The larger grain elevator seen in this report, located in Leduc Alberta, dates from the late 1970s making it one of the last of its type built in the province. Saved from demolition when it was closed at the turn of the last century, it has been saved and made into a museum. Sitting next to it and looking quite tiny in comparison is a smaller fertilizer elevator, it’s lineage more of a mystery.
We visited the site on a blustery cold and gloomy day. Join us, but be sure to bundle up…
This structure was one of the last traditional style wood cribbed grain elevators constructed in Alberta (a few were made afterwards, as late as 1988). While it may be larger than many older ones it’s otherwise built just like and looks much like any other. The overall design changed very little over time and they were all laid out pretty much the same not matter what their size or age.
This is what’s called a single composite elevator. Simply this means it has a large integrated annex on one side (a double composite in comparison has one on both sides). This layout afforded extra capacity and was a common design feature on grain elevators built in the 1960s and later. Keep in mind however, even though this one is larger and has more modern machinery inside, it still shares a lot in common with elevators that are much older, including form of construction, materials used in construction, and overall functionality. It has both traditional and modern features but visually looks dated, an anachronism from a distant time.
One report this author has found suggests that an earlier elevator once stood at this same site. This has not been confirmed however.
Built for the Alberta Wheat Pool, by the time the elevator closed (around 2000), the owner was a company called Agricore. That firm was formed in the late 1990s when the AWP and the Manitoba Pools merged. FYI – soon after the turn of the century, Agricore became Agricore United and later still, Viterra.
Seen on one side of the elevator is a cyclone used to collect grain dust, a fine material that is a dangerous fire hazard. This is one of the building’s “modern” features.
The large elevator is recognized as historically significant but I am not sure if that applies to the smaller one as well.
Most elevators were typically painted in company colours, which in this case is Alberta Wheat Pool blue/green. Also proudly displayed was their logo along with the name of the town – if you didn’t have a map you always knew where you were by looking at a grain elevator. Identifying the the community was actually more for the railway crews then passing travellers.
While we know a lot about the big elevator, there is almost no information to be found on its smaller neighbour. When it was built anything else about it, are at this time, a mystery. All we’ve been able to find it that it was apparently built using salvaged material from an earlier elevator that partially burned down. Unlike it’s big twin, this elevator was used to dispense fertilizer and not for the storage, sorting and cleaning of grain.
At one time, Leduc was home to several other grain elevators. However no real information can be found about them and no photos have surfaced showing them. Further research is needed and we always welcome input from our readers.
The elevators sit alongside the CPR’s north/south mainline which travels between Edmonton and Calgary. This is the company’s Leduc Subdivision, which dates from the 1890s. This railway is quite busy and sees many trains per day.
The old elevator sidings, which are still in place, appear to be used for temporary car storage and at the time of our visit a long line of covered hoppers were sitting on one track. The elevator complex by the way is fenced off, so visitors can not accidentally wander on to the tracks. There are two parallel sidings suggesting that the elevator was at one time set up to load two rows of cars at a time, making it more efficient. Or, one track was for loading and the other for storage of filled or empty cars. It could be either.
The odd looking girder structure that sits above the loading station is used keep employees safe. They would wear a body harness which would be tied into movable trolley attached to the horizontal beam, which would then hold them up should they trip and fall as they loaded a car. It’s long way to the ground!
Seen right below the loading spout is a capstan which was used to move rail cars about. A long cable would be attached to them winching them along as they were filled. Many grain elevators had one these car pullers, although others used an old tractor to push the cars as needed, where as others still had their track built on a gentle slope, allowing gravity to do the work.
Beside the elevators are some storage buildings. The grain companies not only bought grain, they also sold supplies like chemical and fertilizers and these warehouses or sheds were used to store these types of material. The larger of the two has a big door on the railway side, which allowed boxcars to be offloaded.
In the 1930s, at the peak, there were over 1700 traditional style wooden elevators scattered across the province. By 2014, there are perhaps a couple hundred left, few if any used in their original capacity, including private elevators, seed cleaning plants, fertilizer elevators, farm elevators, and those belonging to museums like this. Not a lot no matter how you add them up. Not counted are modern steel or concrete high-throughput inland terminals.
On our visit we had to deal with lots of ice build up in the parking area while exploring the site. It was dangerously slippery and was actually hard to get around.
Leduc is a bedroom community just south of Edmonton and is located on the major north/south highway, the QE2. The elevators as mentioned are part of a museum complex and are open to the public in the summer.
Nearby St Albert has two grain elevators which we explored, and to see them follow this link…
Priare Sentinels – St Albert Alberta.
If you’d like to know more about what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: January, 2014.
Location: Leduc, AB.