Not many things are still functional when they are more than 160 years old. But when it comes to Tyrone Mills Ltd, the adage ‘they don’t make them like this anymore’ definitely rings true. It’s one of Canada’s oldest operating water-powered mills around Bowmanville, Ontario.
Robert Shafer, who has owned it since 1979, said the mill was built in 1846, making it one of the oldest mills in Ontario. “My dream was to bring back old-style flour milling,” he said. Many decades later, mills and machinery are still being used there in the fashion they were a century ago.
Tyrone Mills Ltd began producing lumber after Mr. Shafer purchased it. Cider was milled by the Shafers for years. Their work now focuses primarily on milling flour and specialty lumber. Mid-September until early July is the time when flour is milled. While Mr. Shafer typically produces whole wheat flour, he also produces specialty flours such as buckwheat during the summer.
It does not act as if it were elderly despite its age. A mill can grind 350 pounds per hour of flour depending on the task, though he said more complex flours require higher speeds. From April to October, the mill experiences its biggest lumber season. When a board is put into the milling machine, it goes through a process that produces sleek, smooth 2x4s (or 2x6s, or 2x4s).
It is surprising that Tyrone Mills Ltd Bowmanville, a business that uses traditional methods, does not shy away from modernizing its operations. Shafer’s Mill has adapted to changing times by filling new needs and expanding its business.
At present, the mill specializes in custom woodwork from homeowners who want to renovate their older homes but keep the appearance of the era in which they were built. Various types of siding and specialty mantels are produced at the mill in order to match the look of antique mantles. Older homes are fitted with mouldings and hardwood floors by Mr. Shafer.
Mr. Shafer has discovered a niche market. With his expertise and fair pricing, he can handle specialty jobs. It is not the price that matters most to clients, but rather a good match and a quality job that will complete their home said, Mr. Shafer.
“It appears to be a growing business.”
When Diane Powers’ family wanted to fix up a wide-plank wood floor in the house they had lived in for 200 years, quality was paramount.
“It’s hard to come by anywhere,” Powers said.
The house’s floor could be restored to its original glory because her husband went to the mill and Mr. Shafer successfully matched the planks.
“I think it looks great,” she said. “It hadn’t aged as well,” she said.
In the meantime, Mr. Shafer is seeking out other small markets to expand into. One of his future plans is to build an outdoor bake oven so the mill can sell bread and pastries that are made with flour milled in Tyrone. A small shop already sells ice cream and locally made treats like oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and cider doughnuts, but it is attempting to expand, says Mr. Shafer.
An old family friend taught the family’s son Colin the history of blacksmithing so that he could learn how to work metal in the family’s new blacksmith shop. A second blacksmith will be in line to showcase the craft once Shafer’s younger brother leaves for school.
“It’s more of a demonstration than anything else,” Mr. Shafer said.
This is one way to bring visitors to the mill to see a bit of working history yet another traditional practice from a bygone age.
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