In British Columbia, the foreshore is defined as the land that exists between the low and high watermarks of a stream, river, lake, or ocean. 9 Foreshore tenure is a legal instrument that authorizes the use of intertidal and subtidal areas. Foreshore tenure can work in conjunction with zoning to provide a more comprehensive approach to shoreline management1 that includes beach nourishment, dune or wetland creation, and/or rehabilitation. Foreshore tenures are generally authorized by the provincial government with some exceptions to the Canadian Marine Act which applies to harbors.2 Challenges may occur if targeted areas are unsuitable because of environmental, bathymetric, and other constraints.3 In British Columbia, Land and Water BC is the agency charged with the responsibility to grant land act tenures including, licenses, leases, easements, and permits. 10

How it works

Types of foreshore tenure

  • A Lease is issued where substantial improvements are to be made to land, or where it is necessary to establish boundaries to avoid conflicts with neighboring owners. Foreshore leases have a standard term of 30 years. 9 13
  • Crown grant or fee simple disposition refers to instances where crown land is converted to private ownership. In such instances, the crown does not give up its right to the foreshore or beds of contiguous bodies of water by a grant of fee simple. Such lands are retained for the public trust.
  • Statutory rights of way over riparian rights of waterfront property exist where the crown acquires a statutory right of way that is superior to the riparian rights of a waterfront parcel. This allows the crown to hold the rights to a waterfront parcel.
  • Temporary permits are intended for the occupation of aquatic crown land and may be issued for an investigation to be conducted before the authorization of a temporary use. Temporary permits are usually issued for commercial or industrial operations in the foreshore 13


  • Could enable a local government to undertake a broader range of shoreline management and adaptation measures in response to coastal hazards.
  • Could enable environmental enhancement to occur with less reliance on structural protection, such as beach nourishment, artificial reefs, or the creation of off-shore islands and sand dunes.
  • Can be used to support the objectives of zoning bylaws


  • Individuals cannot build on or develop aquatic Crown land, including Crown foreshore, without the Province’s authorization, even if they own the adjacent property or “upland.”
  • The upland owner’s consent is required if the tenure will affect access to deep water from his or her property.
  • The tenure holder will be required to meet all applicable regulations imposed by government agencies, federal, provincial, and local.
  • Limited suitability due to environmental, bathymetric, and other constraints
  • Administrative procedures may be complex and time consuming 12

Example projects

Nanaimo Port Authority

British Columbia (Head Lease)

The Nanaimo Port Authority, NPA an agency of the government of Canada is incorporated according to the Canada Marine Act. The authority is currently operating under a lease with a maximum term of twenty years that was granted in 2002. Under the agreement, the province of BC has the authority to; 1) review the tenure activity of the NPA, 2) discontinue the lease after the expiration of a term of 20 years. The NPA has entered into a memorandum of agreement with the province which places restrictions on what it is authorized to do with the leased area. For example, the lease agreement allows the NPA to issue log storage tenures to industry users. Within the 20-year term, the BC government review the head lease every 5 years.14

West Vancouver Head Lease

Vancouver BC, Canada

The West Vancouver Head Lease has been held by the District of West Vancouver and the Province of B.C. since 1974. The lease covers the management of land under the high water level.4 The head lease extends 1,000 meters into the Burrard Inlet except for the areas controlled by the Vancouver Port Authority and the B.C. Ferries Terminal.5 The lease facilitates the establishment of public infrastructure (walkways, seawalls, boat ramps, piers, wharves, and marinas) and natural enhancements (groynes, rock reefs, rip-rap).6 Also, the head lease is accompanied by the adoption of an Official Community Plan and a 5-year foreshore protection plan to protect the foreshore.7


  1. 1.

    The Arlington Group Planning Architecture Inc., et al. Sea Level Rise Adaptation Primer. pp. 57.

  2. 2.

    Ibid, 57.

  3. 3.

    Ibid, 60.

  4. 4.

    The Arlington Group Planning Architecture Inc., et al. Sea Level Rise Adaptation Primer. pp. 58.

  5. 5.

    Ibid, 58.

  6. 6.

    Ibid, 58.

  7. 7.

    Ibid, 58.

  8. 8.

    British Columbia. (Land Use - General Commercial Uses.

  9. 9.

    Anonymous. (n.d). “Whose Shoreline is it, Anyway?”

  10. 10.

    Borszcz, P. (n.d). Eastments. BC Real Estate Law.

  11. 11.

    Anonymous. (n.d). Sea Level Rise Primer.

  12. 12.

    Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks Land and Water Programs Branch. (1995). Riparian Rights and Public Foreshore Use In the Administration of Aquatic Crown Land.

  13. 13.

    Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management. (2002). Government of British Columbia. Memorandum of agreement.

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