Community Papers

Province open to offers for Grist Mill operations

Jim Millar shows off a lovingly restored vintage tractor in front of the main water wheel at the Keremeos Grist Mill. - Western News file photo
Jim Millar shows off a lovingly restored vintage tractor in front of the main water wheel at the Keremeos Grist Mill.
— image credit: Western News file photo

If you were thinking it would be nice to manage the Keremeos Grist Mill, the province has extended the deadline by another two weeks.

The opportunity to submit expressions of interest, which was to have ended on Oct. 30, has been extended to Nov. 13. The agreement with Jim and Brenda Millar, who have managed the historic site since 2009, ends on March 31, just as the 2013 tourist season will be ramping up. Their original contract, for one year with two renewals, was later extended by a third renewal.

Dave Cursons of the Grist Mill Foundation said he knows of expressions of interest from two local groups, both of which he is trying to be supportive of. But more may have been received by the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources, which oversees the province’s historic and heritage sites.

“Those are the ones I know of, and it could be that the existing contractor, who doesn’t finish up until the end of March next year, may apply again,” said Cursons. Millar said he submitted an expression of interest prior to the original deadline.

“We don’t get any preferential treatment, it’s just that I know a lot of the things they are asking about,” said Millar. “So I know how to answer them, more than the average person just trying to figure things out would.”

The Grist Mill is one of 23 heritage properties owned by the province, and is currently operated as a historic site museum by the Millars. But according to a press release from the ministry, proposals may include, but are not limited to, the site’s current function as an outdoor museum.

“The Heritage Branch will consider new uses for the site as long as they consider the site’s heritage values. This process will allow ministry staff to review innovative concepts that would increase financial viability and self-sufficiency of the Grist Mill site,” reads the government release.

Millar thinks the ministry is still trying to reach a goal of the province’s 11 heritage sites being self supporting.

“I’m not aware of very many heritage or museums that are financially self-sufficient with no government funding,” said Millar, adding that he would like to see these sites be free to the public, but doesn’t have a solution to a lack of government tax dollars.

“I’ve said in the past, that anybody in their right business mind wouldn’t take it on, but anyone that goes and looks at the place, they fall in love with it and they lose their common sense,” said Millar.

Opened in 1877, the mill and store served the needs of local ranchers, First Nations, miners and travellers on the historic Dewdney Trail. The 6.9-hectare (17-acre) site includes organic gardens, three historic buildings, a modern building currently used as a visitor centre, as well as some bare land. The site also has an heirloom apple orchard and a small plot of heritage wheat growing on the upper fields.

“It’s a beautiful place and it should be cherished,” said Cursons. “And the principal artifact, that old 1877 flour mill, is a terrific example of late Victorian technology, which is very much a precursor to our own model.”

“It’s the only one in B.C., and I think it is the only one in Western Canada, from Ontario west,” said Millar.

Expressions of interest are due at the ministry’s Heritage Branch before 2 p.m. on Nov. 13. Cursons hopes that the ministry will announce a successful proposal before Christmas.

“At a tourist attraction like the Grist Mill heritage site, you’ve got to get on board with marketing. January is late,” he said. “In the past, these contracts have not been issued until the spring, and that means that marketing has been affected, badly affected,  by the late start.”

Cursons is also concerned that proponents may not have access to a consultant’s report done on the heritage site after visiting the Similkameen community earlier this year.

“We had a fairly good turnout when they came out in the middle of June,” he said. “And we believe that report has been delivered to B.C. Heritage. That would be what do the local people want to see here, what would success look like, what are the problems as they see it.”

 

Copies of the Requests for Expressions of Interest package are available on the B.C. Bid website at: www.bcbid.gov.bc.ca.

 

 

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