefijn, W.N.A (Wim), The foundation, planning and building of new towns in the 13th and 14th centuries in Europe. An architectural-historical research into urban form and its creation. PhD. thesis Universiteit van Amsterdam, 2010.

Dubourg, Jacques, Histoire des Bastides – Les Villes Neuves du Moyen Age, Editions Sud Ouest, Imprimé par Polina à Luçon (85), 2002.

Giedion, Sigfried, Space, Time and Architecture – the Growth of a New Tradition, Harvard University Press, Fourth Edition, 1961, paperback 2008.

Greaves, Sofia, and Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, Editors, Rome and the Colonial City: Rethinking the Grid, Oxbow Books, Oxford, 2022.

Kornwolf, James D and Georgiana Wallis Kornwolf, Architecture and Town Planning in Colonial North America, 3 vols., Johns Hopkins Univ Press, First Edition, 2002 (I have only seen snippets from this on Google Books.)

Lockerby, Earle, and Douglas Sobey, Samuel Holland: His Work and Legacy on Prince Edward Island, Published by Island Studies Press, University of Prince Edward Island, and Holland College. Charlottetown 2015.

Montgomery, Sir Robert, A discourse concerning the design’d establishment of a new colony to the south of Carolina, in the most delightful country of the universe, 1717, Leopold Classic Library (reissue), 2015.

Morris, A. E. J., History of Urban Form before the Industrial Revolution, Third Edition, Prentice Hall, London, 1994.

Mountgomery, Sir Robert, A Discourse Concerning the design’d Establishment of a New Colony to the South of Carolina in the Most delightful Country of the Universe, privately printed, London, 1717, reprint

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Smith, Thomas Gordon, Vitruvius on Architecture, The Monacelli Press, New York, 2003.

Vitruvius, the Thayer translation:*.html

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