When Eric and his wife received the good news they had been waiting for — the opportunity to buy in a new development on McKenzie Road in Caledonia — they didn’t hesitate.
“We went out the next day first thing in the morning and filled out paperwork and bought the cheapest house that they had,” said Eric, of that day in September 2019. He doesn’t want his last name used for fear of “blowback” he says he has witnessed on social media in relation to the disputed land.
The home, a three-bedroom townhouse purchased for $367,000, would fit both their budget and growing family.
“We have one kid and another one on the way,” he said. “This is a first home for us.”
Forty homes — 10 single-detached and 30 townhouses — at the McKenzie, a planned subdivision about two kilometres from downtown Caledonia and the shores of the Grand River, were scheduled to close last fall, and buyers had been expecting to start moving in. Another 19 homes were set to close in the first two months of this year.
Eric and his family, who are currently renting an apartment in Stoney Creek, were expecting to move into their McKenzie home in mid-January. He said they had been expecting delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but “nothing like this.”
Eric said he and his family drove by the site last summer to see the progress on what was to become their family home.
“There were excavators there, and look like they had plotted out all the homes,” he said. “A week or two later I stopped by on my way home from work and there I saw the flags.”
A group from Six Nations of the Grand River occupied the construction site on July 19 saying the land was unceded Haudenosaunee territory, and renamed it 1492 Land Back Lane. Despite injunctions — first temporary, now permanent — banning land defenders from the site, they have remained on the land, the purple Haudenosaunee Confederacy and red Mohawk Warrior Society flags symbols of the new tenancy.
January marks six months since they stopped work at the site.
Skyler Williams, a spokesperson for the Haudenosaunee land defenders, said he would advise homebuyers “not to buy homes on stolen Indian land.”
“You know, whenever I buy a car, I make sure it’s not stolen,” he added in a Dec. 15 interview.
The McKenzie, also known as McKenzie Meadows, was purchased by Foxgate Developments — a joint venture between Losani Homes and Ballantry Homes — in 2015. More than three quarters of the planned subdivision’s up to 229 homes, which are priced in the $300,000 to $600,000 range, were sold pre-construction.
“The Ontario Superior Court has confirmed that the occupation must stop and that the occupiers must leave the construction site where their homes and yards are located,” William Liske, vice-president and chief legal officer for Losani Homes, said in an email to The Spectator.
The developer said in November that new home closings are “indefinitely” postponed amid the ongoing dispute over land that is part of the original Haldimand Tract — 10 kilometres on either side of the Grand River that was given to Six Nations by the British in 1784 for their allegiance in the American Revolution.
When asked if Foxgate would consider allowing buyers to transfer purchases to another nearby development, Liske said the company “can look at individual circumstances.”
“But there simply aren’t nearby sites now that provide the same value as the McKenzie homebuyers received,” he said, adding that the build is in a desirable residential neighbourhood. “Families want to live there, and we support them.”
Liske said for the most part, buyers want both their homes and their equity.
“The home buyers have significant equity in their homes because the McKenzie site was sold at affordable price points originally, and the real estate markets have increased substantially in the past two years,” he said.
It is unclear if any buyers have walked away amid the delays.
One buyer says the value of her McKenzie home — a four-bedroom detached house she purchased for $549,000 in 2018 — would have increased an estimated $100,000, according to a lawyer.
“I’ll never be able to afford to build a home ever again based on my income,” said the woman, who spoke to The Spectator on the condition of anonymity. She and other homebuyers are fearful of speaking out publicly on the issue, which — like the sometimes-violent occupation of the Douglas Creek Estates subdivision in the mid-2000s — is highly divisive.
The mother of three — ages 16, 10 and four — who works in the health-care sector bought the house more than two years ago with her then-husband. They have since separated.
“I’ve never built before, this has just been a dream of mine forever,” she said. “Now my dream is on hold.”
In November, Foxgate Developments told The Spectator “the costs are accumulating” for both the developer and contractors.
“It’ll be a little bit of a hit for them, but not as big of a hit as it’s going to be for all of us,” the homebuyer said. “I don’t think it’s fair that any of us are in the middle. This is not our issue, this is their issue.”
She said at one point she sent a Facebook message to Williams, the land defenders’ spokesperson, to ask about the future of the build.
“And his response was, ‘We will never be getting off the land. There will never be asphalt or curbs or anything ever on this land.’”
Williams said he wants to see Earth “regrow” so deer and foxes can return to the land.
“You hear coyotes howling all night,” he told The Spectator. “Bulldozing every tree, every bush, every blade of grass, everything that makes (the land) beautiful — this isn’t what progress looks like for us.”
In December, the land defenders marked 150 days on the site, where they have erected tiny homes for overnight shelter from sub-zero winter temperatures.
“Our expectation is that the court orders will be respected and where people elect to violate orders the police will act to enforce those laws,” said Losani’s Liske. “While some arrests are continuing to be made we haven’t seen any real progress.”
The Ontario Provincial Police have arrested at least 37 people in connection with the McKenzie dispute. Sixteen other land defenders or allies who have not been arrested are also facing charges.
The latest arrest is a 40-year-old Kingston man who is charged with mischief and disobeying a court order, OPP West Region tweeted on Jan. 5.
“We have repeatedly called for Canada to respond to this conflict in a way that is meaningful and not led by the police,” land defenders wrote in a Jan. 6 media release. “We urge the OPP and settler politicians to recognize the inherent right of Haudenosaunee People to live in peace in our traditional territory.”
— With files from J.P. Antonacci
Kate McCullough, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator