| Jun 02, 2005

Feature article, May 26, 2005

Feature article May 26, 2005

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Paradise Lost: The tale of John McCabe

by Jeff Green

Tom McCabe wanted to start a new life for himself and his two sons by buying a small plot of land off the beaten track.

Two years later, authorities have removed everything he has built, leaving him out of doors, with an old cargo van as a bedroom.

Last Thursday, Frontenac Countys bylaw officer Ken Gilpin supervised a crew that pulled down and took away all the lumber and other materials McCabe had constructed around a trailer on his property. They then removed the trailer as well.

Tom McCabes place before .... and after

Ken Gilpin said later that the property was raked after the materials were removed, but four days later shards of glass were found strewn about the former location of what had been home for Tom McCabe and his sons Kittam, 9, and Louis, 8.


Until two years ago this month, Tom McCabe was living in the Parkdale district of Ottawa. He had custody of his two sons, and had been using his chequered history - he has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder and did a stint in prison for bank robbery - as the basis for counselling that he had been doing for people with a variety of addictions. But his sons, particularly his eldest son Kittam, were running into difficulty at school.

One day I went on a field trip with him, and at the end of the day he said he wasnt looking forward to going back to school the next day. I asked him why, and he said it was because he had to sit facing the wall. The rest of the kids sit in groups of four facing each other, but the teacher said he couldnt handle the stimulation. Between that and the fact that I realised I could never get ahead as long as I was living in the city, I decided it was time to move.

McCabe purchased 17 acres on Sunday Lake road in June of 2003. Before purchasing the land, he was required to sign a covenant with the Property Owners Association, placing restrictions on what he could do on his land.

As Sunday Lake Association President Mickie Mackie said, When I purchased my property my lawyer forced me to read the covenant and told me that if I had any problem with any of the provisions, I shouldnt purchase the property.

McCabe signed the covenant and purchased the property. He then approached the building inspector for North Frontenac, Ken Lindey, and proposed to him that he was going to move a bus onto the property. Lindey told McCabe that wasnt permitted, but that he could put a seasonal trailer on the property.

Lindey, who has since retired, recalls McCabe, but doesnt remember all the details of their interaction. He did say, however, that he would not have led McCabe believe it was legal to live year-round in a seasonal trailer in North Frontenac.

McCabe recalls that Lindey did indeed tell him he could not live permanently in a trailer. The Sunday Lake Association covenant prohibits trailers, but Mickie Mackie said that McCabe had indicated he was going to be building, so he was left alone.

Tom McCabe didnt ignore all regulations. The Kingston Frontenac Health Unit came out to his place, and an outhouse and grey water system were put in place to satisfy their concerns. As well, a Childrens Aid Society caseworker also visited on a few occasions and decided the circumstances for the children were acceptable.

According to Lindy Shiels, who lives near Tom McCabe on the Lavant road, Tom McCabe has done a good job with his children. If I felt there was anything wrong with where he was living or with what the children were doing, I would have called the Childrens Aid myself in a second. I told the Childrens Aid worker exactly that. Although Kittam and Louis have been home schooled since moving to Sunday Lake road, Lindy Shields, who is the chair of the Parents Council at Clarendon Central Public School in Plevna, has talked to both Tom McCabe and school Principal Frank Girard about the possibility of the two boys attending school.

Kittam will not end up facing a back wall at Clarendon Central, she said.

McCabe has done a lot of building, but this is where he came into conflict with his neighbours, and ultimately, the township. Although he identified a secluded spot on his property where he wants to build someday, and began clearing some trees and putting a rudimentary lane to the site in place, he decided it was important to improve the living conditions for himself and his sons in a more immediate way, and began building on to his trailer. He used materials he retrieved from the dump and built a structure around the trailer, put in a wood stove, and prepared to get through his first winter at Sunday Lake Road.

Some time before the end of that winter, someone complained to the township about what Tom McCabe had been doing.

A year ago this March, Frontenac County Bylaw Officer Ken Gilpin received a call from the township of North Frontenac concerning a complaint they had received about a building that was being constructed without a permit on Sunday Lake Road.

Ken Gilpin visited the site, and found that Tom McCabe had been building a structure around a seasonal trailer on the site. After attempting to convince McCabe to remove the trailer and begin putting up a legal building, eventually he was charged with constructing buildings without a building permit, Gilpin recalls. A court order was issued against him last fall, and in October a judge gave Tom McCabe until Christmas to comply.

Gilpin says the matter finally went to the Supreme Court, where an injunction to get him to remove all the trailers from the property was granted. When nothing happened within a given time frame, Gilpin brought in a crew, and the trailer and everything attached to it was removed.

Throughout the process, Tom McCabe seems to have been in some state of denial.

I know I should have gone to the court dates, he said this week, but I couldnt do it.

All through this spring, even as he was informed he must either remove his trailer and the un-permitted buildings, he carried on making maple syrup with his sons and building a tree house for them.

Mickie Mackie of the Sunday Lake Association acknowledged the amount of work Tom McCabe has done, but says it was all in the wrong direction.

If he had been dong something positive with his time and energy and resources, there probably wouldnt have been a complaint at all, he said.

Even Lindy Shields, who has been working to get help for Tom McCabe, even approaching Habitat for Humanity in Kingston, to no avail, to help him put up a legal building, said it was hard to convince him that what happened last week was indeed going to happen.

Ive been working real hard, and I just wanted to spend some time this summer with my boys enjoying the land, Tom McCabe said this week, as he surveyed the rubble of his broken dream.

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