Where there were once thousands of wooden grain elevators across the Canadian Prairies, now there are few. For this report we take a look at one of the latter, the last traditional “prairie sentinel” still standing in the southern Alberta community of Fort MacLeod. We visit it on a gloomy day, fitting since the subject is rather melancholy.
Located on a weedy siding, the lonely building that is the subject of this report, Alberta Wheat Pool (AWP) No# 1, stands guard as it always has. At one time there used to be other grain elevators here, another AWP and one belonging to the United Grain Growers – UGG – which stood until recently.
For some reason there is little history to be found on this elevator and what is uncovered is a bit spotty at best and sometimes even contradictory. None the less, we’ll do what we can to interpret what is found. And since we’ll be making some assumptions, it’s likely corrections to this report will happen over time. We also welcome input from our readers on this subject if they know more. We could use the help here.
The elevator, I believe, dates from 1964. Some reports I have seen mention 1918 but this one appears too large to be from that earlier era. Those from the 1910s, any I have seen anyway, are typically smaller than the elevators that came later, even though visually they may look similar. If from 1960s, and I think it is, this makes it a late example of the traditional wooden grain elevator, some of which were built into the 1980s! The overall design changed very little over that time – they were all laid out pretty much the same no matter when built.
One thing I should make clear, there was a 1918 era elevator in Fort MacLeod, I just don’t think it’s this one (read more below).
At one time the elevator seen in this report had a twin along with a second annex, both located on its east side. I have not been able to determine much about this second structure, not much at all. I believe however it dates from the late 1920s and was twined with it’s bigger brother when the latter was built in the 60s.
We could not find any data on when the twin was removed (some suggest the early 1990s). One can still see the remains of a walkway however that connected the two high on the side of this elevator. Watch that first step!
Painted in the traditional AWP colours of blue/green, this structure was in fact last owned by Agricore. You can see the remains of their signs – those oval shaped things, one the annex and another on the railway side. Note, they never did paint over the old AWP logo since they knew the elevator was due to be replaced anyway (more on this below).
Agricore by the way came about due to a merger between the Alberta and Manitoba Pools in the late 1990s. Around that time (1999 I am told), a large throughout steel elevator was built west of town, replacing the one seen here, which was then closed. Later Agricore would become Agricore United and later still Viterra. Mergers and name changes are the norm in the grain industry.
This elevator has a larger annex, and formerly a second off the twin. It’s not known when they were added or anything else about them for that matter. An annex was a quick and easy way to add extra capacity to an elevator.
As mentioned there used to be a second (or is that third if we count the twin) AWP elevator just east of this one. I believe it’s that 1918 one mentioned earlier. If so, it is a former Federal Grain Company elevator that became AWP property in the early 1970s. It’s not clear when it was torn down, but based on pictures found in the web, it lasted into the 1990s.
I have not been able to find much about the UGG elevator also mentioned earlier which was located south east of the one seen in this report.
The track on which this elevator sits is rather odd in that it is a stub, meaning it’s connected to the main track at one end only (in this case the west end). This is somewhat more complicated from a switching standpoint then the typical run-through track arrangement commonly found on most elevator sidings. It’s preferred to have a connection at both ends, allowing cars to be dropped or pulled no matter what direction the train is headed. Why they picked this setup is not completely clear. Some might say space constraints but there is a big chunk of land here. Hmmm.
The siding in front remains in place and looks to be occasionally used, but not for grain loading of course. They likely store surplus rail cars here from time to time and Google Earth imagery, showing a string of them on this track, seems to confirm that.
It’s not clear who owns this elevator today, just that we know its in private hands. I would assume it’s being used for grain storage by a local farmer.
Note the Fort MacLeod lettering on the side of the building – every elevator proudly proclaimed the name of the town in which it stood on its sides. You always knew where you were by the elevators.
Fort MacLeod is along the CPR’s southern mainline (Crowsnest Subdivision) and is home to a good number of trains each day – lots of coal from BC moving east and potash from Saskatchewan headed west then south to the US. There also used to be a branch line, the MacLeod Subdivision, that travelled all the way to Calgary from here, but it was pulled up in the late 1990s/early 2000s.
If you’d like to know more about what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: December, 2013.
Location: Fort MacLeod, AB.