Flying Canoe is the Ottawa area’s first and, so far, only local hard cider maker. The company is owned and operated by Pete Rainville and his wife, who recently moved their operations to Spencerville, purchasing a heritage property where they could expand the business. With the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, however, things haven’t exactly gone to plan.
“We invested heavily in that, about $40,000, and had planned to be able to use the growing business revenue throughout the summer. Up until this year, we’ve been expanding in the high double digits every year. That would have paid for the move and renovations and helped Spencerville out as a community. Now we’ve had to rely on paying the bare minimums of things,” says Rainville, who sells his canned cider to the LCBO, grocery stores, and restaurants. Now, business is down 75 per cent from where it should be at this time of year, and Rainville has had to lay off both himself and his one other employee.
But while Ottawa’s craft breweries have been able to continue selling their beer directly to consumers (and delivering it safely), that’s not an option for Flying Canoe—and not because they don’t want to, or aren’t equipped to do so. The reason is something known as the five-acre rule, which states that Ontario cideries (which are regulated as fruit wineries) must own five acres of land on which they grow apples or grapes. Theoretically intended to protect orchards and vineyards from people selling homemade wine and cider, the law is enforced by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, and Rainville says it’s hurting his business badly.
“We get our juice from an orchard about 20 minutes away but we only have half an acre, and we don’t want to get into the orchard business. We pay to get the juice pressed according to our formula. So even though we are supporting an Ontario orchard and using only Ontario apples, we can’t retail from our location… Yet orchards and vineyards that have 5 acres, breweries, etc. can ship all across Ontario,” he says.
Rainville also points out that many larger cider makers have exceptions to this rule on their books dating back decades. He adds that craft cideries and distilleries must pay 48 per cent of their takings back to the government in alcohol levies, so the government would actually benefit from his company making more sales.
“I’m just frustrated. I know how politics work… But I’m also just trying to make a living here.”
He hopes that the issue, which thanks to his activism is now on the radar of the Ontario Minister of Finance, can be resolved and the rule suspended or preferably struck from the books altogether.
“I’m just frustrated. I know how politics work. I get it. It’s big organizations who have lobbying power. But I’m also just trying to make a living here,” Rainville says. He has created a petition at Change.org to seek support for the abolition of the five-acre rule. Beyond that, he hopes that fans of Ontario cider will continue to seek it out at the LCBO and grocery stores, whether or not it bears the Flying Canoe name.
“If you see it’s from Ontario and it’s on the shelf, buy it. You’re supporting yourself. The people who run these companies are supporting Ontario agriculture, supporting the government, not just by the taxes that the LCBO takes, but also the ones we pay to support our businesses.”