Mathieson hopes to take Grist Mill to new level

Heritage site operator hoping to have his deal renewed to run popular Keremeos attraction

Chris Mathieson has no doubts about wanting to secure the next contract for operating the Keremeos Grist Mill and Gardens.

“I love the site, love the community. I am really excited at the possibilities,” said Mathieson.

“When I first submitted my initial expression a year ago, the intention at the time was that it was going to be for a five-year contract.”

Due to reorganization at the Heritage Ministry, Mathieson’s original contract was for one year, with an option to extend for a second year. But the ministry is already looking to set up a new contract.

Mathieson, however, said the request for expressions of interest isn’t because the ministry isn’t satisfied with the job he’s doing.

“I know for a fact they’re thrilled. It is about internal stuff on their side,” said Mathieson. “They decided we’re not going to worry about that extra year. I will probably be asking for  a 10-year contract, at least.”

Dave Cursons of the Grist Mill Society agrees the ministry is looking for a long-term deal.

“They want somebody there for a long time,” said Cursons, who approves of the changes Mathieson has been implementing, including bringing craftsman Cuyler Page in to continue restoration of the mill works.

Page, according to Curson, is working on parts of the mill he wasn’t able to finish when he last worked on the grist mill in 2002.

“That includes making sure the wheel has enough torque to turn cleaner, grinder and sifter,” said Curson. “Hopefully we will be able to see all three going by the end of the summer.”

Mathieson has also arranged a series of concerts, regular talks on historic subjects, a newsletter and even a Sunday afternoon jam session for musicians.

“It is turning out to be an interesting year,” said Curson. “It’s fun to work with someone who has high energy and enthusiasm and is in touch in a particular way, because of his skills around social media.”

Mathieson said he is just trying to bring some activity to the site, which has suffered a decline in attendance in recent years.

“A lot has to do with how little activity was happening on the site. I don’t think it was because of the site, I don’t think it was because tourism is declining. In fact, tourism is increasing in a lot of places right now,” said Mathieson. “There are opportunities there, and they just have to be taken advantage of.”

Those opportunities include everything from the grist mill itself to the heritage orchard and other amenities.

“The heritage buildings on the property are second to none. It is just a matter of taking advantage of those things and making sure we are doing events here more often, that we are finding ways to better engage with this community,” said Mathieson. “My wife and son and I have moved to Keremeos, we live here now. We’re part of the community and I think being a part of this community makes a huge difference in terms of the kind of support you get.”