Family of a Loyalist war hero vs. Joint Task Force 2

After years of fighting Ottawa to keep his land, the descendant of John Walden Meyer’s may have lost the battle

Up against the forces of progress

Colin O’Connor

In some ways, John Walden Meyers was the 18th-century equivalent of a special forces commando. A New York farmer who sided with the British during the American Revolution, he became a legendary loyalist spy, a giant of a man with fire-red hair and a gift for infiltrating enemy lines. Two centuries later, some of the stories have morphed into myth (according to one uncorroborated tale, he wore moccasins that were pointy at both ends so his footprints couldn’t be tracked), but the historians do agree on one detail: patriot children considered him the bogeyman. If you don’t behave, their mothers would say, Capt. Meyers “will come and eat you.”

The good captain is most famous for directing a late-night raid on the Albany mansion of Philip Schuyler, one of the Continental Army’s highest-ranking officers. Although the mission—to snatch the general—was doomed to fail, Meyers somehow survived the ensuing gun battle and led his troops back to Quebec. “He had plenty of close calls and narrow escapes over the years,” says Doug Knutson, a filmmaker who has spent two decades researching Meyers’s heroics. “He was a strong individual, but more than that, he was very innovative and resourceful.”

Meyers, of course, ended up on the losing side of the revolution, but in recognition of his exemplary service, King George III granted him hundreds of acres of waterfront farmland in what is now Quinte West, Ont., home of Canadian Forces Base Trenton. Today, what’s left of the family property (about 220 acres) belongs to Frank Meyers, an 84-year-old direct descendant who is now embroiled in a losing battle of his own.

Nearly 200 years after the death of his historic forefather—crack spy, elite soldier, loyal subject—Frank is being pushed off the family land by federal bureaucrats armed with expropriation papers. Their plan, ironically enough, is to use the farm to build a new military training ground for Canada’s top-secret special operations unit, Joint Task Force 2.

“I’m not moving,” Frank says, sitting behind the wheel of his blue GMC pickup truck. “This property didn’t come from the Canadian government, it came from the British government. So if the Queen wants it, let her come and see me.”

Meyers has been saying much the same thing since 2006, when the feds first decided that his land, and 11 other properties north of the air base, would make an ideal spot for JTF 2’s next headquarters. Back then, he was among a group of angry owners vowing to fight the project, but one by one, his neighbours have weighed their options (leave now or be forced out later) and decided to sell. At last count, Ottawa had purchased nine of the 12 properties, spending close to $7 million.

And then, a few weeks ago, after so many years of dead-end negotiations, the feds took a drastic but inevitable step, filing expropriation notices against the final three holdouts. According to the paperwork, the land is “required” by the state “for a purpose related to the safety or security of Canada.”

Meyers, though, isn’t surrendering just yet. In a last-ditch attempt to keep their acreage, the family has hired a Toronto law firm and filed a formal objection. The next step will be a public hearing in front of an independent body, likely in the next 60 days. “The Meyerses want to review whether the federal government can meet its objectives without taking their land,” says Paul Scargall, one of their lawyers. “That is the key issue.”

One thing is already certain: the Meyers family will be fighting alone. Neither of the other owners filed an objection; one is close to reaching a settlement, and the other has decided to let the expropriation process run its course. “It’s stress on me,” Meyers says. “Does the government care? They don’t care.”

Ottawa is under no legal obligation to pay a penny more than fair market value. But because the feds always prefer to negotiate a settlement rather than dictate one, Treasury Board guidelines do provide the leeway to offer up to 15 per cent above the appraised amount, as well as out-of-pocket expenses such as moving costs, legal fees and cable installation. “The theoretical goal of expropriation legislation is to place the owner in as good a position as they were in prior to the imposition,” Scargall says. “But it’s difficult to do that with the blunt tool of money. There is nothing in ‘fair market value’ for the emotional attachment to a property.”

Federal real estate deals are handled by the Department of Public Works. When asked if the ministry sympathizes with Frank Meyers, a spokesman said expropriation was a necessary “last resort” after “repeated and ongoing attempts to negotiate with the landowner have been unsuccessful.” The department also pointed out that the family will be allowed to keep both the house and a small portion of land. (National Defence was unable to answer any questions before press time.)

As for the city of Quinte West, its position could not be more clear. The arrival of JTF 2 will be an economic windfall for the community, creating millions of dollars’ worth of construction jobs and bringing hundreds of new homeowners to the region. City council even went so far as to pass a unanimous motion supporting the expropriation of their fellow residents. Evicting a few, in other words, is good for the many. “I just let it go in one ear and out the other,” says Meyers, who, despite his age and a bad left leg, still works his land. “I’m still going, still driving tractors, still driving the truck. When you don’t do anything, that’s when you don’t last long.”

Meyers’s son shares the name of their celebrated relative and, like his father, grew up on this plot of prime farmland. Although he also operates a glass installation company, John Meyers continues to help his dad run the original family business. They grow corn, soybeans and other cash crops. “The odds might be slim that we can win this, but we feel that we have a pretty good case,” John says, dressed in dirty blue jeans and a red cap that says CANADA. “I don’t have any problem speaking out as long as I’m fighting for what’s right and what I believe in.”

Despite the city’s official stance, many locals are rooting for Meyers—including Phil Jordan, one of the owners who reluctantly sold last year. “Sometimes you just have to cut and run, unfortunately,” he says. “It’s not what I wanted to do, but I was worn out after five years and couldn’t take it anymore.”

Frank Ashmore can also relate to his neighbour’s plight. A contractor by trade, he is one of the other two remaining owners (the one on the brink of selling). In yet another ironic twist to this whole saga, the Ashmores only moved to Quinte West because they were forced out of their previous home in Clarington, Ont., to make room for a hockey arena.

Ashmore insists he isn’t bitter about his incredibly bad luck. The feds have treated him fairly, he says, and it’s actually a relief to finally know what’s happening. But he feels sorry for Frank Meyers. “I know his priorities,” Ashmore says. “He could win a super lotto and he wouldn’t change at all. It’s a personal thing with him because of the history of the land. I understand fully.”

JTF 2—a 600-member counterterrorism squad often compared to America’s Delta Force—is currently based at Dwyer Hill, on the outskirts of Ottawa. The facility is barely 200 acres, and, as one general told a Senate committee in 2005, the site is “bursting at the seams.” In the military’s eyes, CFB Trenton is the obvious alternative because it provides five times the space and rapid access to airlift. Somehow, Meyers’s lawyers must convince the hearings officer that the army doesn’t actually need their portion of the land in order to build the new headquarters.

But here’s the biggest twist of all: no matter what the officer concludes, the government can expropriate the land anyway. The decision is not binding.

Frank Meyers doesn’t even want to ponder that possibility. “What are they going to do, send a task force in to take me out?” he asks. “I’m not going yet.”

Somewhere, Capt. Meyers is smiling. “This is a situation that he would have fought too,” says Knutson, the filmmaker. “If he saw injustice, he stood up.”


Family of a Loyalist war hero vs. Joint Task Force 2

  1. He can blame Trudeau for not including property rights in the constitution.  Its seems all our woes end at Trudeau’s feet.

    • Seriously Keith M?  It’s the Harper government moving to expropriate this man’s land and you want to blame that on Trudeau?  Yes, all the woes befalling us are Trudeau’s fault because the Harper government has never made any of it’s own decisions since it was first elected right?  Has Trudeau, or I suppose his ghost now, been governing all this time just using the Harper cons as a front?  I have to ask–considering your thought process–did you finish high school?

    •  There’s absolutely no guarantee that expropriation would be prevented by a constitutional right to property (in fact, a quasi-constitutional right already exists in the bill of rights).  You are a fool to think it’s a settled matter.

    •  well then why didn’t Mulgooney, or Adolf Harper add this addendum as well to our Constituion ?  They had the means and right to, but plainly they didn’t want to. So bringing Trudeau into this equation, makes about as much sense, as U ever being a successful hockey player. ?

  2. Sure is funny how some useless politician can make an absolute fortune in pensions for a few years of work? and yet the government can steal someones land that has been in their family for hundred’s of years for market value…..The only thing Harper seems to care about anymore is catering to corporations, and destroying our environment so Canada can afford politicians outrageous pensions… Land to people who truly care for it is priceless, and the world needs a lot more people like Meyers who care for the land entrusted to them for future generations, & a lot less people like Steven Harper.

  3. Anyone who thinks that the Government, or especially the Military do not care about Mr Meyers and the history of the land, they couldn’t be more wrong.  There is a lot of sympathy and respect for his position and the history of the land.  However, at the end of the day the Government has to protect the interests of all Canadian’s and JTF2 is a very important tool in meeting those responsibilities.  They need a new home that can best support the Unit’s missions and be a responsible and accountable solution to Canadian taxpayers.  An extensive search was done and Trenton presented a best, cost effective option.  Anywhere the Unit could have gone would have meant that someone would be put out – has anyone had a good look at land use in Ontario these days???
    I am certain that when all is said and done, the history of the Meyers family will not be forgotten when the new facilities are in place, possibly with a commemoration to the Meyers history on the land.  Perhaps small consolation to Mr Meyers but soldiers do like their traditional roots! 

    • Pettawawa. There’s lots of space, that’s where the new Chinook helicopters are going and heavy weapons can be fired on the ranges.

      • Ah, but you see, the last time we had a special forces unit in Petawawa it didn’t end well.

        Think of the optics my good sir!

        •  I think you’re joking but;

          The Canadian Special Operations Regiment is already based in Pet
          It is supposed to support JTF so having both in the same place should make that easier,
          The Airborne wasn’t a Special Forces unit
          The Jump Company of 3 RCR which wears maroon berets has been based in Pet for years

    • There is absolutely no sympathy because they cannot have sympathy. They are following orders. They destroyed 200 years of history in those barns. There is no price tag for that. Norlock, Harper, Williams & Williams are to blame. They will go down in the history books..

  4. That is shameful. I’m sure the army can find a way to come to terms with this man without using force, legal or otherwise.

    Seems to me the honourable men of JTF2 ought to form a resolution and send it to their bureaucrat superiors, noting that if they are to fight injustice around the world, they can’t and won’t start by being a part of it at home.  

    • The men of JTF2 have nothing to do with this.

  5. Trenton should ask the people of Dwyer Hill how they’ve enjoyed having the “honourable” JTF2 as neighbours.

    CFB Goose Bay has loads of room, the surrounding real estate is cheap and there are no neighbours to harass.

    •  But how close is Goose Bay to a big city for spouses careers and recreation?

      • I’ve been to Ottawa – many smaller communities could provide as much recreation. How much attention does the military pay to spouses’ careers?

        This smacks of the bull-headedness of this government to me.

        •  I think the idea is that the unit be based close to TO or Ottawa the places most likely to have terrorist incidents.

          Do troops avoid postings to out of the way places if spouses are against it. Of course.

  6. So JTF is fighting for Freedom and all that. Good for them. But what the hell is “freedom” worth if the bastards can just come and take our land?

    • It’s the Queen coming to take HER land.

      • She’s not my queen or anyone else I know. In my opinion, the land belongs to canadians. Like the popes before the Windsors, they wave their hand and do what they want. I would be waving my hand right back at them too.

        But like they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, people will treat you the way you let them treat you.

  7. This expropriation of Mr. Meyers land just goes to show how much the average person is disconnected from the land that feeds them.  Farmers feed families, and there is no arguing with that.  Anyone who’s ever worked in a family garden, let alone a farm, knows the  time and resources involved in working the land. Its not easy! Its hard work and it takes much commitment.  and the The knowledge involved in the process of growing healthy and productive yields is extensive, and is becoming less and less common place as city dwellers disconnect themselves from the country around them.

    This is a trend thats been happening for the last 40 years and will take time to reverse.  Its hard to accept that Industry runs governments and employs the people, the banks control the flow of money and goverments uses that public money to support the interests of industry.  It’s just plain ignorance to not realise this. So open your eyes..and Mouths!!! To change this take courage and strength ‘from the ground up’and I full heartedly agree with what the Meyers are doing to stand up for what they’ve worked so hard to acheive..they’re livelyhood.  

    “Only after the last tree has been cut down, the last river has been poisened, the last fish has been caught..only then, will you find that MONEY cannot be eaten.” – Cree Indian Prophecy

  8. Ya, lets build those little RC-Heli’s and have CFB’s wherever we want, becuase we need to protect, and defend the lives, rights, and freedom’s of ALL Canadians.
     sure, have some more “LUNCH” on the backs of the canadian taxpaying laboureres why don’t ya.
    How utterly ironic, they need to protect your families’ freedoms and rights’, but only right after they (Harper and his militia) throw you all off of YOUR land ???
     so tell me again, how this works?

    Why don’t they just build and practice with those JTF2’sright next door to Harper’s house. ? – expropriate his land and home, I mean lets face it, even Harper doesn’t “own” it. WE DO.
     And I don’t have to remind you sharp-shooters what to use for target-practice now do I?.
    Pleeez, do us all that accidental favour.

  9.  ….interesting, now this makes me wonder just how many millions of acres Harper will need to “expropriate ?” for his pipeline to nowhere?

  10. After losing his New York farm to confiscation in the American Revolution, Captain John Walden Meyers tried to settle on the northern end of Lake Champlain. The British authorities were not happy with this settlement on the new border with the United States and insisted that Meyers move. An officer sent to investigate reported to his superiors:
    can only inform you at present that Capt. W. Myers … with a number of
    men … are at work & have Erected
    some houses … Capt. W. Myers … had already got a sufficient quantity
    of land Clear’d to raise 1000 bushels of Corn … those people were
    determined not to move off that land for the generals order or any other
    nor to be drove off Except by a superior force, for by Ld Norths
    declaration they had a right to settle on any of the Kings land they
    should Choose in this province.”
    Threatened with the loss of his military pension and the rations and supplies due to the Loyalists, Captain Meyers was forced to move west to settle on the Bay of Quinte – land now farmed by his descendant Frank Meyers. The Meyers family once again faces “a superior force”.

    Funny how some things never change!?

  11. I’ll expect all of the complaining liberals to be out supporting property rights in the constitution then. Or might it be that you’ll stay home sending letters to your city council demanding more recreation centers or libraries…. to be built on other old farmers lands. How many of these fights have happened so that city dwellers can get a new shopping centre or more cookie cutter townhouses??? Where are your objections and anguish when those farmers were/are forced off their land and into retirement homes???

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