About the only thing left in Battrum Saskatchewan is the lonely grain elevator that is the subject of this report. A former Saskatchewan Wheat Pool facility, it stands vigil alongside a sleepy railway line as it has for decade after decade. Once a busy place and the economic lifeblood of a community, today everything is quiet.
This was a stop on our Saskatchewan grain elevator tour, a glorious five day trip where we did nothing but follow back roads in the southwestern part of the province. We saw perhaps some 15-20 prairie sentinels (still adding it all up), each as exciting as the next. This region is a grain elevators hunter’s paradise and there are many to explore. That’s quite a contrast to our part of Alberta which seems a little sparse when it comes to these structures. On this trip we also made time to explore other things too – old farms and schools, railways and ghost towns, old bridges – to keep it interesting. It was at the same time hectic yet totally relaxing.
The building seen here has an interesting history. It was built in 1916 for the Saskatchewan Cooperative Elevator Company. When the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool (aka SWP) was formed a decade later it took over the operations of that company. The two annexes were added in the late 1920s. Finally, in the late 1950s, the elevator (but not the annexes) was rebuilt from the ground up. This is listed as their “A” facility. If you see an elevator that is either alphabetically or numerically identified in some way, this means the company had more then one facility in town (not unusual).
It’s not known when this elevator was last used by the SWP, but data from the early 1980s shows that the structure did not have a full time operator at that time. This suggests that the volumes of grain it handled was limited which can only mean closure was not far away.
Until recently a second SWP elevator used to stand nearby, it’s “B” facility. This was sold to a private individual in the 1970s and was sadly torn down recently. This elevator was also from 1916 and when built belonged to Ogilvie Flour Mills. Exactly when the SWP purchased it is not known. It was west of the current elevator.
The SWP also once had a third elevator here. This was a former Ogilvie, nee Pioneer Grain, nee Western Grain, nee Spencer Grain elevator built at some unknown date – some reports say the 1920s but it’s clearly seen in 1919 picture. This elevator was closed and torn down, as I understand, in the 1960s. It used to sit to the east of the one still standing.
There was fourth elevator at Battrum, which shows up in pictures from the 1910s and 1920s, but it’s not clear who it belonged to and what happened to it other then it was gone by the 1970s. It was located between the SWP “A”, the current structure and SWP “B”, the one most recently torn down. Research in respects to it and all the others is always ongoing and also we welcome input from our readers.
It’s not known if this elevator is currently empty and abandoned or if it’s being used by a local farmer for grain storage. Many old elevators often get re-used this way. Some parked grain trucks seem to suggest this possibility, but there is also some nearby steel grain bins, which they may be connected with too. In a way the whole place looks likes a producer loading site – where grain cars are filled directly by the farmer bypassing any brokers or middlemen – but the station (or loading point) does not appear in any producer-car directories. Interestingly, photos from a few years ago, before the second elevator was town down (a sad event by the way) show grain cars on the siding. They may have been there for producer loading, or may have been in storage. Who knows?
The Saskatchewan Wheat Pool was a farmer owned cooperative and once the largest grain company, not only in the province, but the whole country. Nearly every town in Saskatchewan that had rail access had an SWP elevator (often times more than one). In 2007 the company merged with rival Agricore United, becoming Vittera – since bought by another company but the name has not changed yet. They still handle grain, but do so out of huge inland terminals that can load a whole train at time, and not via the traditional small town grain elevator network that they once relied on.
The track in front belongs to the Great Sandhills Railway (GSR), which operates a line from Swift Current east to a point almost at the Alberta border. Trains operate a couple times a week (we saw one) and the main commodities carried are grain (naturally) and products related to the oil and gas industries. They also make money storing surplus rail cars.
This track is a former CPR line, built approximately a hundred years ago and was bought by the GSR in 2009. This transaction came about due to the CPR’s desire to rid itself of grain branch lines, which at best were only marginally profitable. In private hands, and if run efficiently, they could make money though.
In the past, this line used to extend all the way from Swift Current to Bassano Alberta (connected to the CPR mainline at both ends), There were also a number of feeder branches off of it, all long abandoned.
Battrum in the 1910s and 20s seemed to be a thriving town. Looking around today, one would be hard pressed to know there was ever anything here. Presumably the town was founded when the railway came through in 1913.
Located just over a rolling hill is another wooden grain elevator. This one is used by a farmer and is not connected to a grain company nor is it along a railway line. Farm based elevators can look like commercial ones and can be purpose built, like this one. Other times the farmer may buy an old or out-of-service commercial elevator which they then move to their property. We’ve seen both.
If have something to share about the Battrum grain elevators, by all means let us know.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: May, 2014.
Location: Battrum, SK.