By Mike Renzella
The Haldimand Press
CALEDONIA—Since June 2020, the construction site known as McKenzie Meadows has been occupied by self-described land defenders looking to block development of the land and see it returned to Six Nations for its use.
There has been little forward momentum between demonstrators and government. Stuck in the middle of this dispute is a group of people who had each already put down significant deposits in the tens of thousands of dollars on homes in the new project before demonstrators entered the site.
With three quarters of the homes on the site sold, that leaves a lot of people, and a lot of money, up in the air.
The Haldimand Press spoke with some of those homebuyers to get their perspective on the ongoing situation that has prevented them from seeing their investment come to fruition.
“In 2019 I had one-year old twins. My husband and I lived in a two-bedroom condo, and we were outgrowing it. We listed our place in August 2019 and it sold really fast before our eyes,” said Mary, a Hamilton resident who requested an alias be used instead of her real name.
Mary continued, “We weren’t getting bites on (buying) anything…. I got an email from McKenzie Meadows letting me know they were open for Phase One and they were selling out quick. I thought to myself, ‘Maybe we should buy a new build at this point’. The next day my husband drove down there and paid the deposit on a new townhouse.”
Mark McSporran is already “a resident and homeowner in Caledonia, have been for many years.”
He explained of his need to move, “Recently my family situation changed, and we were looking for a larger house that would better suit our needs.
“We looked at many different places, and decided that we believed in the builder, their representation, and the project itself. At the time we were told unequivocally from Ballantry Homes that appropriate accommodations had been made to ensure there was no issues and they were 100% confident there wouldn’t be any.”
McSporran was given a closing date of November 17, 2020, with Mary receiving hers for January 2021. It has now been six months since any work was completed on the site, as the access to the site is blocked, both with road blockades and a constant on-site presence from demonstrators.
Mary recalled when she first heard about the situation in a phone call with her aunt: “I was really surprised. I was under the impression that Six Nations was aware that this was being built, especially based on all the signage that was up there. I was shocked because I figured if anything was going to happen it would have already been protested against, like when pipelines or sewer lines were being done.”
“I was driving down McKenzie Road and I saw their (Six Nations) flags on top of a construction bulldozer and recognized right away that this could be an issue,” said McSporran.
He elaborated on the financial impact the delay is taking on those who have invested. “The value of these homes that we were supposed to have from the time we put our money down until the time we were supposed to move in has increased by six digits per household. Walking away means we’re walking away from that land value that we should have and are legally entitled to receive. We’re the ones who took the risk of putting our hard-earned money down on buying a home, and now there’s nothing we can do other than wait.”
McSporran has not sold his current home yet, but this has him concerned what sale he might make: “Right now, with real estate inflated due to the pandemic, what is going to happen in the spring? I’ve already signed a document guaranteeing I would purchase my home at McKenzie Meadows for a fixed price. How do I know that I’m going to be able to get the value out of my current home that I should receive if the market becomes unstable?”
Others have more immediate concerns having sold their home already in preparation for the move.
“We are renting right now. We were expecting to be in our house already. We are paying more out than we expected,” said Mary, stating that her current monthly rent of $1,500 is higher than her mortgage payment would be on her new home. Furthermore, the uncertainty has caused her family to live in a sort of holding pattern, unable to move forward with the expansion of their family as planned once in their new home.
“I can’t do anything to move this along, all I can do is sit back and be patient,” she added.
Mary and her husband have come to the conclusion that if they haven’t heard anything by May, the date of their second expected closing on the home, they will pull their money out and seek to purchase a home elsewhere.
McSporran raised concerns that the developer would be able “to walk away from their obligation to us as homebuyers,” asking, “If they do that and we receive our money back, what happens to that value? There are several homeowners that have come together and are all on the same page here in terms of actions that we would take if we don’t end up receiving our homes.”
Although he was not ready to discuss what those actions might be at this time, McSporran mentioned that they would include holding the Provincial and Federal governments, as well as the OPP, accountable for their failure to contain and mitigate the situation quickly.
“Doug Ford went on TV on December 21, and one of the quotes he said was, ‘I will never shy away from my duties to protect the people of Ontario’. When I heard that it resonated with me because at the time it was already a month past when I was supposed to move into my new home,” McSporran continued. “I voted for Doug Ford and the Tories. I believed in their platform, I believed that they would try to protect the people of Ontario, but they haven’t. All that was, was words.”
McSporran admits he does not believe the OPP’s job is easy, but does expect they will be held accountable for how they’ve handled the situation.
He also believes there is no question the demonstrators should be arrested: “The protesters are trying to make it look like the OPP is criminalizing them. Well guess what, there’s a permanent injunction so they are criminals for what they’re doing,” he said. “They’re also saying that the OPP has taken violent tactics to the protesters. Show me the videos.”
Mary has conflicting feelings about the actions of the demonstrators.
“I’m Metis native. My dad went out and protested at Douglas Creek. It’s very touchy in our family,” said Mary. “I don’t have anything against them. They have their rights, but the way they’ve gone about it – destroying roads, disturbing community peace – it takes years to gain the relationship with the community of Caledonia over and over again when these things happen…. I can’t say I’m against them, I’m just upset that we’re the homebuyer in this situation.”
Moving ahead, McSporran said, “We just want what’s legally entitled to us by the Province of Ontario. They issued legal permits to the developer; they allowed us to purchase homes legally. We should have the legal right to own those homes. I’m not trying to diminish the rights the protesters have, but they haven’t dealt with that on either a federal or provincial level…. All we want is for the government to be transparent and to take action.”
Both homebuyers summed up their frustration with the mess they find themselves in.
“If it wasn’t going to happen, then why even put people through this? Why put yours and others’ investments into this if there is going to be no winning at the end of this? Someone is going to lose in this situation,” concluded Mary.
McSporran added, “Are we going to be the ones left here with nothing? If that is the case, a group of us are well prepared to take those steps, but we don’t want to take them, we want our homes.”