In Ontario, the use of Crown land and shore lands is regulated under the Public Lands Act. There are some exceptions, including provincial parks and conservation reserves.

By law, you must get a work permit from the ministry for certain activities on Crown land and shore lands before any work can take place. It is an offence to work on Crown land and/or shore lands without a work permit when one is needed.

This applies to any public land managed by the ministry, including:

  • the beds of most lakes and rivers
  • shore lands covered or seasonally inundated by the water of a lake, river, stream or pond

It does not apply to:

  • federal lands and water bodies (e.g., the Trent-Severn and Rideau Canal waterways)
  • private land, unless the work potentially affects Crown land, such as shore lands

Source law

Find a complete set of provincial rules:

When you don't need a work permit

Activities that do not require a work permit but may require online registration:

  • undertake minor road maintenance (defined below) on public land
  • place a registered ice fishing hut on the ice
  • install a water line, service cable or heat loop for private residential use
  • remove a dock or boathousethat does not involve dredging
  • construct or place structures that are in physical contact with 15 square meters or less of the shore lands fronting your property (e.g. docks, single-storey boathouses)

Other activities are exempt, provided you follow the rules as laid out in the ministry’s regulations. If you follow all of the rules you don't need a permit to:

When you need a work permit

Activities that require a work permit:

  • build a new erosion control structure or change the dimensions of an existing erosion control structure
  • the placement of fill on shore lands (infilling lake or river bed , or building an erosion control structure) for any other purpose
  • create a new dredge or expand an existing dredge
  • construct a building or structure, except for building(s) registered for mining purposes
  • construct or place a structure or combination of structures that are in physical contact with more than 15 square meters of shore lands (e.g. docks with large cribs)
  • construct a road, except where constructed under the authority of the Crown Forest Sustainability Act
  • construct a trail, except when constructed under the authority of the Crown Forest Sustainability Act or for mineral exploration purposes
  • construct a water crossing, such as a bridge, culvert or causeway, except when constructed under the authority of the Crown Forest Sustainability Act
  • remove native aquatic vegetation along the shoreline of Georgian Bay, Lake Huron and on the Canadian Shield
  • if you conduct activities subject to exemptions but cannot follow the rules

In addition to a work permit, you may require authorization to occupy Crown land.

How to apply for a work permit

A work permit application is reviewed and, if approved, issued free of charge by the ministry. To apply for a work permit, you can either apply online using the Natural Resources Information Portal or follow these steps:

Step 1

Step 2

Step 3

  • submit the completed application, including Part 1, other applicable parts and the site plan, in writing or by email to your local ministry work centre
  • send it well in advance of your planned project start date
  • ensure content is detailed enough to support the ministry’s review process
  • incomplete applications will be returned

Contact information for your local ministry work centre

Step 4

  • ministry staff will review the application consistent with the ministry’s responsibilities under the Public Lands Act, Environmental Assessment Act and other relevant statutes and regulations
  • ministry staff may visit the site to assess the proposed project

Step 5

  • a work permit may be approved with or without conditions, such as timing restrictions to protect fish spawning or sediment control
  • applicants whose request has been declined can appeal the decision to the ministry

Step 6

  • you may begin work on your project upon receipt of a work permit and in adherence to any permit terms and conditions
  • during the work process or following its completion, the ministry may inspect the site to ensure compliance with the permit’s scope of work

Other approvals

Before you start any work, find out whether additional authorizations are required.

You should consult your local municipality/township to determine if they have Official Plan policies or zoning bylaws in place that might affect, prohibit or control the construction and placement of a structure on Crown land and shore lands. You should also check with other government agencies that may have an interest in your proposal, including:

You may also want to discuss the project with neighbours before starting work.

Additional information about work permits

Minor maintenance activities carried out on a trail, water crossing or road include:

  • water crossing cleaning for the purpose of maintaining the flow of water
  • grading of existing trails or roads
  • clearing of existing ditches
  • gravelling of existing trails or roads
  • clearing or brushing of existing road or trail surface for roads that are:
    • open to the public and over which vehicles can safely travel
    • roads that are passable, but not those roads or trails that have been decommissioned or will be decommissioned in the future
  • snow plowing
  • sanding or dust control
  • repair or replacement of posted signage

Construction activities

Construction of a road involves:

  • the construction of a travel corridor that is reasonably capable of allowing travel by motor vehicles licensed to operate on a King’s Highway as defined in the Highway Traffic Act (e.g. personal or commercial cars and trucks).
  • construction of all season and winter roads normally involves the removal of trees and vegetation, grubbing or the addition of aggregate material to make the corridor passable by the vehicles mentioned above.
  • non-routine maintenance operations, which result in a marked improvement to the condition of an existing road, including:
    • changing the standard of an existing road to a higher one, such as widening of the driving surface, realigning bad corners or flattening a hill
    • replacement or upgrading of a deteriorated water crossing, (i.e. culvert or bridge)

Construction of a trail involves:

  • the construction of a travel corridor that is more minor in nature than a road. Construction of a trail normally involves the removal of trees and vegetation to allow the passage of certain vehicles (e.g. all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiles).
  • upgrades to an existing trail where the trail is being significantly altered (e.g. widening or relocation of trail)

Generally there is no addition of aggregate material. Portions of the trail may be levelled out with machinery.

Construction of water crossing activities that require a work permit

  • With the exception of water crossings approved under a Forest Management Plan under the Crown Forest Sustainability Act, you will require a work permit for the construction, repair and replacement of all water crossings on Crown land if they are part of a trail (including trails for mineral exploration) or a road.
  • Bridges and culverts larger than 3 metres in diameter are also subject to other requirements. For more information on this subject, please contact your local ministry work centre.