Reader Comment

Toronto Sun article,portraying an oddball squatter but I see a hard working man doing what he can with what he is allowed to keep from his hard work.  Yet another man trying to do his best with the cards he's been dealt but will suffer another blow from our great Canadian system.

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Wed, September 8, 2004

Squatter faces shack attack

AL LOW has led the simple life here for the past seven years. Then, yesterday afternoon things became complicated in Al's Garden of Eden.

Al -- father of three and a man who's held down the same steady job in a body shop for more than 15 years -- lives in a treehouse. At least it would be, if it inched any higher up the big oak tree and smaller elm which make their way through his shack. He's built this odd Oakville homestead so close to the ramps of the QEW and Trafalgar Rd., that the leaves seem to tremble when each large truck down-shifts.

He doesn't hear the traffic. And standing here, next to the shower with the large water barrel overhead and fire-pit ready to roast hotdogs for his young son who visits on weekends, it's easy to forget where you are.


It could be out in the middle of nowhere. Only, it's very much someplace. Just 10 paces from the auto-shop where he works as a bodyman. Sitting next to a hotel, tourists could never guess Al's lodging for free in the thicket of trees on the corner by the highways. Right on provincial Crown land.

Al began squatting here seven years ago because he says it was the only way he can give enough financial support to his children and two ex wives.

Things were going along fine in Al's garden -- he was even going to install a large skylight over his 18.5-square-metre cabin. But then, yesterday, local bylaw officials and Oakville fire officials walked through the thick brush, up his nice stone pathway, and came to tell Al he'd have to leave. No paperwork was passed to him -- and the officials could not be reached last night for comment -- but Al knows, as sure as squirrels play on his roof each day, the city officials will be back.

"This land wasn't being used -- if it was, I'd go," says the 48-year-old self-described solitary man.

"I keep this place up, and am not harming anyone. Just want to live, work and earn enough to pay my bills."

If it's taxes Oakville needs, Al's family has been paying since his grandfather settled here from Scotland decades ago. The older man began farming, not too far away -- before development conquered all.

Al first staked out a claim by pitching a tent -- his salary, even closing in on $40,000-a-year, was apparently stretching him too thin. He was only going to stay here for a little while. Then, things in his garden began to grow a bit. Up until the fire officials came, he was drawing power, through a single extension cord, from the company he works at. He uses the garage's washroom, since he doesn't have one of his own.

"He's a good employee, and comes in on time ... though he does only work right out back," points out his boss, Mike, who was concerned about the attention Al will likely get through this column. "If we didn't trust him, we wouldn't have given him a key to the place."

Al says he's never been on welfare, or asked for any assistance. His family just thinks he lives an odd life. His father died just last week.

"He taught me to make your way in life -- that's what I've done," says Al, standing in his bedroom -- a single bed, with a bookcase of fantasy novels at one end.


The place is clean -- as clean as a shanty can be.

Blacklight posters hang from the walls, along with his son's kindergarten diploma. Plastic peace signs dangle from the ceiling. "Reserved Parking -- Mayor," reads a sign over his bed -- a plaque he got at a company outing. There's a TV -- used for watching the hockey games during winter -- which is now unplugged.

"It can get cold, but it makes you ... get up (for work) faster," he explains.

No one, except the officials who knocked at his screen door yesterday, has bothered him. It's always seemed like camping, whenever his 6-year-old boy comes to visit. A tire swing waits nearby. Plastic bottles hang from trees -- enough for target practice with a slingshot.

"I guess every good thing ends ... I just don't think it should have to," says Al, who wants to remain here, rather than with family or in a rented apartment.

"Who could I be harming living here like this?"