Dock Permits issue & Municipal authority over boathouses

Sept.20, 2022 – Ban on new Jack Lake on-land boathouses moves forward (Peterborough Examiner) – consultant’s report recommends coming in-line with neighbouring Township of North Kawartha ban.

Aug. 16, 2022 – Tay Township, Ont. considering zoning bylaw for docks (Cottage Life) – looking at something similar to the Township of Georgian Bay, which does have bylaws around dock size.

April 21, 2022 – the Township of Havelock-Belmont-Methuen is holding a virtual and in-person public meeting to consider a proposed Official Plan Amendment and Zoning By-law Amendment to prohibit the development of boathouses on Jack(‘s) Lake. Pre-registration to attend is required. Get details here.

July 2020 – FOCA is quoted in this article from Cottage Life about docks and Bill 132.

November 7, 2019 – the provincial government’s Better for People, Smarter for Business Act, 2019 (Bill 132) passed second reading, and was referred to the Standing Committee on General Government. A backgrounder is also available. Amongst many other things, the Act proposes to amend the Public Lands Act, allowing docks or single-storey boathouses located on Crown land without the need for a permit or annual rent. Bill 132 also modifies aspects of the Aggregate Resources Act which FOCA has addressed in our ARA comments (see above). Public comment can be submitted through the Environmental Registry until November 27th, 2019.

June 1, 2017 – MNRF have posted new regulations (Public Lands Act, Ontario Regulation 161/17)  related to the following classes of buildings, structures or things, and have included them as a “free use” of public lands that do not require a permit or occupancy requirement.  Some clarification on regulated structures was also provided, for example, a “dock” includes any associated shade structures affixed to the dock such as a gazebo or pergola.

  • docks, boat lifts, boat ramps, and marine railways
  • swim rafts
  • single-storey boathouses
  • break walls and related backfill
  • recreational boat caches which includes canoes, kayaks and motor boats
  • ramps and jumps and slalom courses
  • bridges, culverts and causeways
  • recreational camping units (21 days)
  • ice fishing huts

Please note that some of these are subject to municipal zoning or building bylaw, and/or federal regulation. Provincial work permits may still apply for the construction or installation of the above.

(For instance:  permits are required to place a structure that physically touch more than 15 square metres of shore lands (lake bottom). As such, floating and cantilever docks, boathouses with cribs less than 15 square meters and swim rafts do not require work permits)

Please see the EBR Decision 013-0211 for further details and links to related information and other changes.

Note: FOCA’s suggestion that the MNRF retain authority to regulate docks or single storey boathouses above a certain size threshold were NOT included in this regulation. MNRF indicates this is the sole and exclusive purview of local standards, established through municipal bylaws.

For reference purposes, review this 2016 report from Havelock-Belmont-Methuen Township that compared information about various municipal bylaws regarding docks, boathouses and other in-water structures. Download the Report (PDF, 33 pages)

May 17, 2017 – After months of phone calls, emails and meetings, including a March MNRF meeting with representatives from FOCA and the Georgian Bay Association (GBA), a resolution to the permitting issue may be at hand, as MNRF seeks to reinstitute many common sense elements of their “Free Use” approach to routine docks and single-storey boathouses. While acknowledging the important role of municipal government to determine local standards, MNRF are attempting to revert to a more “hands-off” approach to smaller waterfront issues. Please note that revisions to the Public Lands Act are not yet in effect – the permitting requirement (as of this date) remains in place.

See FOCA’s input to the O.Reg. 239/13 Public Lands Act: FOCA Comments on 2017 Public Lands Act Regulations

UPDATE  April 3, 2017 – MNRF have posted proposed new regulations under the Public Lands Act to enable certain occupations of public land without the need for permits, leases etc. This includes docks, boat lifts, boat ramps, and (single-storey) boathouses, swim rafts, and other structures/things.

EBR posting # 013-0211 has been posted for a 45 day public review and comment period that ends May 18, 2017.

March 2017 – Bill 27 was passed in the Ontario Legislature on March 22. However, the regulations under the Act related to requirements for permits (e.g. for docks) are still being written and reviewed by MNRF, after which time they will be subject to a public comment period.

PLEASE NOTE: at March 2017, the requirements to obtain permits from MNRF for on-water works remains, until further notice. [LINK]  

October 2016 – Changes in the works to eliminate “dock permits”? FOCA is pleased that the MNRF are finally making the legislative changes to eliminate the overregulation of docks in Ontario:

Schedule 14 of Provincial Bill 27, “Burden Reduction Act, 2016”  includes provisions to amend 4 statutes administered by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF). If passed, the proposed changes include revisions to the Public Lands Act (PLA) which would:

Allow individuals to occupy public lands with certain types of buildings, structures or things prescribed by regulation, without the need for a permit or other instrument under the PLA. These individuals would be subject to the limitations and requirements specified in the proposed Bill and any future regulations made under the PLA. The intention of these proposed PLA amendments is to address specific, low-risk occupations of public lands (e.g., docks and other small waterfront structures).”

These changes are also described in an information notice posted to the Environmental Bill of Rights, under EBR Registry Number 012-7645

The Bill was reintroduced in the Fall 2016 session of the Ontario Legislature.

June 27, 2016 – Introductory letter from FOCA to new Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, Kathryn McGarry, and an appeal to the new Minister to take action on the outstanding dock and water management files.

May 2016 – Based on this May 9th update to MPP’s from the Minister of Natural Resources & Forestry (PDF, 1 page), new dock permitting requirements will remain in place for all of the 2016 season, if not longer. See background on this issue, below.

MegaphoneConcerns or comments about this new approach to permitting should be sent directly to:

Minister Kathryn McGarry
Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry
Suite 6630, 6th Floor, Whitney Block
99 Wellesley Street West
Toronto, Ontario M7A 1W3
Tel:  416-314-2301

Please copy FOCA on your letters: Here are some recent examples:

  • See this email (PDF, 1 pg) to the Minister (copied to FOCA) by Cecebe Waterways Association.
  • See this letter (PDF, 2 pages) sent to the Minister by the Kennisis Lake Cottage Owners Association. 
  • See also this letter  from the Percy Lake Ratepayers’ Assoc.

April 25, 2016 – Following up on our increasing concerns about MNRF’s new approach to managing / approving DOCKS and BOATHOUSES, FOCA has requested a meeting with Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, Bill Mauro, to undertake the policy changes to clarify the Province’s approach to this essential waterfront infrastructure.

BUTTON asterixRead FOCA’s April 2016 letter to the Minister (PDF, 2 pages)

April 4, 2016- Dock building and repair just got bogged down in red tape  (Huntsville Doppler)

From the February 24, 2016 FOCA Elert:

Property owners should take note that– according to multiple MNRF sources, including –the current rules require authorization under the Public Lands Act to construct or place a dock or boathouse that occupies (i.e., that is on or above) more than 15 square meters of shore lands. The area of shore lands occupied by a dock or boathouse will typically be calculated based on the perimeter of the structure.

Individuals who wish to construct or place docks or boathouses that occupy more than 15 square meters of shore land should contact their local MNRF District Office to initiate the formal application process. Local District office contacts can be found here:

See also, the required application form.

HOW BIG IS 15 SQ. M.? (PDF, 1 pg)

August 2015 – Crown Lands Policy branch has informed FOCA that the Superior Court ruling (see below) will be eliciting a response and possible policy changes at MNRF – some interim, and then eventually more permanent, to address the shortcomings/inconsistencies related to MNRF’s requirements to issue permits for in-water works. (The judge ruled that pursuant to the Regulations under the Public Lands Act, a permit is required for anyone building a dock or boathouse over Crown lands (aka lakes) larger than 15 square metres). FOCA is awaiting further details and will be providing updates as they become available.

June 18, 2015 – Municipal jurisdiction, and ability to pass by-laws related to on-water structures (e.g. boathouses) was the subject of a lawsuit and subsequent decision rendered by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice on this date.

At issue was the position taken by two eastern Ontario municipalities (North Kawartha, and Havelock-Belmont-Methuen) that their planning authority, bylaws and permitting rights and obligations did NOT extend to matters of “in-water” development.

Among other important aspects of this decision was Justice J. Perell’s statement that “I cannot reasonably interpret the bylaws that would allow the municipality to abdicate its governance responsibilities over zoning or the Building Code Act...”

The decision states that:The Township of North Kawartha is, therefore, mistaken in thinking that simply because Crown Lands are involved it cannot enact or enforce its by-laws over the Crown Lands,” citing numerous other instances and municipalities where this authority has been used, and upheld.

You can read the full decision here. (pdf, 24 pages,  1.6MB)

Terry ReesDock Permits issue & Municipal authority over boathouses