Watch above: Christina Stevens provides an update Jan. 12 on the plight of Frank Meyers, a seasoned farmer who begrudgingly signed his family’s land over to the federal government. The land has been in Meyers’ family since before confederation and is being expropriated to expand a nearby military base.
TORONTO – Frank Meyers, an 85-year-old Ontario farmer, could see the barns on farmland he’s been fighting to keep for more than seven years torn down as early as Monday.
Global News learned Meyers signed an agreement Nov. 29, 2013 to give up his land, saying he felt he was under pressure from the federal government. Meyers had been fighting to keep his land after the Canadian government expropriated more than 200 acres to expand a military base.
His online supporters mobilized on site to block police—who were not yet on scene—from attempting to enter on Monday morning:
Supporters also rallied in Trenton, Ont. on Sunday, galvanized by an online petition, a Facebook group more than 18,000 strong, and even a letter to Queen Elizabeth.
“This is the only thing Frank’s ever known, and if he loses his reason to for getting up in the morning, he’ll die,” said Facebook group-founder Lisa Gibson on Sunday.
READ MORE: Expropriation rights in Canada
“I didn’t want to sell, I constantly told them and told them. They told me if I didn’t sign now, I wouldn’t get half the money if I went and hired a judge,” said Meyers, back in November after he said he was bullied into signing an agreement.
“I want them out of here, I need some rest, I’ve got to get some peace. It’s going to kill me.”
Meyers said the land was donated by King George III of England in 1798 to his family “perpetually,” and they’ve been there ever since. He grows corn, beans, peas, hay, oats and barley.
But CFB Trenton and the Department of National Defence (DND) are expropriating the farmland to build a new training and administrative campus for the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM).
The government took control of the farming buildings about a year and a half ago, but Meyers still lives in the “old house on our side of the railroad tracks.”
WATCH: (Nov. 29, 2013) The story of farmer Frank Meyers, who was fighting to save his family’s 215-year-old property from being expropriated, touched a nerve and prompted a rallying cry from supporters on social media. But as Jennifer Tryon reports, the battle appears to be over.
Growing public support
Lisa Gibson was angry when she first heard the story, but started the “Save Frank & Marjorie Meyers Farm” Facebook group out of compassion.
“I called Frank, asked him if I could do this, and he said, ‘Anything that you could do to help me would be appreciated,’” she said.
When she heard he’d signed the papers to give up his land on Nov. 29, Gibson said she could understand why, having seen the pressure he was under.
“However, I wish he would‘ve kept fighting because I really feel we were this close to winning it,” she said.
Lindsay, Ont. resident Allison Billings decided to write to Queen Elizabeth on Meyers’ behalf after hearing about the story through Facebook—she’s also added posters of support to the group’s page.
“I wrote the Queen because the land was given to his forefathers by King George…it was her family that gave it to him,” she said. “We know it’s a long shot, but here’s hoping that the voices carry enough weight.”
But local Northumberland-Quinte West Conservative MP Rick Norlock said the Crown has now reversed the original grant of property, and pointed out the Meyers aren’t the only farmers affected by expropriations in the region.
Norlock said the construction of the new training and administrative campus for Canada’s elite anti-terrorist unit equates to 1,500-2,000 full-time jobs in the area: an “exponential economic implication.” Personally, he wanted to finish the expropriation faster, but said it was Prime Minister Stephen Harper who held the project up for 1-2 years because he was “sensitive to wanting a negotiated settlement.”
“Farmlands—and people’s homes—are special, but in the end you have to look at the greater good,” he said. “This expropriation and the bringing in of this unit will go a long way to accommodate the health and safety of the people of Quinte West.”
Gibson thinks the jobs would be a great boost for the economy, but says the base doesn’t need to be built on prime farmland.
“Frank sits on less than one per cent of the most fertile farmland in Canada,” she said. “And that land is going to be buried under rock and bulldozed. Meanwhile right around the corner they’re clearing bush and tile-draining it to create farmland. It makes no sense to me why this particular piece of property is being used for this particular purpose.”
Norlock said Mountainview, another site suggested for the military base instead of Meyers’ land, is “basically rock” and doesn’t offer the necessary infrastructure. He believes Meyers’ land, north of CFB Trenton, makes the most sense for strategic and tactical purposes, and is in Canada’s best interest.
“I believe that Mr. Meyers will be adequately compensated in a financial way. Yes, there will be a hole in his heart now, a hole in some people’s hearts in the community, but in the end…every single council member, two of whom are farmers who operate farms, are 100 per cent behind this expropriation.”
But the Canadians Gibson has rallied do not share support for the expropriation, and are frustrated they haven’t received any responses from Minister of Public Works Diane Finley in the past months.
“I asked her to stop the expropriation of Frank’s farm immediately,” said Gibson. “This was Frank’s land, this was our land, this is our country. And we’re not going to stand by as Canadians and allow something like this to happen.”
Municipal lawyer Stephen D’Agnostino said the only other way to stop the expropriation would be for Meyers to take his case to court to have the decision overturned.
“Frank does not have time—the courts are too stressful for him. They’re costly,” said Gibson. “If we can do something on Frank’s behalf to help him, without involving the courts and without putting any undue stress on Frank, then mission accomplished.”
But Norlock believes the government has been “more than fair” in the support it has offered Meyers, and said he’s been assured by the minister of public works that “everything that can be done” will be carried out to accommodate the farmer’s needs.
“We’ve allowed him to grow a crop, to harvest that crop, we’ve allowed him to finish off his cattle and do some other things that go beyond the scope that is necessary, so we’ve done everything we can to accommodate him,” he said.
Public Works said in a statement Nov. 29 that an “agreement in principle” had been reached between the department and the Meyers family “regarding compensation for their expropriated land.”
But Gibson and other supporters want a response from the government, and believe Meyers should be allowed to stay on the land bequeathed to him by King George III.
“We are willing to occupy his farm if it comes down to it,” she said, emphasizing any action would first be discussed with Meyers.
“It’s not just Frank. It’s you, it’s me, it’s anyone in Canada. If this can happen to Frank, what’s to prevent it from happening to us?”
When Global News reporter Jennifer Tryon told Meyers about the petition and the planned rallies after he signed the agreement, Meyers was surprised. The 85-year-old doesn’t use the Internet.
“Maybe put the pressure on them. That’s all I’ve got to say. I’m tired,” he said in November. “I’d give them their money back, I’d go back…I told my lawyers, I don’t want to sell it. Leave me alone, they wouldn’t do it.”
WATCH: Protesters gather in Ottawa Nov. 30 over government’s expropriation of Frank’s farm
With files from Jennifer Tryon and Christina Stevens
Editor’s note: The original version of this article was published Nov. 29, 2013.