10 years after land dispute, Caledonia bracing for building boom
It’s been 10 years since a dispute over a section of land boiled over into fires, physical altercations and a months-long blockade of a section of Highway 6 around Caledonia.
For weeks, residents of a Caledonia neighbourhood faced lengthy detours around the blockade just to enter or leave their community.
Renee Malone recalls it as a “scary” time.
“The fights were just unbelievable. Sometimes you just didn’t feel safe,” she says.
Six Nations protesters stand on top of their barricade moments before taking it down in Caledonia on May 23, 2006. (Nathan Denette / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Craig Grice moved into the neighbourhood in 2005, about a year before aboriginal protesters put up the blockade. He’s now the deputy mayor of Haldimand County, which includes Caledonia.
With a decade of hindsight, he says there was at least one positive thing to come out of the dispute – stronger ties between neighbourhood residents.
“If there’s a silver lining … there are neighbours that will always be in touch and connected because of it,” he says.
The disputed land, known as the Douglas Creek Estates, was slated to become a subdivision. Instead, it was purchased by the provincial government.
To this day, only one house has been built on the site.
That may go some way to explaining why Caledonia’s real estate market is one of the hottest in southern Ontario, with houses selling days after they are listed – often for at least their asking price.
The average sale price for a home in the community of 10,000 jumped by 10 per cent in 2015, and is on pace for a sharper rise this year.
“People still want to live here,” says real estate agent Peter Vandendool.
“We never really suffered as much as people might have thought.”
According to Vandendool, the community’s average sale price in 2005 was $229,000. Thus far in 2016, it’s sitting at $364,000.
But Caledonia’s housing market is about to be tested by the greatest influx of homes in its history.
Across town from the Douglas Creek Estates, a planned subdivision will feature 3,000 homes – nearly as many as the entire community contains at present.
A sign advertises a new subdivision in Caledonia as construction work occurs on Friday, May 20, 2016.
While the influx of new building will bring with it more amenities and commercial opportunities for Caledonia residents, it could also provide a sudden cooldown to housing prices.
Since 2006, any altercations between Caledonia and Six Nations residents have been relatively minor.
Grice says he’s grateful things have calmed down, but believes there will always be some simmering tensions unless the provincial and federal governments get involved.
“Without those two really pushing the right buttons … everyone will always say ‘What’s going to happen in Caledonia next?’” he says.
Jane Jamieson, who was on the frontlines of the aboriginal protest, agrees that things seem to be in a sort of détente.
“We’ve remained static for the last 10 years,” she says.
Jamieson says she has some concerns about any new development in the area, but recognizes that the new subdivision in Caledonia will provide good economic opportunities for residents of both that community and Six Nations.
Dawn Martin-Hill, an associate professor at McMaster University, produced two documentaries about the 2006 dispute.
She remembers feeling a “wall of hate” directed at Six Nations residents during that time.
“When we heard the taunts and the verbal assaults … we had no idea that our neighbours felt that way toward us,” she says.
While so-called “border towns” near reserves, like Caledonia, are often thought of as being more aware of indigenous Canadians than people in other communities farther from reserves, Martin-Hill says she hasn’t found that to be the case.
Instead, she sees the Caledonia dispute as part of a much larger conflict between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians – one which stretches back to the first contact with European settlers.
“You’ve had two worlds collide,” she says.
“It’s never going to end, until these issues are resolved.”