As It Happens

'My heart just sank' Ontario flour mill may shut down over safety concerns

Federal safety inspectors say the equipment in the historic Arva Flour Mill in Ontario is dangerous. Owner Mike Matthews now fears he may have to permanently shut the 197-year-old business down.
Canada's oldest water-powered flour mill may shut down because federal inspectors say the antique machinery is a safety hazard. (arvaflourmill.com)

For generations, Mike Matthews' family has run Arva Flour Mill. Not much has changed in the Arva, Ontario millhouse for the 197 years it's been operating — including the equipment. That's never been a problem, until now.

In April, federal inspectors surveyed the mill and immediately shut it down, declaring the machinery a safety hazard.

"My heart just sank," Matthews tells As It Happens host Carol Off. "At first I didn't think they had any power. I thought the fact that we're 197-years-old that we sort of had an exemption to that — to the modern standards."

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The concerns are mainly with the open flat belts and pulley system, which under current standards require safety guards. Matthews agrees "anything's possible" and admits the exposed mechanics of the mill pose risks if operated incorrectly but he points to the mill's flawless safety record as proof that shutting the facility down is extreme.
(arvaflourmill.com)

"It's true but when it comes down to it all my employees know the equipment well," Matthews argues. "We work with them shoulder-to-shoulder until they get comfortable with it."

For Matthews, building respect for the equipment is also key to maintaining the unique character of the all natural, old-fashioned product.

"Everything is done by sound and by feel," Matthews explains. "You listen to the building. You listen to the machine, the different hums and squeaks, and that's how you know that everything's running smoothly or if you have a problem. There's no flashing lights or a computer that tells you what's going on."


Matthews is now the only person allowed to operate the mill. He says he cannot afford to modify the 113-year-old equipment and will continue to try to convince federal regulators that the flour mill is not a danger in order to avoid closing for good.

"We're working with a museum here basically," Matthews insists. "I'm hoping for an exemption to the rule but I don't really think that's possible."

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