Eastern Ontario’s farming community wants the premier to delay the closure of the University of Guelph’s Kemptville campus for two years, which would allow for new plans to take over the campus.
Earlier this week, the University of Guelph confirmed the closing of its Kemptville and Alfred campuses next year. The Alfred campus was saved, but the Kemptville campus was not, meaning it might not reach its 100-year anniversary, something many people anxiously awaited.
On Saturday, hundreds gathered at the W.B. George Centre on the campus of Kemptville College, including young farmers, teachers, students and two area politicians: PC MPP Steve Clark and Liberal MPP Grant Crack.
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The decision to close the eastern Ontario campuses was caused by financial concerns, according to the university, saying it would have to spend $15 million over the next decade to maintain aging facilities.
'What gave them the right to tear out the heart of eastern Ontario' - Marty Derks, Dundas Federation of Agriculture
But the explanation meant nothing to farmers who see a bleak farming future in the area if the school closes.
“This is the heart of agriculture in eastern Ontario. What gave them the right to tear out the heart of eastern Ontario,” Marty Derks of the Dundas Federation of Agriculture told the crowd on Saturday.
The University of Guelph took the Kemptville campus over in 1997 at the province’s request, but it never felt like they wanted it, local farmers and alumni have said.
2-year moratorium would allow for brainstorming
Now Steve Clark suggests a moratorium on the closure to allow the community to run the Kemptville campus on its own. The province would have to initiate that delay, though.
As a recent orphan, the campus can be a vibrant and profitable place of learning, said Clark, who's also launched a petition to save the college. He’s also asked Wynne to allow the campus to take in new students for two years while a plan for the future is ironed out.
Grant Crack, who’s also the Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Agriculture and Food, said the large turnout on Saturday left a lasting impression.
"I will be going back to Queen’s Park and speaking to the Minister of Agriculture and Food and the premier to see if some type of agreement can be put in place,” Crack said.
“(On Saturday) we certainly realized the important role that Kemptville College plays in eastern Ontario."
The serving agriculture minister is Kathleen Wynne, who is also Ontario’s premier. Farmers hope she steps in to help them work towards an alternative solution.
Locals have already formed a committee to brainstorm solutions, including whether the campus could become a destination for international students to study agriculture.