Frank Meyers holds out hope, even as demolition crews prepare to level farm - Macleans.ca

Frank Meyers holds out hope, even as demolition crews prepare to level farm

Newfound recruits in farmer’s battle arrived far too late for the fight

by
Up against the forces of progress

Colin O’Connor

Frank Meyers’s farmhouse—the one he built with his own hands—has no Internet connection. The 85-year-old doesn’t use email or YouTube or Instagram, and although his name has been tweeted thousands of times in recent weeks, he leaves the hashtags to his grandchildren. (Meyers does have a cell phone, though, just so his wife, Marjorie, can call to make sure he comes in for lunch.)

Yet ironically enough, it’s the power of the Internet that has finally given Meyers what he so badly needed: a dash of public outrage. After waging a lonely battle for seven long years—vowing, again and again, to fight the federal government’s plan to transform his beloved land into a new training ground for the Canadian military’s elite Special Forces—Meyers suddenly boasts an army of his own, fuelled by a Facebook page that has ballooned, at last count, to 22,000 followers. A few dozen of those staunch supporters are now camped on Meyers’s property in Quinte West, Ont., vowing to stay put as demolition crews prepare to rip down his old barns and sheds. “I appreciate everything they’ve done to support me,” Meyers says, speaking into his cell phone from the seat of his John Deere tractor. “There is always hope. There is always hope.”

Sadly, there really isn’t. Despite the best of intentions—and all the hope in the world—Meyers’s newfound friends have arrived far too late to the fight. It’s over, and has been for a while.

All the recent Facebook buzz has certainly angered many Canadians, and rightfully so; even if the farm was not a historic piece of property (which it is), booting an elderly man off his ancestral land makes for awful optics. But for Meyers—who has already endured so many cruel, unwelcome twists—the eleventh-hour support may be the cruelest development of all. Because it won’t change a thing, no matter how many screaming protesters throw themselves in front of bulldozers.

If only Canadians were so outraged back in 2012, when the family still had a slim chance of keeping their land.

Maclean’s first introduced the country to Frank Meyers five years ago, when an Access to Information request revealed the darker side of Ottawa’s much-heralded plan to expand CFB Trenton: 12 neighbouring landowners would lose their property, whether they wanted to leave or not. Although many Canadians don’t realize it, expropriation laws allow governments to acquire any private property if it’s required for the public good (a highway, for example, or a hospital.) Owners have no real legal recourse. They can sell now or be expropriated later.

Some of the owners, Meyers included, insisted they would never leave, no matter the selling price. But by 2012, he was the last man standing—the final chunk of land, 90 hectares, needed to complete the new training facility. By then, the feds couldn’t wait any longer; with no hope of negotiating a deal, Ottawa took the drastic step of filing a notice of expropriation. “It’s stress on me,” Meyers said at the time. “Does the government care? They don’t care.”

Few others did, either. In April 2012, when Meyers made a tearful appeal in front of an independent hearings officer, barely a dozen people showed up to the proceedings. Later that summer, when his land was officially expropriated, the news generated just as few headlines.

Meyers, of course, vowed to fight on. When Maclean’s visited his farm again last September, he and his son, John, were still working the land, having signed a temporary lease agreement with the feds that allowed them to stay on the property while they removed the last of their belongings. (The family home, across a set of train tracks, was not expropriated.) By that point, the government had owned the farm for more than a year, but Meyers still refused to negotiate a final selling price. He honestly believed that the Harper government might change its mind and give everything back. “It’s an awful stress on me,” he said, dressed in his trademark jeans and blue shirt. “They’re waiting for me to drop dead. That’s what they want.”

Only in October—amid news that the lease agreement had expired, and Meyers would be granted one final harvest—did the story suddenly explode on social media. The Facebook campaign was born, determined to “save” the farm that was no longer his.

A few weeks later, Meyers actually settled on a selling price and signed the last bits of paperwork. “I’m thankful for all the people that supported me, but it just got to the point where I can’t control it,” he said at the time. “I’ll be in the hospital, or I’ll be in the ground.” But Meyers now says he was pressured to surrender and signed under duress, making the deal null and void. “I had no rest for three days, and I just broke down,” he says, sitting in the tractor. “They broke me. All they’ve been doing is harassing me since 2006.”

Bolstered by his ever-growing legion of supporters—and a national media that is finally paying attention—the feisty Frank Meyers is back, vowing to battle on. This morning, with news cameras rolling, he phoned the office of CFB Trenton’s commander, demanding proof that DND really owns his land. “I’m still here,” he tells Maclean’s. “Still talking.”

Asked if he plans to stand between his former barns and the backhoes, Meyers refuses to divulge his strategy. “I don’t know yet what I’m going to do,” he says. “I have no idea. They’re egging me to do something wrong so they can put me in jail. That’s what they want.”

It’s impossible not to feel sorry Frank Meyers. He was born and raised on his farm, and like so many of his forefathers, hoped to die there. He is a decent, intelligent man, the type who returns favours with a fresh turkey or a batch of corn. “I’m honest,” he once said. “I wouldn’t screw you out of a nickel.”

But despite all the attention now focused on his farm—the drama of impending demolition—this story will not end well for Frank Meyers. Sympathize with him. Support him. Chain yourself to a barn. Just don’t expect victory. The federal government took his land a long time ago, and at this point, no amount of noise will get it back.

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