Milton family farm fights Halton school board’s proposal to expropriate land

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Milton farmer fighting expropriation of property for new school
WATCH ABOVE: Beef farmer David McCann owns 70 acres of a farm he says has been in his family since 1827. The Halton Catholic District School Board wants a chunk of his field for a new high school, but McCann refuses to give it up without a fight. Mark Carcasole reports – May 9, 2018

The roughly 200-acre McCann family farm has stood at the corner of Britannia and Thompson roads in Milton for close to 200 years now.

“The farm’s very important to me,” said David McCann, the sixth generation of the family to tend to the farm.

McCann is a beef farmer. He owns about 70 acres of the sprawling farm. The rest is run by his parents.

Historically, the farm’s immediate surroundings have been almost entirely rural. But residential developments on two sides of the farm have started to increase the population and traffic flow in the immediate area.

McCann has already accommodated the area’s expansion by allowing the Town of Milton to expropriate the ends of his fields to widen surrounding roads. But he’s standing his ground against a much larger expropriation proposal from the Halton Catholic District School Board (HCDSB).

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The Board wants to take over 17 of the 20 acres of land in the field on the northwest part of his property for a new high school.

McCann said it’s too much and too close to his farm. He said he’s worried about the environmental impacts to his farm, the safety of his animals and the safety of potential students.

“I’ve got cattle here — 2,000-pound animals — which is going to be dangerous for kids because kids are curious,” he said pointing to the bull sitting in a patch of grass.

“I can just see some kids going to walk in there and I’m going to have a 2,000-pound cow that’s just had a calf being very protective and hurt some kid.”

School boards in Ontario have the ultimate power to expropriate land almost at will, but they have to offer the owners of that land market rate. In this case, McCann estimates that to be over $1 million per acre. He stands to become a multi-millionaire. But he said he isn’t interested.

“Money’s not my motivating factor,” he said.

“Agriculture’s my motivating factor. Farming’s my motivating factor… It’s all I know.”

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His family feels the same way. An online petition started by McCann’s 20-year-old daughter Jessica urges the public to join in and stand against the school board. As of Wednesday afternoon, it had come very close to its goal of 35,000 digital signatures.

The McCann family farm was established in Milton in 1827. This photo shows David McCann’s grandfather, great-grandfather and great uncle on the land. Global News

The HCDSB won’t say much about the situation, citing confidentiality. But in an email to Global News, its senior administrator of planning services said there is a desperate need for a third high school in Milton as the two current ones are becoming overcrowded and utilizing dozens of portable classrooms.

“For the 2018-19 school year, there are already a total of approximately 3,500 students registered to both schools, surpassing their respective building capacities,” wrote Frederick Thibeault.

“The proposed Catholic Secondary School would accommodate 1,500 pupil places. It is expected to receive approximately 800 existing students that are presently attending the board’s existing elementary and secondary schools. An additional 150-plus new students are expected from this development area, increasing year over year as development continues. It is anticipated the new school will be near capacity by its fifth year of operation.”

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While the board is taking the brunt of the criticism around the expropriation proposal, Thibeault said the location was decided upon in conjunction with municipal officials in response to “the growing needs of the community.”

Since the board has the final say in the matter, it is essentially beyond the control of the Ontario’s Education Minister Indira Naidoo-Harris, who is also the local MPP.

Naidoo-Harris told Global News in a statement she believes the decision seems a bit rushed.

“I know that there is an emerging pressure in the area that will require a new secondary school. But at this point, the Ministry of Education has not yet approved funding for a new school.”

Meanwhile, McCann pointed to large swaths of empty field across the street from his home. He said the land is owned by Mattamy Homes. McCann said if there is a school built here, that is where it should go.

“The developers have created the need for a school and I believe that the developers should be responsible for putting the school on their property,” he said.

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Naidoo-Harris agreed it is an idea that deserves some consideration.

“It is my hope that the school board will assess all of their options and work with their community to make sure that their decision considers local feedback.”

She said she has met with the McCanns about their concerns, and they do have some recourse.

“Parties who have their land selected for expropriation may also request an inquiry as to whether taking their land is fair, sound, and reasonably necessary to the achievement of the school board’s objectives.”

McCann is hoping for the best and will do whatever he needs to do to hang on to his land, but doesn’t feel optimistic about his chances.

“I’ve talked to many expropriation lawyers … and they say if [the school boards wants to] take it, they’ll take it,” he said with a shrug.

“There’s nothing you can do about it.”


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