Captain Meyers - Belleville Intelligencer
06/04/11 16:40 Filed in: Captain Meyers
Finding Bellevilles founder
By Luke Hendry The Intelligencer
Local News - Saturday, November 25, 2006 Updated @ 10:48:17 PM
For 18 years, Doug Knutson has been on the trail of an elusive man. It’s a tough task: the man he’s seeking is a legendary rogue, a maverick military man feared by both his allies and enemies. There are no photos of him, and everyone who knew him is now dead.
Capt. John Walden Meyers was the founder of Belleville, a spy for Britain, a United Empire Loyalist raider, mill owner, father, and in the words of one ally, a “damned rascal.” And for nearly two decades, Belleville filmmaker Knutson has been working on an hour-long documentary film about the man. Borrowing the Damned Rascal term for its title, it’s become Knutson’s passion — and his plague.
“I’ve worked so long and so hard on this that I really feel like I knew him — or that he’s still around, some days.”
Johannes Waltimeyer was born in 1745 in New York. The son of German farmers, he died in 1821 and was buried in the Quinte region.
In between, he became a legend on both sides of the border. Tall and heavyset with wild red hair, he became a Loyalist spy in the American Revolution, working undercover in the forests of Quebec, evading a regiment bent on his capture, build a grist mill on the Moira River, and, according to some tales, learning the location of a still-secret silver mine in what is now Bon Echo Provincial Park. Yet despite his storied life, few Canadians know much about the man, though his name still turns up in historical re-enactments and other accounts in northern New York State.
The Damned Rascal film got its start in 1984, when Knutson, then in his final year of university, filmed a documentary about one United Empire Loyalist family’s settlement near Adolphustown, Ont. That year marked the 200th anniversary of the Loyalists’ exodus from the United States into Ontario. During his research, he said, “I kept running across this name, Capt. Meyers.” By 1989, Knutson had founded his Windswept Productions company and, as a side project, started to probe further into Meyers’ adventures. He was surprised as he began to learn about a colourful figure of Belleville’s history.
“We keep thinking it’s a boring place, that nothing ever happened here, and here’s this almost Daniel Boone-type character. Had he stayed in the states he would’ve been a well-known figure. “He wasn’t a squeaky-clean guy,” Knutson said. “He ticked off his friends as much as he impressed his enemies.”
Meyers was respected by the Americans, who thought him daring and courageous, Knutson said, adding some also turned him into a dreaded monster. “He was the bogeyman of the Hudson Valley. They feared him. There was this legend going around in upper New York that if the kids misbehaved that Capt. Meyers would come and eat them.” But the officer also frustrated his own comrades by being difficult to manage.
Knutson said his script also reveals a few new details about Meyers — including some which seem to indicate Meyers’ silver mine may not be just a legend.
The hunt to track down more details about Meyers has often been a frustrating one. There are numerous spellings of his names and disagreements over various parts of his life and death. His gravestone sits on the western edge of Whites Cemetery next to CFB Trenton — land that was once part of the more than 3,000-acre tract owned by the captain. According to Knutson, some say Meyers’ body is in the graveyard, but others theorize it could be buried at Belleville’s St. Thomas Anglican Church, where his funeral was held. But since Meyers died 185 years ago this past Wednesday, some mysteries may never be solved. Yet hasn’t stopped Knutson from trying to finish the film, which he now says is “97 per cent done. “It’s edited in its final form. I’m just putting on the finishing touches.” He smiled sheepishly when admitting he’s spent 18 years trying to finish something he thought would only take a year or so, and said he’s had “a lot of setbacks over the years. “Actually, there were years when it was barely touched,” he said, attributing the gaps to the lack of money or time to complete it. “The one advantage of all this time is it will look much better,” he said. “This project has run the gamut of technology,” Knutson said, explaining new tools and effects are now adding polish to the film’s look, and he has reshot a few scenes.
In 2000, Knutson and wife Carolyn were married in period costume. It was Carolyn’s idea, and Knutson contributed by wearing a white wig like those common in Meyers’ time. Since then, he’s continued to work in his “cave,” the basement video-editing suite where his business is based.
He’s both frustrated and excited about the project that refuses to go away. New leads occasionally turn up, but the usual roadblocks remain.
Still, he said, “there’s a lot of interest” in Damned Rascal in Belleville and beyond. He’s screened it for dozens of groups and organizations over the years.
Retired broadcaster and Quinte native Roy Bonisteel is one of them. He is Meyers’ great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandson, and narrates Damned Rascal. “He was a very important Canadian, and certainly in this area we need to celebrate him,” Bonisteel said this week. “We don’t even have a statue of him. “We need to celebrate this man and his efforts — not only what he did as a military man, but as a man who saw the future of Canada and invested in it.” The 225th anniversary of the Loyalists’ arrival in Ontario will come in 2009.
“I definitely want to have it finished long before then,” said Knutson.
He said obtaining the rights to use certain music and some of the rare images related to Meyers’ life will cost him thousands of dollars. He also needs a few authentic accents for voiceovers: one Swiss, one Scottish, and one from New England. Once the film is complete it will likely be distributed on DVD and pitched to the television industry. But Knutson laughed as he admitted he has plenty of time to discover more about Meyers. “He’s not going anywhere.”
For more on Damned Rascal, call Knutson at 613-962-7045 or visit www.windsweptproductions.ca.