London

Historic Arva Flour Mill goes on the market for $4.49M

After more than 200 years of grinding grain, the Arva Flour Mill is up for sale with owner Mike Matthews saying it's time to move on after carrying on a century-old family tradition.

Mill has been operating since 1819, but new labour rules made it tough for owner to continue

The Arva Flour Mill and the surrounding property is up for sale. The mill has operated on the site since 1819. Owner Mike Matthews said he's ready to move on, in part because federal labour laws won't allow him to have outside employees inside while the mill is running. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

After more than 200 years of grinding grain, the Arva Flour Mill is up for sale with owner Mike Matthews saying it's time to move on after carrying on a century-old family tradition. 

The two properties on the six-acre site include the mill, two houses, a barn and other buildings. The property is listed at $4,490,000 and remains an oasis off Highway 4, next to an idyllic dam on Medway Creek which powered the mill for decades. 

Matthews, 44, represents the fourth generation of his family to operate the mill, which began operating in 1819 and has been in his family since 1917.

Mike Matthews father died in 2005 and Mike's been operating the mill since 1999. 

"People swear by our flour, I don't know what I'll do when I don't have my flour to bake with," he said. 

Part of what makes the mill special is that it's run with original equipment. A single motor powers a series of grinders, sifters and shakers using an elaborate array of belts that weave through five separate floors. In some spots, the belts are threaded through openings cut into the ancient hardwood floor.

Inside, the mill resembles something out of a Charles Dickens novel with drive belts —some made of leather — running in every direction. 

But while all that old equipment adds to the charm, it also adds to the challenge. 

"Keeping a 200-year-old mill running can be interesting," he said. "It's a lot of work, when something breaks, we have to fabricate it from scratch, we can't buy a part."

It all works fine and can churn out hundreds of pounds of flour a day. Matthews knows just by sound when a belt is about to slip off a pulley or a bearing needs grease.

However, a major problem for Matthews is federal labour rules. Inspectors, fearful of the hazards created by so many exposed drive belts, won't allow other employees in the mill while it's operating. 

The mill is run off one motor with a series of belts and pulleys that span five separate floors. (NuVista Premeire Realy)

At one point, Matthews had to go to court just to keep the mill operating. 

Matthews said the equipment isn't inherently dangerous for anyone properly trained in its operation. He also points out that they've never had an accident. But laws that force him to work alone, make his job more difficult.

"Now no one is allowed in any of these areas when the equipment is running," he said. "Which makes it extremely difficult to mill flour. So now when something goes wrong, we have to shut down all the equipment to fix one thing, which takes time." 

Updating to modern milling equipment would be expensive and impractical and Matthews, at 44 years old, says the work is taking a toll on his body. He wants to move on and enjoy life as a father of a three-year-old and step away from what is, quite literally, the daily grind.

He's clearly proud that at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic last spring, he had to step up production because people were so keen to stock up on his flour. 

"They were lined up in the rain out to the road," he said. 

Matthews points out that just because the property is up for sale, doesn't necessarily mean the mill has to stop operating. He's hoping a buyer might come forward with a plan that involves preserving the mill and maybe even keep it running. He said the mill is profitable and the store which sells the flour and other dry goods is busy, as is a bakery that operates on site. 

Matthews said the historical value alone makes it worth preserving.

"This is really an operating museum," he said. 

Arva Flour Mill owner Mike Matthews said it's time to sell. He's hoping a buyer will come forward with a plan to preserve the mill and the property around it. (Andrew Lupton/CBC )

Realtor Paul Kash of NuVista Premier Realty is listing the property and said he and Matthews are looking for the right buyer. 

"Right now, the flour mill is a destination," said Kash. "We just want to make it a better destination. That's the goal. We want to make sure it's not going to be a high-rise development and the mill is going to be a big part of it" 

Kash said other Ontario mills have been successfully reborn as spas or luxury inns, and he's hoping something like that can happen at the Arva Flour Mill. 

"It takes the right developer," he said. "Someone with vision."

Historic flour mill says pandemic baking leads to spike in flour demand 

2 years ago
Duration 6:37
Mike Matthews is the owner of the Arva Flour Mill near London, Ont., one of Canada's oldest water-powered flour mills. He says his business is shifting production into overdrive to help meet the demand from home bakers during the COVID-19 pandemic. 6:37

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