Like almost every other town on the Canadian Prairies, Trochu Alberta was once home to many grain elevators. Today, all that left is a single survivor, a massive structure that looms over the half-vacant downtown core. Looking ready to load a line of rail cars it’s been many years since that’s happened.
These structures were once the life blood of a community but over the last couple decades they have been closed, abandoned and demolished by the hundreds, unwanted by their then owners. Changing demographics have dictated that new super elevators are the way to go and these traditional small town operations, inefficient and costly to run, were not fitting in well with that new bigger is better philosophy.
The example seen here is a fairly modern version of the traditional wooden elevator, a design that harkens back to the 1920s. In fact the overall pattern was so good, some were built into the 1980s! This one is from 1973 and was built with integrated annexes, which afforded it extra capacity and allowed it to process grain more efficiently. In that same theme, it was set up to load two lines of cars instead of one, sort of a precursor to the higher throughput elevators that were yet to come. This structure replaced another, which had burnt down earlier the same year.
Built for the Alberta Wheat Pool (AWP), that company’s faded lettering can still be seen gracing one end of the building. AWP as a company ceased to exist as of 1998, having merged with the Manitoba Pool, becoming Agricore; later adding United Grain Growers into the fold, becoming in 2001 Agricore United. Merged yet again, this time with the Saskatchewan Pool, it became Viterra in 2007.
But we’re not done yet and in an industry where mergers and acquisitions are the norm, in the last year or so, Viterra’s operations have been taken over by Richardson. International, owners of Pioneer Grain. The Viterra name has been kept for now.
According to data this author has seen, they may have loaded grain here until perhaps 2002. Afterwards, at some unknown date, it was sold to a private individual and is presumably used for grain storage.
You’ll notice a small arrow on the railway side of the elevator. This let the train crew know in which direction the cars were to be placed for loading. In this case the arrow points left, which means the cars would be spotted to the right of the building. From there, using a winch system (some elevators used gravity), the grain company staff would pull them under the loading station until the entire line was filled. When done they would be to the left of the structure, waiting for pickup by another train. Depending on how many cars were consigned to the elevator, it could take them a day or two to load their allotment. In contrast some modern elevators today can fill an entire train (100+ cars) in an afternoon, without even detaching the locomotives.
A new high throughput concrete and steel elevator was built south of Trochu in 1998, which is still in use today. Owned by Viterra (remember that company) it was originally built by Saskatchewan Wheat Pool subsidiary AgPro, who was trying to break into Alberta and Manitoba prior to that parent company’s merger with Agricore United, which of course later gave it unlimited access to those markets. Confused yet?
In addition to this elevator, there used to be a second belonging to AWP (it was ex-Alberta Pacific, nee Federal Grain), plus a Cargill (ex-National Grain, nee Security Grain), and finally one from United Grain Growers. The later had sort of an interesting lineage, having burned down and been rebuilt twice in its history. This was BTW, the second last elevator to fall, coming down in 2009. All the others were gone around the turn of the twenty first century, give or take a couple years. The first grain elevator established in town was in 1913 (Security Grain), but it wasn’t until the period 1916-1927 that the others were built.
At its peak in the 1930s there were over 1700 elevators scattered across the province. By 2013, there are perhaps a couple hundred, including private wooden elevators like this, seed cleaning plants, farm elevators, those in museums and the like. In other words, not a lot of them.
Oddly, in spite of being what appears to be a fire trap, these wooden buildings did not burn down as often as one would think. The operators went to great extremes to keep away any sources of ignition from near the building or its contents.
The rail line here is the is the CNR’s north south mainline that travels between Edmonton and Calgary (this section is along the Kneehill Subdivision). It’s a fairly busy line, but of course no trains were seen this day. The track came through Trochu in 1911, the line being built by CNR predecessor, The Grand Trunk Pacific. Together, this company, along with major competitor Canadian Northern Railway and some others, were merged to form the CNR in the early 1920s. The town here was established before the railway, as early as 1903, but it was the coming of steel that was responsible for it’s most dynamic period. A railway coming through was almost always a boom event.
Across the tracks is an old railway dock. These were used to load or offload general freight destined to or from town – lumber and farm equipment being commonly seen inbound shipments. Once as common as the prairie elevator, every town had one, these are rarely seen today.
Just up from the elevator is downtown Trochu, and the closed Yale Hotel, which shut down recently due to serious safety and health issues. I’m seeing a disturbing trend here as these old buildings age and require major work – they being abandoned by their owners rather than being fixed up. We’ve visited a lot of small towns the last few years and these closings seem to be happening with alarming regularity. The dive hotel and bar is going the way of the grain elevator. So far, none of these hotels, any we’ve seen anyway, have been demolished, but how long before that happens?
To see some other recently closed small town hotels we’ve explored, check out this link…
The Seymour and New National have served their last drinks.
If you’d like to know more about the subjects seen in this post, by all means contact us!
Date: August 2013.
Location: Trochu, AB.