The two pictures seen here, taken in 1992 and 1997 (or maybe 1998), show a rare and unusual arrangement – a duplicate set of grain elevators serving two parallel rail lines. The track passing by, belongs to the CNR and CPR and is located in the tiny town of Irricana Alberta. This sort of arrangement, where two competing rail lines converge and run almost side by side is pretty rare.
Having to two sets of grain elevators could hardly be called efficient but it clearly demonstrates the competition that once existed between these two railways and the various grain companies involved. Everyone wanted a slice of the pie.
Later on reality set in and some sharing of these facilities took place. This change happened for two reasons – all the elevators here came under control of a single grain company and the two railways started sharing some of the redundant line as a way to save on costs. More on this below…
In the first picture, we are standing along the CNR tracks. Built by the Grand Truck Pacific in the 1910s, it travelled between Calgary and Edmonton and even today sees a fair number of trains. Canadian National Railways inherited the line in the early 1920s.
At the time of my first visit, a long string of Canadian Government grain hoppers can be seen on the siding, waiting presumably to be filled or to be picked up after being loaded.
The first of two grain elevators can be see just to the left of the cars. They belonged to the Alberta Wheat Pool and it was their #2 complex (of three that once stood in town). The building was constructed in the late 1920s by a company or person named Long and later was bought by the AWP in the 1940s. This example was a single with an annex, which was added in the early 1960s. An annex by the way was a cheap and easy way to add more capacity to an elevator – hence why we often see them.
The second elevator on the right was located along the CPR line and at the time of my visit was also owned by the Alberta Wheat Pool. This elevator, AWP #3, was a twin, the two side by side structures having been built in 1911 and 1929 receptively. The early history of them is rather spotty, like for example who owned them in the beginning – that we don’t know for certain.
At some time they came under the control of the Federal Grain Company. It’s possible the newer of the twins was added by that company or maybe Federal just purchased both – there is nothing solid to confirm either possibility – Federal dates from 1929 however, the year the newer one was built, so the former is plausible. In any case information on what happened prior to the AWP purchasing the two in the early 1970s is hard to come by. Actually data on any Irricana grain elevator is a challenge to find.
A large annex was added to the twins in the early 1960s.
The CPR line came through around 1910 and was abandoned in it entirely by the late mid to late 1990s (conflicting data). However, a few years before that, one section from Shepard (near Calgary) to Irricana, pretty much devoid of any customers, was closed as a cost saving measure. After that time, the CPR used a section of the CNR track to access the area.
Isolated from the CPR system this truncated line ran from Irricana to Wimborne and Carbon respectively (in times past, this line and others connected to it extended even further). By that date, these two elevator complexes could be essentially thought of as one, each acting as a secondary or backup elevator to the other and each being served by either railway.
On my second visit to the elevators a number of years later the CPR tracks were either abandoned or soon to be abandoned. I did not make notes sadly. It’s possible the elevators were still in business at this point and if the CPR had indeed pulled out by this time, the CNR could have served the second elevator set from a connecting track – the same track that once allowed the CPR trains to leave the shared CNR line. Or the elevators, one or both, may have already closed by this time. I can not say with any certainty.
Presumably, these two elevator complexes were torn down not long after my last visit. At one time, a third elevator stood here – the AWP #1, an ex-United Grain Growers built in the mid 1920s and brought by the AWP only a couple years later. It was gone by the 1970s and it’s exact location is not known.
I have to admit, I hate publishing an article that still has so many open ends like this one. Rest assured, research will continue and it’s possible updates will happen. Of course, we always happily accept input from our readers.
If you’d like to know more about what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: 1992 and I believe 1997 or 98.
Location: Irrricana, AB.