by Tom Van Dusen
AgriNews Staff Writer
KEMPTVILLE — “Please release it and we will go.” Putting another spin on an old song title, the Kemptville College Alumni Association is demanding that the provincial government and the Municipality of North Grenville turn over artifacts stored on campus.
“We’re now being forced to move to the courts to gain legal access to the alumni’s history,” the association complained in a recent statement. That history dates back most of a century, representing the time the college served as the centerpiece of eastern Ontario agriculture before it was abandoned by University of Guelph in 2014.
After two years of negotiation, 633 acres of the campus and 34 buildings have been sold off to North Grenville for reconfiguration into an educational hub with a focus on agriculture and climate change. The artifacts – documents, photos, trophies – tracing the history of the college are now stored in a building on the sprawling campus.
After it became clear North Grenville would take over the college, the alumni declared it had no faith the campus would continue in its original role of teaching and promoting agriculture. It decided to relocate its activities to Lombardy Fairgrounds south of Smiths Falls where it got clearance to erect a small building to house college memorabilia.
Alumni president Audrey Baker and past-president Ron Burgess said they’re fully engaged in fundraising for the Lombardy building and, in order to complete interior plans, they need memorabilia in their possession immediately.
While they wouldn’t go on the record because the feud has become a legal matter, some North Grenville officials maintain the artifacts are important to the community and shouldn’t be moved 60 kilometres south west to Lombardy.
Both sides have hired lawyers to hash it out. The alumni association has charged that the provincial government through its Agricultural Research Institute which manages publicly owned agricultural properties didn’t respond to its lawyer’s request for the materials to be released by April 30.
That breaches a written contract, the alumni maintains, to provide 30 days for removal of historical items prior to sale of the campus. The other side claims ownership of the materials hasn’t been established; while an agreement was reached to collect artifacts in one place on campus, no agreement was ever made to take them away as the alumni wants to do.
The tussle goes back a few years to when the alumni executive decided it had to take action to protect artifacts after the University of Guelph announced it was departing. Executive members were worried valuable mementos would be removed, even tossed out, and arranged with the institute to gather and securely store materials on the campus.
The alumni association is one of two college organizations which raised funds for bursaries and other projects. Rather than pull up stakes as the alumni has done, the Kemptville College Foundation has remained connected to the campus although it was sidelined while North Grenville negotiated the takeover.
At an executive meeting held on its old stomping grounds April 30, foundation members decided to move ahead in supporting what’s now known as Kemptville Campus Education and Community Hub. They felt they could continue to exercise the foundation mandate of promoting agricultural awareness and sustainability under the new configuration.