PENTICTON - Uncertainty over who will be operating the Keremeos Grist Mill next year is frustrating the heritage site’s society chairman.
“We’re kind of annoyed and baffled,” Grist Mill Foundation chair Dave Cursons said earlier this week. “It’s a sluggish process - nobody seems willing to move it along.”
A Request For Proposal was issued for the Grist Mill in August as the province’s heritage branch sought proposals for future operation of the site and to reduce or eliminate provincial funding for the site’s annual operation.
The RFP closed on Sept. 26, and since then no operator has been named. Current manager Chris Mathieson’s contract runs out on March 31.
“He can’t make any serious plans, because he has no contract,” Cursons said. “I can’t help but think Chris is weighing his options at this point. If he had to give it up we would all be deeply disappointed, not to mention angry.”
The Keremeos Grist Mill is a provincial heritage site located just east of Keremeos. It features a water driven flour mill built by pioneer Barrington Price in 1877 and is the only remaining mill of its type west of Manitoba.The site also contains 12 acres of agricultural lands, other heritage buildings and colourful gardens.
Mathieson's management of the mill over the past three years has made him a local favourite for continuing operations at the mill. He has worked with local groups to re-generate interest in the property, hosting weekend events and concerts, including such high profile regional wine events as the Barbecue King competition.
Cursons pointed to the growing mill attendance stats as evidence Mathieson was moving the property in the right direction.
“I don’t know what the exact numbers are, but attendance to the mill has doubled annually for each of the past two years. This year we had 11,000 visitors,” Cursons said.
Without knowing where his future lies, Cursons says Mathieson has not been able to accept requests for events like weddings, nor give the advance notice needed for use of the various tourism tools available through regional, provincial and international tourism agencies.
Appeals to government interests have fallen on deaf ears, Cursons added.
“We heard Forest, Lands and Natural Resource Assistant Deputy Minister Gary Townsend tell us the (ministry) is not mandated to operate historic sites as tourist attractions nor subsidize business activities,” Cursons said. “We also heard from Heritage Branch Director Jennifer Iredale say the province is not mandated to operate heritage properties as museums or tourist attractions nor to subsidize business activities. It is the view of our activist community of volunteers and supporters that the province does have a responsibility to see to the ongoing operation of this designated provincial historic site and that policy and bureaucratic practices which abjure that responsibility are wrong.”
The mill site closed for the season on Dec.17. It will open only for special occasions for the remainder of the winter season.
Current operator Chris Mathieson declined comment on the matter of present RFP status.
Greig Bethel, spokesperson for the ministry, Would only say: "The current contract to operate the Keremeos Grist Mill and Gardens ends in March 2015, and ministry staff are currently reviewing proposals.”
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