Island abattoir funding sets plan in motion

by Nancy McDermid

PROVIDENCE BAY—The Manitoulin Island Community Abattoir is now on its way to the first stages of construction following a significant funding announcement by Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Mike Brown ending a five-year quest by Island farmers to have a slaughterhouse for meat they produce on Manitoulin.

“I am happy to be here today to make an announcement on behalf of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs,” Mr. Brown told those assembled on the future site located in Providence Bay. “Today we are pledging $130,000 from the Rural Economic Development Program, (RED) to assist the Manitoulin Island Commmunity Abattoir (MICA) group with the abattoir project.”

MICA, incorporated in 2009, is a local non-profit organization that developed out of the Manitoulin-LaCloche Slaughter Facility Steering Committee formed to establish the slaughter facility.

“Another $825,000 from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation (NOHFC) has been approved, but is yet to be announced,” said MICA board chair Birgit Martin, referring to more provincial funding.

A request has been made to the federal government for the remainder of the money needed to build the $1.5 million facility, Ms. Martin confirmed.

(To date, federal funds have been provided in the form of staffing to assist with the application process, but not to build the abattoir.)

Other contributions are coming from the Ontario Cattlemen’s Association who have pledged $345,000 and 40 farmers who have signed up as members and who will be contributing an “investment portion,” based on the number of cattle they will supply. Other farmers who use the facility will do so based on a fee structure, Ms. Martin explained.

Island municipalities as well as the Wikwemikong First Nation have committed money to the project including Central Manitoulin at $8,000, Burpee-Mills, $4,000; Northeast Town; $3,000, Tehkummah, $3,000; and Gordon Township, $2,000. A funding announcement release from Mike Brown’s office states that the abattoir will help to grow the agricultural sector, create a stronger community of local processors and increase the sustainability of local beef farms. It states that more than 70 meat processors and producers will use this new facility, enabling them to increase revenues, expand into new markets and meet growing demand for quality, locally-grown food. A strong agri-food industry is part of the Ontario governments’ plan to create jobs and opportunities that will grow the province’s economy, according to the release.

The 4,000 square-foot facility will be provincially regulated and a licenced “kill and chill,” facility only. Retail and secondary processing opportunities will go to butchers across Manitoulin. MICA will establish a retail outlet on property purchased from Papa’s Meats and Deli owner Jim McCormick located on Highway 551 outside of Providence Bay in order to market local meat products and to offset the costs of operating the abattoir as part of a business plan they submitted in order to receive funding.

“The business plan had to show that the project will be sustainable, will benefit the local economy, create jobs and indirectly help local meat producers,” said Ester Spadzinski, Northern Development, Mines and Forestry Officer on Manitoulin who assisted MICA with the application along with John Foster, LAMBAC’s community development officer.

The MICA group also had to complete feasibility studies and an environmental assessment.

Manitoulin Island has not had a kill and chill facility since approximately 1995 Ms. Birgit noted.

“Farmers are taking their animals to the abattoir in Hagar, which is east of Sudbury and a two and one half to four hour drive one way depending on your location on the Island,” she explained. “The meat is then transported back to the Island in a refrigerated truck and so it makes a lot of sense to have an abattoir here on Manitoulin.”

Also in attendance at the press conference was Ruth Frawley, clerk for Central Manitoulin and Andrew O’Reilly, the chief building officer, both representing the municipality where the facility will be built.

The 10-acre site was purchased from Central Manitoulin and borders the municipal sewage lagoons at Monument and Cranston Roads. The site is considered ideal because wash water from the plant can be flushed into nearby liquid-waste ponds and three-phase hydro is also available to power the facility.

The central location will be close to one third of the Island’s beef producers and was chosen based on a vote by the broader abattoir membership.

“Central Manitoulin will have the greatest number of farmers per municipality set to use the facility,” said Ms. Frawley at the conference, who also thanked the MPP for being in attendance and acknowledged the dedication of former Central Manitoulin Reeve Richard Stevens in getting the project completed.

The construction of the abattoir will begin in September of this year, will be fully operational by April 1, 2012, and will utilize local tradespeople and contractors. Once built, the operation will provide for two full time and three part time jobs.

The abattoir will be operating for one kill day per week and is equipped for 20 cattle and 20 hogs per kill day, but will process at a lower operating rate initially.

“We will be revitalizing the sale of Manitoulin beef, pork and lamb,” Ms. Martin said during the funding announcement. “There will soon be a wide variety of local meat available in stores on the Island.”

Mike Brown recalled some of the Ontario Cattlemen’s Association barbecues on the lawn of Queen’s Park and said, “farmers on Manitoulin are great promoters of Island beef and it is always fantastic.”

“The MICA project will help support our region’s farmers, improve competitiveness and encourage people to buy local,” Mike Brown states in the funding announcement press release. “This investment is another example of our government’s commitment to strengthen and grow our rural communities at work.”

The Ontario government says that the food processing industry is the province’s second largest manufacturer and was the third largest employer of its kind in North America in 2008, according to the release. In 2009, the industry generated more than $33 billion in revenue in Ontario. In June, Ontario had an increase of more than 40,000 jobs and the unemployment rate declined to 7.7 percent.

“The Manitoulin Island Community Abattoir and its farmer members are extremely grateful to the province for its investment in this abattoir for our local agricultural economy,” said Ms. Martin in the release.

“This funding is integral to the success of this project and fostering strong agricultural roots,” the chair of MICA continued. “The new abattoir will give farmers the opportunity to expand their marketing opportunities and it will give the consumers in the greater Manitoulin area the opportunity to eat local meat. It is with great anticipation that we look forward to the opening of the Manitoulin Island Community Abattoir in the coming months.”