The hamlet of Chancellor Alberta is tiny a dot on the map. It’s home to a handful of people, an interesting community hall and sitting alongside an abandoned railway branch line, an old grain elevator. The latter two structures will be the subject of this report.
First up is the elevator, a traditional prairie sentinel with a modern steel bin addition. At one time there were over 1700 traditional wooden elevators across the province. Now there a couple hundred, including the one we see here.
Research has not turned up when this elevator was built but it’s a reasonable guess it was at some point in the town’s early years (say sometime between 1912-1930). It’s pained for Cargill Grain, but it’s possible when built it was owned by predecessor company, National Grain. This is only speculation since very little history about this elevator can be found. We do know these facts though, the most important one being there was at one time a National Grain elevator in Chancellor. US giant Cargill Grain assumed control of that company in the mid 1970s (not just here, but all of thier elevators across the prairies), so it’s a safe bet that these two elevators are one and the same. Of course, research continues and we always welcome input from our readers.
Although other sites report that the elevator is abandoned, I’m not entirely convinced. Fresh looking spilled grain near the steel bins hint that it may be used for storage by a farmer or private individuals. That’s not confirmed however.
At some point an annex was added to the west side of the elevator, comprised of four large steel bins. Concrete piers on the opposite side tell us a second annex was once located here as well. On the track side, two frames support a steel cable stretched between them. Employees loading grain cars would tie into this safety line, which would keep them from falling off a car should they trip. I have only seen this arrangement a couple times, but from a safety standpoint it makes good sense.
The elevator has a winch system which allowed them to move the cars one at a time under the loading spout.
In addition to this elevator, there were four or five others in Chancellor at one time or another (reports differ). Built at various times in the 1910s and 1920s they represented such companies as Alberta Pacific Grain (later Federal Grain), United Grain Growers, Pioneer Grain, and of course, the largest player in the province for many years, the Alberta Wheat Pool. It’s not clear when these other elevators closed and were demolished but it’s safe to assume the majority lasted into the 1990s. They must have been gone by 1997 however, as this author has seen a picture from that date, and this structure is the only elevator seen.
Of the grain companies mentioned in the previous paragraph, only the Pioneer name is still in use (Richardson Pioneer). All the others have either been acquired by other companies or merged out of existence. The lineage of a grain company is usually long and complicated.
Cargill still owns some elevators in the province, except they are large throughput concrete or steel faculties in select areas, which can load a whole train at a time. The day of the traditional small town wooden elevator like this one is behind us.
They last loaded grain cars here around the turn of the twenty first century, although the line lasted a number of years more to serve a fertilizer plant and some petroleum related industries.
It seems fitting that someone abandoned an old car here (as in auto), and sitting on the elevator’s east side is an early 1980s Pontiac Parisienne. A monster of a machine, one can easily fit six adults inside comfortably – ten if you’re good friends!
The town of Chancellor dates from around 1912, when the railway came through. The track belonged to the CPR and was its Irricana Subdivision branch which travelled from its namesake town east to Bassano Alberta on that company’s mainline. The western half of this branch was abandoned in pieces throughout the 1960s and 70, leaving only the eastern section intact. This truncated line still connected to the mainline at Bassano, travelling east as far as Standard (the next town east of Chancellor). Through the 1970s and into the 1990s there were four towns that shipped grain on this line (in order west to east – Standard, Chancellor, Hussar and Makepeace).
The rail bed is now a rocky weed strewn path, extending off in two directions to the horizon. In addition to the grain elevator siding, there is one that was used to load propane – we’ll visit it sometime.
Also located in town is a tiny community building, the Chancellor Memorial Hall. Peering inside, it’s clear it’s been a while since the building was last used and a thick layer of dust covered everything. The foundation on the east side is buckling, which likely means the structure is no longer safe to use. Not that there seems to be much reason to use it anyway. Some one however makes sure the grass is mowed around it. Note the old side walk in front too, leading nowhere.
It’s not clear when this structure was constructed, but it would be safe to assume at some point during the early years. It’s also not known if was always a community hall or if perhaps it served another purpose at some point in the past. Research continues however and if anything new turns up, we will update this article.
If you’d like to know more about what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: September, 2013.
Location: Chancellor, AB.