A 137-year-old farmers’ market in the small city of Orillia, Canada might lose its land, and Cornell University may be the only actor able to save it. As a result of an 1872 covenant drawn by Mr. Goldwin Smith, Patrick Kehoe, a concerned Orillia resident, is now appealing to Cornell to become the “Guardian of the Covenant.”
Smith sold Orillia the land on which the market resides on the condition that the property be used as a market block “for ever and hereafter,” according to Orillia’s city council; however, the council has recently developed a plan to build a library on the market land. Smith’s covenant dictates that the land be reverted to his heirs if it was no longer used as intended. Thus, as beneficiary of Smith’s entire estate, Cornell would be the rightful owner. Given the present situation, Cornell may have legal influence in the market’s future.
While Orillians support the construction for the desperately needed new library, explained Kehoe, the new building would push the market into the corner of its plot and take over much of the costumer parking that is “essential to the its survival.” The market’s vendors could potentially lose significant business, threatening the existence of the Saturday exchange in general.
“The city relies on the market,” said Kehoe. It draws about 2,000 people every Saturday and is a source of economic stability. Kehoe also acknowledged that being one of the oldest farmers’ markets in North America and the center of Orillia, the market provides many citizens with a sense of their city’s culture and history. The farmers’ market website reads, “It’s our heritage.”
One of the citizens’ main issues with building the library on the market’s plot is that there are several other viable locations. Within 400 feet alone there are two options, claimed Kehoe, one being a 66,000 square foot vacant store across the street.
“City council’s only motivation is that the market lands are available at no cost. … It’s absolute stubbornness on the mayor’s and several council members’ part,” said Kehoe.
As construction of the new library is planned for September, Kehoe has appealed to Cornell for help.
“Cornell has a legal argument to claims those lands. I hope to make [the University] aware that it certainly has rights extended to them,” he said.
Even if the covenant is deemed a legitimate contract, however, Cornell administrators do not see themselves as having an obligation to support the market.
“What we have is a gentleman in Canada who has merely sent an e-mail to many people at Cornell,” explained Blaine Friedlander, Cornell press relations officer . “That e-mail has landed at the council’s office and council is now reviewing it.”
Whether Cornell addresses Kehoe’s concerns or not, he is planning to visit Ithaca in the next few days in order to personally push the matter further.
Back in Canada, other Orillia citizens have decided to protect the market.
“We, the undersigned, demand that the mayor and council of the City of Orillia respect the historic rights (covenant) of the Orillia Farmers’ Market and that the mayor and council find an alternative site for the proposed new library,” reads a petition that began circulating Orillia this past Saturday. Within a day it had 200 signatures.
Bob Nevison, chairman of the market’s managing committee, pointed out that reestablishing the covenant could be very costly and time consuming.
“I would imagine Cornell could help, but everyone must decide the worth of this project… mounting a legal challenge is expensive,” Nevison said.
Cornell may not be in any rush to take on that challenge.
“The counsel is obligated to look at everything,” Friedlander explained in reference to Cornell’s Office of University Counsel. “We really don’t have anything to say until the council can review it and decide whether there’s any foundation to what this gentleman is asking or not. There is no time frame on it, and there really is no hurry.”