Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Proprietor Definition:

Many statutes define the word proprietor to capture, also, the operator of a business as opposed to the strict owner of it.

Similarly, in real estate law, where the word proprietor is used, it may not be limited to the strict owner and may also refer to a person who legally uses a piece of land though not being the owner of it (such as a tenant). Thus, in Brown v Grand Trunk Railway, at issue was the obligation of a proprietor to fence in his land adjacent to a railway; section "13" of the relevant statute. Justice Draper of the Upper Canada Court of Queen's Bench:

"[W]e think that the plaintiffs though only tenants, are proprietors within the reasonable construction of the 13th section.... The word proprietors must have another, and we think less extensive meaning, and may be construed possessors having some right in the land; and that if damage results to such a proprietor, from the omission of the defendants to fence or maintain fences within the 13th section, he may bring his action."

But consider these words, though issued in dissent, by Justice Stuart of the Alberta Supreme Court, Appellate Division in the 1917 case Scown v Herald Publishing who was not inclined to give proprietor a wide meaning, seeking to distinguish it from the word publisher (in a libel case):

"The word publisher means a person who does a certain act — it means an actor. The word proprietor means a person who owns property. I confess therefore to some difficulty in understanding how the two words can be said to mean the same thing. They may of course cover the same person but that only means that the same person may occupy two capacities."


  • Brown v. Grand Trunk Railway, 24 U.C.Q.B. 350 (1865)
  • Scown v. Herald Publishing Co., 38 D.L.R. 43 (1917)

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