Farmer Denies Giving ‘Save the Children Convoy’ Land to Build a ‘Permanent Community’ Outside Ottawa
Convoy leaders misled supporters and donors by claiming they are building a permanent, self-sustaining community at a local farm
When an old friend told Chet Wiggins a group of travellers were offering to fix his barn, the 59-year-old Eastern Ontario farmer could not believe his good luck.
“They’re going to fix that for me?” Chet recalled. “I told him you got to be kidding.”
To be sure, Chet hasn’t been on a lucky streak these last few years.
After sinking his life savings into building a dog kennel on his farm to support him and his wife in retirement, Chet was diagnosed with cancer a year ago. Then an extreme weather event swept-down from the Ottawa Valley and damaged his barn.
“One side’s caved-in,” Chet told PressProgress. “I’m missing parts of it that ripped off.”
Chet is apologetic about how he pronounces words, explaining that his doctors had to remove half of his tongue to stop his cancer from spreading. While recent MRI scans have given him a hopeful prognosis, he now faces physical and financial challenges maintaining the hundred year old hobby farm where he’s lived for two decades and cares for 24 rescue animals.
“I told them I can’t afford to do it,” Chet said, explaining that the group of travelling men made him a deal he couldn’t possibly decline: “We could use a place to stay for awhile and in return, we’ll help fix-up your place.”
Chet hasn’t heard of the “Save the Children Convoy,” and doesn’t talk politics with his guests, though he’s aware the men were camping out in a field around the corner from his farm along with “maybe 60 or 70 campers” for the last three weeks.
“I didn’t know anything about it, I wasn’t involved with them,” Chet said. “I don’t know if they’re Freedom Convoy and to be honest with you, it doesn’t matter to me as long as they’re not violent people.”
Chet was unaware his guests have explicitly called for arresting politicians and installing a new government or that their own supporters expressed concerns about potential violence. A number of other Save the Children Convoy members have faced recent criminal charges in connection with their chaotic protests in downtown Ottawa.
He’s also seemingly unaware of the Save the Children Convoy’s messages revolving around anti-LGBTQ+ paranoia and far-right pedophile conspiracies.
The leaders of the Save the Children Convoy announced plans this week to relocate their base camp near Casselman two kilometres down the road to a new “permanent” location where they will live “all-year round” and stage daily convoys into Ottawa.
That “permanent” location is Chet’s farm.
First images are rolling in from the Save the Children Convoy commune, which is currently under construction in Saint Isidore, Ontario.
Convoy organizers are billing it as a permanent, year-round “community” and boast that it will be “warm in the winter” with its own ”kitchen.” pic.twitter.com/9Kbl1qDlrS
— Luke LeBrun (@_llebrun) October 25, 2023
“We got a permanent camp now,” convoy influencer Tyson Billings, who is also known as “Freedom George,” said in a recent livestream video. “We’re going to build a community.”
“They want to build a permanent camp to gather at for protests,” Freedom George added in a different livestream video. “This farmer wants to build it there and he’s given up his land and a barn and of course things have to be worked on and they’re actually going to build a camp – a permanent one – so it can go all-year round.”
Photos posted in the Save the Children Convoy’s private Facebook group show convoy members stockpiling food and supplies in the basement of Chet’s barn, where a wanted poster featuring a mugshot of Justin Trudeau is hanging.
Another video shows convoy members clearing dirt from the rafters without use of a respirator mask.
Freedom George even suggested that come spring, the convoy could use the farm to “plant seeds and garden.”
“The fellow that owns this, we’re not going to say any names, he actually wants us to stay and build a community here, a safe place, so come spring time, there’s going to be gardens being planted and stuff like that,” Freedom George said on a convoy podcast.
“This could be a generational thing that we have,” added convoy podcaster Jason Lavigne, before making an appeal to “support the camp financially.”
Chet couldn’t say for sure what Freedom George and other convoy leaders are talking about and insists he never agreed to building “any hippie communes” in his backyard.
“They’re not staying permanently,” Chet clarified. “They’re here to help me out, there’s lots of work to be done.”
“I’m not sure exactly what they’re doing, they just said they’d come and help me and when there’s no more work for them, they said they’d be on their way.”
“I don’t plan to have 100 people in the barn sleeping in it,” Chet added, laughing. “If I could do that, I’d be a slumlord.”
Chet anticipates only a “dozen” people will be staying at his farm while the rest remain at the existing base camp two minutes down the road.
One possible explanation for the mixed-messages could be simple miscommunication – Save the Children Convoy leaders are widely advertising Chet’s home address online and currently organizing a convoy from Québec to bring in reinforcements next week.
A Facebook event page lists over 130 individuals who have already confirmed or expressed interest in joining the convoy to Chet’s farm.
Chet also concedes it’s possible his guests aren’t the Good Samaritans they present themselves to be, but says he simply can’t afford not to roll the dice and take a chance — “I’m at the end of my rope.”
“It’s been hell just trying to cut my grass over the summer,” Chet said. “They said they’re going to fix my big shed and they’re going to help me do the roof on my house.”
“Maybe I’m taking a risk, I’ve done it before, sorry my language, I’ve been f—ked before.”
Whatever the Save the Children Convoy is planning to do with his farm, Chet hopes it helps him get back on his feet so he can look after the dogs. He notes with “good pride” that a local health inspector once told him his kennel was “by far the nicest that she’s ever seen” during her 23 years on the job.
The kennel features spacious log cabin themed enclosures for dogs. “The big ones, we call them cottages and the smaller ones are called cabins,” Chet explained, noting “it cost me almost $40,000 to do it.”
“It’s a labour of love,” Chet said.
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