Standing like a behemoth on the Northern skyline of Port Colborne is the imposing edifice of the Robin Hood Flour Mill. This magnificent building has dominated the local landscape for decades.
Loved by some, loathed by others, the once thriving mill employed around seventy at it’s peak in the 1960’s and was a significant force in the local economy and beyond, as flour was processed and sent to all corners of Canada and America. The world changed. Those glory days have passed.
Behind almost every door in the old locker room are written names long since forgotten. Many doors are inscribed with combinations to neighbouring lockers – this was back when you and your workmates trusted each other. Simpler times. Some would say better.
The flour mill went through a series of changes before finally being closed for good in 2007. During the next two years it changed hands several times. In 2009 the site was acquired by Ceres Global Ag Corp., a Minnesota based grain company that saw the potential in both the building and its location on the Welland Canal.
During the next three years work commenced on re-purposing the mill from flour to grain distribution, removing much of the unneeded milling equipment and adding rail, truck, and boat loading infrastructure. Now a central part of Canada’s grain economy and distribution network and fully covered under the Grain Act of 1987, Robin Hood is ready willing and able to deliver high quality grain throughout Canada.
A Promising Future
The storage capacity is impressive. Robin Hood has 129 grain bins which can store 2.3 million bushels. These cylinders give the building it’s unique look and height. As someone that has walked on the roof of these bins I find it hard to convey their sheer size. From a distance they are imposing. Looking into them through a grill at the top, they are phenomenally huge. Let me put it this way. You could easily drop the contents of a small car dealership forecourt into each without filling it to the top.
The high speed conveyor system and pipework required to channel fast moving grain into 129 bins is equally staggering. The biggest grain elevators (there are half a dozen or so) can each move 1000 tons of grain per hour. These lift the grain up to the appropriate conveyor, which carries it to the correct bin. I found it interesting that the system used to position the outpouring grain above the correct bin is, surprisingly, manual. I like that in this automated age the human touch is still required.
The newest addition to the grain management operation, installed earlier this year, is the drying system. Grain tends to absorb moisture and this can cause problems with quality control. Previously, grain had to be shipped onward to specialist drying facilities, which of course incurred cost to farmers and producers. This addition makes Robin Hood a much more appealing venue as drying can be done on site, saving both time and money for the customer, and getting the product to market faster.
The facility looks from the outside to be in a state of disrepair, abandoned. This is not so. The redirection of purpose in recent years has given the facility new life. Most of that is not visible from the outside. Repairs continue to be made, additions added, updates installed. It will take time, but it will be done.
In 2019 Ceres signed an agreement with London Agricultural Commodities (LAC), Ontario’s leading distribution network, for storage and handling at the site. This agreement will see the opening of new markets in 2020 coming in to Port Colborne by rail, truck, and boat, boosting the local economy. This venerable facility will be around for a long time to come. And that makes me smile.
To close, I wanted to show one more aspect of the Robin Hood: The view.
It is quite simply breathtaking. A quick trip to the roof provides uninterrupted 360 degree views across the whole Niagara peninsula and beyond. Talk about new horizons.