Kitchener-Waterloo

Hundreds show support for Wilmot Township landowners at town hall with Ontario NDP leader, local politicians

Hundreds of people sporting signs of support for affected landowners in Wilmot Township attended a town hall with Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles Friday evening.

People who couldn't make it into meeting part of second event outside

A room full of clapping people at a town hall meeting.
Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles hosted a town hall Friday evening at the Wilmot Recreation Complex to hear from area landowners facing expropriation. (Karis Mapp/CBC )

Hundreds of people sporting signs of support for landowners in Wilmot Township who are being asked to sell their land to the Region of Waterloo attended a town hall Friday evening. 

NDP Leader Marit Stiles was in the township all day — first leading a press conference calling for transparency and accountability

Stiles later hosted the town hall meeting at the Wilmot Recreation Complex. 

The room reached capacity before the start of the meeting, forcing many attendees to watch the livestream from outside.

Stewart Snyder, a long-time dairy farmer in the area, is one of the landowners who has been approached by the Region of Waterloo with a notice explaining his land is needed. He said the town hall was a sign of the support he and other farmers have from the community and politicians.

"It gives us all a good feeling that we've got the other political parties involved because we're very comfortable saying that we've got the provincial government in, we've got the federal government all involved in this stuff," he told CBC News at the meeting.

"Everybody behind the scenes [are] not admitting to anything, saying they don't know anything about it. Day by day we're finding out who really does know stuff about it."

A man getting interviewed with a microphpone.
Stewart Snyder, a longtime Wilmot dairy farmer who is facing land expropriation by the Region of Waterloo. (Karis Mapp/CBC)

In March, 12 landowners were told the region plans to purchase their land. In total, the region is pursuing more than 300 hectares of land near the intersection of  Nafziger Road and Bleams Road, south of New Hamburg for an undisclosed industrial project.

If the approached landowners refuse to sell, the region says their land will be expropriated.

The Region of Waterloo has said it needs the land and that it's partnering with Wilmot Township "on land readiness to create shovel-ready sites to attract economic investments and create jobs."

"Land assembly is underway to create shovel-ready sites for large-scale economic investments to further support Waterloo Region's economic vitality as it grows to one million residents by 2050," the region said in a written statement.

Wilmot Township officials did not respond to requests for comment from CBC News althought the township has confirmed councillors signed non-disclosure agreements about the project.

"From day one since we got our offers, we've had no further communication from them," Snyder said.

After speaking to people in the room, Stiles went outside to answer questions with the attendees unable to get inside.

Green Party MPP Ainslinn Clancy, who represents the riding of Kitchener Centre, was also there showing her support alongside Kitchener-Conestoga MP Tim Louis.

A group of people outside posing with signs.
NDP Leader Marit Stiles posing with the group of town hall attendees unable to be in the room do to capacity limits. (Karis Mapp/CBC)

Support from local community and beyond

The packed meeting was filled with residents from Waterloo region but also areas across the province. 

Sherry Nielson came from the Peterborough area to show her support for the landowners. 

"It's important to me because I'm from this area so I still have ties here. I am very good, longtime friends of the Pfenning Organic Vegetables," Nielson said. "It's also important to me personally because I own 80 acres in Dunsford and I want to maintain that acreage and give it to my children."

Regional resident Kathie Must doesn't have a direct connection to the landowners but says she attended because she believes this is a big issue.

"I live in Waterloo and I eat food and I just value what they do in Wilmot. I'm appalled at what our elected official are doing," she said. 

"I think the more elected officials that jump on board and talk about it and listen and hear and feel passionate about it, the better … They are there to represent us as members of the community."

A group of people in a rec centre room.
Hundreds of people attended a town hall Friday evening in support of landowners facing expropriation in Wilmot Township. (Karis Mapp/CBC)

'It can be done'

Mike Sullivan was one of the panel members asked to speak during the town hall. He says he was asked to attend because he was in a similar situation in 2020, when Stratford residents had concerns about a float glass manufacturing coming to the city

"This community is going through exactly what we went through in Stratford. There's a secret plan nobody knows about but will affect the lives of everyone here," Sullivan said. 

He says he looks back on the situation fondly because the community rallied to have their voices heard

"When we started, it was a big uphill battle. We didn't think we had a whole heck of a chance of changing anything because it had been secret for so long," he said.

"There was only one step left for the city to do but we started pushing and the councillors started to hear from people and more and more people got interested in our movement."

Citing delays and public pressure, plans for the glass factory were suspended indefinitely

"It's amazing. I haven't seen crowds like this in a long time. Of course, when we were fighting, it was COVID. We couldn't have public meetings," he said.

Group supporting the purchase

A group made up of the presidents of local chambers of commerce, economic development, Communitech and Explore Waterloo Region penned an open letter April 5, supporting the region's plan to purchase the land

The group, called BESTWR, wrote in its letter that "this is a critical time" in the region "that requires bold action."

"We are on the path to one million residents and this inevitable growth requires investment and, most importantly, jobs," the letter says.

"Preparing shovel-ready land is critical and will be pivotal to the ongoing success of our future economy and communities across Waterloo region."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Karis Mapp

Reporter

After growing up in Waterloo Region, Karis Mapp obtained a diploma from the College of Sports Media. She has since spent time reporting for CityNews 570 and CTV Kitchener. Karis joined CBC K-W in February 2024 and is excited to explore the stories that mean the most to the community.