Burger shacks reignite land-claim tensions in Caledonia

A renegade hamburger joint is creating problems for the Six Nations and the local municipality

Have a hankering for a burger, but sick of inflated prices brought on by the decadent frills of electricity, health inspections and operating permits? Then Caledonia, Ont., has an unlicensed, hastily constructed hamburger stand for you. The business, which doesn’t have a phone and isn’t connected to hydro, recently popped up next to an unlicensed smoke shack on provincial land off of Highway 6 and has become the latest flashpoint in a long-standing fight over a Six Nations land claim. “It smacks in the face of a community subject to stagnant growth for a number of years,” says Haldimand County Mayor Ken Hewitt. He says the federal government denied the land claim years ago but the province is still refusing to shut down the businesses—its owners claim the land is theirs—and several other unlicensed smoke shacks in the area. Hewitt says this is undercutting local vendors, and driving away developers. “We’re killing the local economy.”

Residents staged protests outside the burger stop and the mayor’s residence, with little success. Members of the Six Nations council did not return calls from Maclean’s, but Paul Gerard, the Ministry of Infrastructure’s spokesperson, says the province is aware of the businesses and is in talks with all involved to resolve the situation. Hewitt says the government is wasting time. “The province is weak-kneed, afraid of backlash,” he says.

But Chris Leosis, owner of the Oasis drive-in, a Caledonia landmark that has been in operation for more than 80 years, says the owners of the shacks are working alone and don’t represent the Six Nations as a whole. He expects the government or the band council to step in and resolve the dispute soon. Regardless, he isn’t all that worried about his own sales. “People can eat anywhere,” says Leosis. “Who wants to be in a place that has no inspections?”

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