The two sides amassed like opposing armies, the excavators and bulldozers on the hilltop to the southwest, the old farmer and his rag-tag group of Facebook supporters to the northeast.
Two Hercules aircraft from nearby CFB Trenton buzzed overhead. A police cruiser watched from a distance. Everyone expected this to be the final battle in the seven-year fight to save the historic Meyers farm.
“How low do you have to get to harass an 85-year-old guy like this,” moaned the farmer, Frank Meyers, in the general direction of the demolition machines. “I never did anything wrong. I grow corn for God’s sakes.”
Mr. Meyers does not know what e-mail is, much less Facebook. His idea of social networking takes place over a bale of hay, not a tangle of wires. But he is grateful this 30-strong group of protesters took up a call to arms posted on the website to stop the federal government from expropriating farmland that has been in his family since 1787.
For more than seven years, Mr. Meyers and his family have waged a legal and emotional battle with the Ministry of National Defence over plans to annex about 200 acres of his farm for a new headquarters for Canada Special Forces Command.
Last November, he gave in, signing an agreement to hand the land to the federal government in exchange for a confidential sum. He had little choice. When the state deems it needs your land for the public interest, you can agree to a cash settlement or risk it being seized.
But when he thought his solitary struggle was over, strangers from across Canada began joining the Save Frank & Marjorie Meyers Farm Facebook page, reaching nearly 19,000 members by Monday night.
With the electronic support he does not quite understand, Mr. Meyers is making a last stand against the expropriation, saying he was under too much stress when he signed the settlement and did not entirely understand what he was doing.
On Monday morning, when a bulldozer encroached on his southern property line, he confronted it in his field on his green John Deere with a legal notice that the property remains in his family’s hands.
“You can take me away in cuffs if you want,” he said, before calling a major from the base “a puppet” and demanding a meeting with the commanding officer.
The bulldozer retreated back to the hilltop. The standoff continued.
“This is not a done deal,” said Rachelle Verner, a retired health-care worker, who was planning to watch over the farm into the night from an RV parked on the Meyers property. “Not while we’re all still here.”
The federal government sees it differently. “The expropriation is now complete, and the land is now owned by the Department of National Defence,” Jennifer St. Germain, a spokeswoman for National Defence, said in an e-mailed statement. “The next steps in the project will be demolition of the existing structures and removal of debris.”
The eviction ends 227 years of family history here.
Eighty years before Confederation, one of Frank Meyers’s forefathers, Captain John Walden Meyers decided to call this stretch of dark soil home. An official deed came 11 years later, in 1798, written on King George III letterhead.
He was a displaced United Empire Loyalist who acted as a one-man spy and guerrilla force during the Revolutionary War, becoming “the most hunted man in the colonies,” according to local historian and filmmaker Douglas Knutson, who is working on a documentary about him.
Captain Meyers later led the settlement of the Eastern Townships and became one of Belleville’s founding fathers.
“I do feel that this land as a working, viable farm being tended by the same family for over 225 years can be seen as a living link to a very important figure in our history – it has the same significance as any monument or historic site would,” Mr. Knutson said. “We are a young country, yet we don’t seem to treasure our historic legacy and I worry about that.”
Captain Meyers’ descendent cannot sleep knowing the land will slip from the family’s hands. He has lost weight, according to friends, and has trouble keeping the whole affair straight in his mind.
“What is a man my age going to do with a million dollars, or $5-million for that matter? All the money in the world means nothing to me without the family land,“ said Mr. Meyers, salvaging a few scraps of wood from his farm buildings in case the bulldozer rumbled in at night.