In this report we look at two grain elevators in the city of St Albert Alberta. Both are clearly well cared for and reside in an open air museum in the southwest corner of town. One of the pair is among the oldest in the province, but in spite of being close to a hundred and ten years in age, it looks fantastic. In fact, both are in great shape, a testament to the great care they receive.
Located on the far edge of town these prairie sentinels sit along an active CNR line, its Edmonton to Whitecourt branch, aka the Sangudo Subdivision. Most of the traffic on the line comes from a handful of large customers and these include several gas plants and sawmills and a huge gravel pit. I am told anywhere from a few trains a week to a few a day use the line depending on business levels. At one time a fair amount of grain travelled along it too, but not any more though. That business dried up in the late 1990s
A second branch, heading north to Athabasca Alberta (aka Athabasca Landing or Athabaska Landing on some maps), broke off from this line just west of these elevators. It however quickly became redundant due to changes in operating patterns and was abandoned in the early 1930s. Some of the old roadbed can still be followed on Google Earth.
The first of the pair, which by the way were the only two elevators ever constructed in St Albert, was built in 1929 for the Alberta Wheat Pool. This company used it up until 1989, when the facility closed. Some time after (unknown) it was donated to the museum, the St. Albert Grain Elevator Park, who has taken care of it ever since. It has not been moved. For a time, it was painted (by the museum) in the old mineral red scheme. Today it wears the more modern AWP blue/green company colours.
The second elevator, the silver one, as mentioned earlier is one of the oldest in all Alberta, having been built in 1906. The province only has three pre-1910 elevators, this of course being one of them. Originally built for the Alberta Grain Company, in 1911 it merged with a rival forming Alberta Pacific Grain (APG). In 1967 APG was bought out by Federal Grain which was then folded into the Alberta Wheat Pool in 1972 – AWP took Federal’s Alberta elevators only and those in Saskatchewan and Manitoba were sold to each of those province’s respective Pool organizations.
This elevator was also closed in the late 1980s, the same time as its neighbour. It was later donated to the museum (exact date unknown) where it sits today. It too has never been moved. It is covered in a silver painted metal siding which I believe is original or at least very, very old. It sure does glitter in the sun! Photos from the early to mid 2000s show the structure painted for Alberta Grain which was applied by the museum. They’ve repainted it since and today it has an AWP logo, reflecting its last owner. Both elevators proudly have “St Albert” emblazoned on their sides – grain elevators were always painted with the name of the town shown. You always knew what town you were in by looking at its elevators.
According to the museum’s website, these two structures were fully restored a few years back. They are good as new!
Oddly they sit no where close to downtown St Albert. Where as most rail lines travelled right through the centre of town, topography in the area forced the railway to skirt the community completely. Only recently has development encroached upon the elevators and rail line. Before they were a kilometre or so from town.
Alberta Wheat Pool, a farmer owned cooperative found in the 1920s, was the largest grain company in the province. Starting in the late 1990s it merged with some rivals and merged again, so many times in fact that nothing really remains of it today.
There is some conflicting information on when the rail line here was built. Many reports say 1909/1910 but that immediately raises the question, why was the one elevator built so many years before the railway arrived?
It’s complicated, so let’s clear it up…
Further research confirms the railway indeed dates from the time the elevator was built, so 1906. The line was was constructed under the charter of the Edmonton and Slave Lake railway which travelled north from Edmonton through St Albert and later on to Athabasca. Only a few years later the track became a Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR) property and eventually a new line split off just beyond the elevators, heading west. This happened in 1910 and maybe this is why some are confused over the dates.
From St Albert west work was done under the charter of the Canadian Northern Alberta Railway (confused yet?). This section was intended to be the CNoR’s mainline running from Edmonton, through St Alberta on to Peace River Junction where the line again split in two. The south section was the main and the northern one, the Whitecourt line. The latter was built under charter of the Canadian Northern Western Railway (another CNoR paper railway) starting in 1913 and finishing in 1921. There have been additional extensions since to serve a number of gas plants.
In the 1920s, when the financially strapped CNoR and rival Grand Trunk Pacific merged (becoming the CNR we know and love today), some of the line just mentioned became redundant. Some sections were abandoned and others were then used to access the Whitecourt branch from Edmonton via St Albert. This is how it is today.
This author has seen plans showing that the Whitecourt section was to be extended into Northern BC, exact destination unknown. This of course never happened. This line by the way, has some spectacular trestles.
We knew ahead of time the elevators would not be entirely accessible given they are inside the museum grounds. None the less by following the tracks and peering through the fences here and there, we were able to get close and get some fine shots. The low sun provide a nice warm glow. The area had received so much snow that it made walking around difficult. It was at least knee deep and at times up to my waist.
It was hard to tell with the snow but it appears a siding still runs in front of the two fenced-in elevators.
The museum where they sit also has some other displays, a replica train station being one (St Albert’s real station sits at the Alberta Railway Museum not terribly far away). The two elevators are recognized by the province as historically significant and their future seems well assured. The museum is open in the summer.
To see the oldest elevator in the province, follow this link…
Alberta’s oldest grain elevator.
If you’d like to know more about what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: January, 2014.
Location: St Albert, AB.