Canada’s Oldest and Largest Mustard Mill
Established in 1867, the G. S. Dunn Mill produces mustard flour that is sold across the globe. Prairie farmers grow nearly 85% of the world’s demand for mustard.
What item is made from small and roundish seeds and is grown in Canada’s Prairie fields? This mystery thing has a vast range of applications from medicine, toxic gas and industrial oils. And, especially, it is known as a deliciously saucy condiment around the world.
Have you guessed? Are you ready for the answer? Yes! It’s mustard, of course, that spicy addition used almost daily on hot dogs, hamburgers, sandwiches, and in dressings, rubs, mayonnaise and in cooking.
Mustard was first used thousands of years ago, mentioned in Sanskrit writings from 3,000 BC. There are also notes about mustard in Egyptian history from 2,000 BC, said The Mustard Site bySaskmustard, and passages in the Bible mention the small seed. Eventually, the mustard plant became a farm staple on the Canadian Prairies.
Mustard Farm in Alberta
In 1936, the mustard plant was first grown on 40 hectares of farmland in Alberta. It had already been growing south of the border in Montana and California, but in a few years, Canadian mustard farms outstripped American production. The yellow, brown and oriental mustard crops thrived in the warm and dry Prairie environment. With a short growing season of 80 to 95 days, mustard made a perfect plant for crop rotation with small grains, and kept fields productive and healthy. Mustard plants are not usually hindered by the same diseases or pests as cereals and are more tolerant to both drought and frost.
Saskatchewan Produces the Most Mustard
Production burst out from 20,000 hectares in 1950 to between 150,000 to 340,000 hectares (that is between 370,000 to 740,000 acres) in the first decade of the 2000s. And just how much mustard seed would that be? It would be enough to supply approximately 80 to 85% of world demand for the spice – almost 200,000 tonnes on an average per year. The province of Saskatchewan produces the lion’s share of Canada’s mustard crops with Alberta a distant second.
Yellow, Dijon and Oriental
Canadian farmers grow three types of mustard plants: yellow, oriental and brown. The yellow mustard (Sinapis Alba) produces the delicious, mild yellow mustard; the brown and oriental varieties (both varieties of Brassica Juncea) are used for spicier mustard blends such as Dijon.
Oldest Mustard Mill
The largest and oldest mustard mill in Canada was opened by G.S. Dunn Co. in Hamilton, Ontario in 1867, the same year as Confederation of the Dominion of Canada. The two-storey mill still grinds about 60% of the world’s mustard flour, the powder used to make the liquid mustard. The Dunn facility also milled baking powder, roasted and ground imported coffee, and prepared other spices for sale. The mill was said to have “only the latest and most improved machinery” for operations and was “unsurpassed in quality, and the proof of this is its immense sale throughout the whole of the Dominion,” said Industries of Canada, Historical and Commercial Sketches, Hamilton and Environs, edited by M.G. Bixby, Bixby, Toronto 1886.
Mustard for Medicine and Industry
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s study, “The Case for Canadian Mustard”, calls the plant the
“Magical Mustard”, stating that, “Mustard plasters, of course, were a traditional treatment for aching muscles and rheumatic pain, and for relieving the sinus congestion and sore throat that accompany the common cold.” Further mustard medicinal uses include skin disease treatments as an anti-fungal preparation, an antiseptic and a mould inhibitor. Mustard has also been used as a natural food preservative. The plant was recruited by industry as an additive in industrial and biodiesel oils, for its low sulphur content and excellent lubricating abilities, and is now being developed as a soil fertilizer and stabilizer. There has been a noxious side to mustard, too, first used as the debilitating and poisonous Mustard Gas by the Germans during WWI.
The innocuous-looking mustard seeds of red, brown and yellow, first planted in Canada in the mid-1930s, took on new life when milled into flour, ground for oil or husked for bran. That new life now brings Canadian farmers an infusion of $70 million dollars a year.
Update: In the summer of 2012, G.S. Dunn Mustard Mill became part of agricultural conglomerate Parrish & Heimbecker Limited.
Got your hot dog ready for a squirt of mustard, anyone?
This article first appeared on Suite101.com in February 2010. (C) Susanna McLeod